Good Practice Recommendations for Funders in a Covid-19 Context

7 August 2020

The Covid-19 crisis has had a disproportionate impact on marginalised communities. Organisations led by these communities have historically been underfunded and often excluded from decision-making. Addressing these entrenched inequalities requires coordinated action.

As a result there has been a range of calls to do more to address issues of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Networks and movements such as Charity So White and Future Foundations have rightly demanded action from charities, trusts and foundations on racial equality.

As part of coordination efforts between Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS)[1] and non-government bodies and funders, an equity and inclusion working group was established, and included members of staff from National Lottery Community Fund, Comic Relief, NCVO, and DCMS, and the Chair of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Coalition. Its role was to develop recommendations for integrating a DEI lens to inform and support key non-government and government stakeholders in the implementation of civil society funding as part of Covid-19 efforts. 

The group has worked with funders, lived experience representatives and infrastructure bodies representing groups highly impacted by Covid-19 to develop these recommendations. The aim is to support funding bodies to improve visibility, access, uptake of funding programmes by disproportionately impacted groups and communities, and processes for dialogue and accountability. 

We recognise this list is not exhaustive, but we hope they provide a solid foundation for progress.

The recommendations are issue/group agnostic to enable them to be tailored and applied based on context to a specific community. However, we recognise the significant evidence of the impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in the UK, with black people four times more likely to die from Covid, than white people. A report by the Ubele Initiative highlighted the huge demand placed on BAME-led organisations by the crisis, their historic under-funding and risk of closure.

The crisis has also shown many other vulnerable groups have also been impacted including for example, women, refugees and migrant people, disabled people, marginalised LGBTQ+ people, and people locked in poverty. It has also highlighted the need for funders to address intersectionality (multiple levels of disadvantage faced by a person/group) when considering the needs of people and groups in funding programmes.

These recommendations aim to complement wider efforts and promote a rights based approach.

We highly recommend that individuals and organisations look to gain more specific insights and lessons:

We are encouraging funding bodies (non-government, government, and private) to adopt these recommendations within their organisations, to adapt them to their context and to the requirements of the people to be reached through funding, to take action making changes to funding programmes and processes to strengthen DEI practice in their funding, and to be accountable by monitoring and reporting progress.

With the support of Bonnie Chiu of The Social Investment Consultancy, a self-assessment monitoring tool has been created to support organisations to track their own progress. Support plans are being put in place to roll this out and coordinate with participating organisations.

At the point of publication, the following bodies have adopted these principles: Chartered Institute of Fundraising, BBC Children In Need, Bedfordshire and Luton Community Foundation, UK Community Foundations, National Lottery Community Fund, Comic Relief, and the National Emergencies Trust. NCVO and the Association of Charitable Foundations have endorsed these recommendations and will promote them to their networks.

The recommendations are also endorsed by the following:

Mhairi Sharp, COO of the National Emergencies Trust: “We recognise that to live our values as an organisation and a sector, equity, diversity and inclusion must become central to everything we do.

"These funding principles are one step in doing that and have been a valuable tool for us to put our values into practice. We have started to embed these principles into funder agreements and into our EDI action plan to ensure we are accountable.

"Our hope is by starting this work now, we can become a stronger network in future emergencies and in non-crisis situations, ensuring everyone gets the support they need".

Carol Mack, chief executive, Association of Charitable Foundations: “Covid-19 has both exposed the inequalities in society and exacerbated them. As a result of both the health impact and the economic impact, more people now need help from others, whether from mutual aid networks, charities or the state. Foundations, alongside others, are stepping up to support that.

“These recommendations offer excellent insights for funders on how to apply a diversity, equity and inclusion lens in their work on the recovery, ensuring that the sector as a whole supports organisations working with and drawn from those communities most affected.”

Dilhani Wijeyesekera, head of influence, Comic Relief, and Co-Chair of the Equity and Inclusion Working Group: "There is a huge amount of work that needs to be done individually and collectively in the funding community to create inclusive, accessible, and non-discriminatory funding systems. These recommendations are a small but important step in supporting funders to take intentional action to improve on their practice, and aim to complement wider efforts within and outside the funding community"

Shane Ryan, deputy director England, at The National Lottery Community Fund: “At The National Lottery Community Fund we know the importance of being inclusive and equitable in our approach when working with communities. Although there is still a lot to do we are proud to have been involved in the development of these principles and we encourage others to adopt them. We hope this collaboration proves to be a foundation from which we build a fairer and therefore stronger sector that truly reflects the dynamism and diversity we experience in our daily lives.”

Sarah Vibert, director of policy and volunteering, NCVO: "This crisis has revealed long-term inequalities impacting particular groups in society. Many of the organisations that represent or support these groups are critically under-funded at a time when they are never more needed. Addressing this historic inequality in funding requires a long-term, cross-sector approach. It has been really positive to work with a range of people and organisations who have put time and energy into creating and advising on these recommendations from funders, infrastructure groups, and organisations that represent or support marginalised communities."

Covid-19 Good Practice Funding Recommendations

Based on early evidence from the Covid-19 crisis, funders should follow these steps. These were developed with input from funders and umbrella bodies representing groups highly impacted by Covid-19, which are based on a rights-based approach: 

  1.  Funders should provide additional and tailored funds to support groups, who have historically been excluded or found it difficult to access funding.[1] 
  2.  Build trust and acknowledge unequal power relations. Take steps to reduce barriers to access, involvement and fairness in decision making.
  3.  Application processes should be simplified, accessible[2], and non-discriminatory. Where needed, costs of ensuring access and inclusion should be funded. 
  4.  Invest direct in organisations led by people with direct lived experience[3][4] of injustice or inequalities, as they have community reach and trust. 
  5.  When you fund mainstream organisations, ask for evidence of how they work alongside trusted grassroots and specialist organisations in the local community.
  6.  Have a clear outreach strategy using different communication channels. Work with umbrella groups and equality organisations, who can provide support. 
  7.  Address unconscious bias in grant making. Ensure funding staff receive appropriate training to reduce risk of discrimination against marginalized groups. 
  8.  Consult and meaningfully involve representatives of communities in funding decision-making process. Do this through open and transparent dialogue, listening and responding appropriately. 
  9.  Ensure decision-making panels meaningfully include people with lived experience and experts who can reach into specific communities and issues. 
  10.  Ensure that payment models work for smaller and specialist lived experience organisations. This should include payment in advance, flexibility on overheads, core or unrestricted funds where possible. 
  11.  Ensure that funding addresses legacy, and support grantees to build resilience for the future by funding infrastructure.
  12.  Ensure the requirement for evidence and data of need, does not prohibit funding for marginalized groups. 
  13.  Use eligibility criteria that are not prohibitive. Adapt your expectations and criteria to the context of these groups e.g. governance, financial information. 
  14.  Use accurate and non-harmful representations of people and communities in your language, imagery, data, stories, and fundraising campaigns

[1] This could include ring-fencing, adapted criteria, targeted funding calls, and easing eligibility criteria for small and specialist organisations.

[2] This includes ensuring that forms are compatible with adapted devices and specialist software, making interview questions available in advance for disabled applicants, offering clear guidelines in plain English, different formats e.g. video, braille, different languages, and direct support to applicants where needed.

[3] People with lived experience: Someone with direct personal experience (past or present) of social injustice, inequality, oppression or a social issue.

[4] These organisations are sometimes called organisations ‘of’ communities of identity or experience. These organisations are led and controlled by a majority of people who have relevant lived experience and so reflect and are ‘of’ the communities that organisation works with. These organisations have a majority of people with lived experience at all levels of their organisation including trustees, senior management, staff and volunteers. Simply engaging with a beneficiary group doesn’t mean an organisation is led by people with lived experience.

[1] DCMS supports these good practice recommendations and is consulting internally, and with colleagues across Whitehall about future adoption in line with HMG guidance and their grant making functions.