Building Strategy: John Lyon’s Charity
In this series, we are taking a closer look at what role strategy plays in foundations’ work, and how they determine what it involves.
The fourth article in this series comes from Cathryn Pender, Grants Director, John Lyon’s Charity.
This series first appeared in September 2017’s Trust & Foundation News. Read the magazine here.
Having a good, clear strategy that all our stakeholders can understand is crucial to our effectiveness. It ensures we remain focused on our aims and objectives, while keeping us in touch with the core reason for our funding: to promote the life chances of children and young people (CYP) through education. The strategy provides clarity for grant-seeking organisations and helps us to consider the level of risk involved in the grants that we make.
At its heart, our strategy is focused and simple with two key components – a beneficial area covering nine boroughs in northwest London, and the support of projects that work for children and young people. This focused approach has a number of advantages including flexibility, local expertise and the ability to adjust our strategy in response to the needs and priorities of our beneficiaries.
We have a real understanding of the boroughs that define our beneficial area and the issues affecting them; we are able to drill down to ward, street and even housing estate level. This adds to the degree of scrutiny we can deploy in interpreting projects, their delivery and likelihood of success, ensuring that we fund the right projects in the right places.
It further enables us to encourage local projects to share intelligence to cultivate their success. This provides vital insight for the grants team and enables us to take greater risks with our funding than if we had a broader beneficial area.
Our second key strategy focuses on funding organisations that work with children and young people in a variety of ways. We are not necessarily about alleviating essential need, but about providing opportunities for CYP to do something or achieve what would normally be outside their everyday experiences, broadening horizons and raising aspirations.
One of the largest areas of our grant expenditure each year is for the core funding we offer to youth clubs. To some that might not appear very sophisticated – we are talking about keeping youth clubs open (heat, light, rent etc) and funding high-quality youth work. The decimation of local authorities and traditional structures has impacted enormously on youth work, and we have had to change the way we work to meet that evolving need. We try hard to maintain a vibrant youth sector in our boroughs – where we are not too late to save it!
We are well placed in our beneficial area to bring people together in a way that would be difficult if we represented one particular strand of the CYP sector. We can consider the larger picture of resources and services available for children, young people and their parents across the beneficial area. This can be clearly seen in our work with schools and our Schools in Partnership Fund actively encourages schools to submit joint applications, in order to increase cost-effectiveness and share learning.
Our experience working with the CYP sector in our beneficial area has helped inform our recent strategic decision to help establish Young People’s Foundations in our boroughs. In the wake of local authority cuts, we have had to act quickly and in partnership with local organisations to build an infrastructure around the CYP sector to preserve it for the future. So far, the Young People’s Foundations are having great success in providing a forum for groups to work together to secure large commissions and funding from a wide range of sources, as well as creating a forum for networking, sharing ideas and receiving capacity support.
Despite our focus in north-west London, we are constantly mindful of the conversations going on round us, both pan-London and nationally. It is essential that we feed into those conversations, contributing our own knowledge and ensuring the voices of local organisations within our beneficial area are heard.
Our strategy is considered every three years in a ‘root and branch’ review that incorporates consultation with all of our stakeholders including trustees, advisers and beneficiaries. Over the last 25 years, this has enabled us to hone and develop our approach, reflecting both local need and our own grant-giving experiences. This approach has resulted in minor tweaks to our strategy rather than major policy shifts, making us a consistent and dependable funding presence within north-west London’s CYP sector, giving confidence to those seeking funding.
Overall, the necessity to be flexible in our strategy is crucial. The challenges faced by the voluntary sector are considerable and a lot of the issues cannot be addressed without wider policy change. Our strategy reflects our desire to enrich communities, in whatever form that might be. Our strategy, therefore, is key in enabling us to fulfil our aims and objectives to the highest standards while, most importantly, keeping the needs of our beneficiaries at the heart of the work we do.
John Lyon’s Charity
Other articles in this series: