Building Strategy: City Bridge Trust

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 second article in this series comes from David Farnsworth, Director, and Sufina Ahmad, Head of Strategic Review, City Bridge Trust.

This series first appeared in September 2017’s Trust & Foundation News. Read the magazine here. 

At City Bridge Trust we review our funding strategy every five years, and in September 2016 we began designing our strategy for 2018-2023. For the first time since we launched, we have a fulltime staff lead for our strategic review, with Sufina seconded to us from the Big Lottery Fund for a year.

The strategy was agreed by the City Bridge Trust committee in May 2017, and will be recommended to the Court of Common Council, which comprises all 125 elected Members and Aldermen from the City in July 2017. The strategy will begin delivery in 2018. We invested a lot of time throughout the process with our trustee – the City of London Corporation – so when it came to them signing off the strategy, there were no surprises.

Reviewing your strategy gives organisations an opportunity to reflect on their work and achievements, and make changes that allow for future improvements. The process ensures strategic thinking is at the heart of what you do, and provides organisations with a decision-making tool. Many things can change over a strategic period; and for us our review has allowed us to look again at our vision, values, funding priorities and outcomes.

Our review was intended to be both an engagement and consultation exercise. Throughout the process we have committed to collaborative, transparent and outward-facing practices. Ultimately, we wanted to learn from others to best understand the needs of Londoners. We have drawn on different key stakeholders from civil society (including organisations we fund), as well as the private and public sectors. We spoke with a wide range of people in one-to-one settings and through 13 roundtables, 13 focus groups, exhibiting at conferences, and linking with expert networks.

Collaboration is essential: both in terms of strategy development and delivery. Everything we do should be with appropriate partners who complement our skill sets. Taking a collaborative approach means we need to factor in more time. We wanted to work closely with many stakeholders, but in particular with Trust for London who are on the same strategic cycle, and London Funders as a large membership network. They have both been represented on our project steering group, along with Alvin Carpio from Joseph Rowntree Foundation and of course Big Lottery Fund. A lot of the London Funders membership – and ACF members – have given up time to attend focus groups and one-to-one meetings, which has been immensely helpful. We are very keen to share learning and work with other ACF members.

Our trustee has supported us fully in our commitment to transparency. We have shared externally five pieces of research linked to the review – a needs analysis for Londoners experiencing disadvantage, a market scoping exercise on the trust, a grantee perception survey, a funding approaches review and a social investment scoping report. We recognise that many funders cannot dedicate the level of resource we are able to towards a review, and therefore wanted to share as much as we can in order for others to use them for their own development.

The timeframe from agreement of the top line strategy to implementation is deliberately long. The next stage will involve working up more detail on the funding programmes, and analysing what resources we need. For a smaller trust or one with more fleet-of-foot processes that stage could be shorter.

We want this strategy to succeed, and so we intend to have a learning partnership embedded in our strategy from day one, who will provide us with guidance about what’s working well and what isn’t throughout the five years.

Previously the strategy was priorities-led; now it is more guided by vision and values and we have reduced our funding priorities to five. The focus for us is on the role we play on a bridge of need and potential that starts with surviving and ends with thriving. Through our priorities we will respond to need and opportunity, but we also want to tackle the root causes of the social issues we support through our funding.

Another important difference is a focus on funder plus, utilising all the assets we have access to through our own team and through our trustee, to help the organisations we support to build strength and resilience. We want to widen the variety of funding we offer too, maybe thinking about small grants, matched funding or social investment readiness.

The total budget for the review is £190,000 to support the wage costs, convening, communication work, research and consultancy. We have around £70,000 left, which will support the implementation of the strategy, including for example the application process, revamping of the website and so on. It is a lot of money, but it supports a spend of £100 million-plus over the five years, so it is beholden on us and our trustee to carry out the process in the most effective way possible.

This investment has helped prepare us for our future strategies too, simply because certain things we have done this time round will be easier next time. The findings from our learning partnership will heavily support the development of our next strategy too.

David Farnsworth, Director, and Sufina Ahmad, Head of Strategic Review
City Bridge Trust


Other articles in this series:

Building Strategy: Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust  
Building Strategy: Andrews Charitable Trust 
Building Strategy: John Lyon’s Charity 
Building Strategy: Masonic Charitable Foundation 

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