The Funders’ Collaborative Hub – A big step forward

ACF's CEO, Carol Mack, writes about the Funders' Collaborative Hub, and the progress made following the first meeting of its newly formed Strategy Group

Since the lockdown foundations have been thinking hard about how they can best support civil society as it learns to live with Coronavirus. The immediate focus of many was on responding to the emergency and supporting existing grantees and applicants to adjust. But increasingly foundations are thinking about the future.

While each foundation will see this through the prism of their individual missions, whether that be medical research, education or social justice, there is a common desire to ensure that foundation funding contributes to solutions and is more than the sum of its parts. There is a fiercely held ambition that we can and should build back better – in a way that does not embed the inequalities publicly paraded by Covid19, but seeks to eradicate them. And a recognition that this requires a collective as well as an individual response.

Already many foundations have taken action to co-ordinate with others funding in the same field. The London Community Response Fund is a prominent example, and there are similar funds coalescing in other places, and around other areas of interest, from legal advice to arts and heritage. But there isn’t a single place that the sector can go to find out what is happening, who is involved, where the gaps might be, and how to help.

At least, not yet…

For this is the ambition of the Funders’ Collaborative Hub, currently under development and due to launch over the summer, hosted by ACF. The aim of the Hub is to inform and amplify the contributions that foundations make, individually and collectively, to the voluntary and community sector as it learns to live with Covid19 over the next 18 months or so. Hosted by ACF, the Hub will comprise: a data platform; a set of roles, relationships and a growing network of funders; a place that co-creates and shares insight and learning; and which supports foundations to pool and align their resources.

It is vitally important in all of this, that the Hub is not something that foundations ‘do’ to the broader sector, but that one that takes a partnership approach. Last week ACF convened the first meeting of the Strategy Group - a small group of sector leaders who will shape the work of the Hub and which I chair. The meeting was a fantastic opportunity to test some early thinking about the Hub, developed by a voluntary project group drawn from the ACF membership.

The discussions were thoughtful, challenging and highlighted issues to watch out for, as well as things to strive for. We heard that funders, particularly those with a national remit, don’t engage sufficiently with complexity. At the same time, we need to act quickly and be agile, and to ensure that local activity is included. We need to collaborate and co-ordinate, but to avoid groupthink and hear from different voices. And we need to critically review our current activity in order to avoid embedding existing inequalities.

Overall there was a strong sense that the Hub is needed and could have an important role to play in helping foundations to play a positive role in supporting the voluntary and community sector to adjust to the new normal. We took away lots to work on between now and the end of June when the Strategy Group meets again, prior to the formal launch of the Hub.

Already it is clear that the work of the Hub will not be straightforward. And it is really important to emphasise that it cannot on its own increase the quantum of foundation funding available – but it can influence the way that it is spent.  Foundations alone do not have anything like enough resources to meet all the financial needs of the voluntary sector. But I firmly believe that we work best when we work together – and the Hub will provide the framework to do just that.

Carol Mack, June 2020


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