Our research with networks seeking to make a strong social impact across East and West Africa uncovered the challenges they face in navigating the funder environment and accessing funds. We closely collaborated with the networks for two years, building trusted and open relationships. This led us to create the Funder Dialogue Series, aiming to demystify the funder landscape. Whilst these challenges are situated within a wider systemic context, there was important learning from our engagements. Find out more more about our research with the impact networks in our report here.

The networks faced a common learning curve as they sought to understand the funder environment and secure sustainable funding sources. Their conversations with funders were limited by perceptions of expectations, boundaries on what could be discussed, and the belief that funder requirements were beyond question or negotiation.

Through the Funder Dialogue series, and community of practice sessions which identified the need for this engagement, the networks began to realise their potential to influence funder agendas. They also recognised that they weren’t accounting for their full costs when bidding for project work which made financial viability seem unattainable.

“The funders were always available, but we felt as though they were not. We now see funders as being in the same ecosystem and that we can ask the questions we want to ask. The Funder Dialogue has demystified the conversation so now we are more professional in our approach; it has given the confidence to discuss mutual interests with funders.”

At the start of our engagement, viability of the networks was impacted in several ways:

  • Challenges in planning and maintaining strategic intention and direction
  • High staff turnover due to uncertainty of employment
  • Lack of a dedicated resource mobilisation role in smaller teams
  • Disproportionate amounts of time invested in proposal writing in relation to funding actually received
  • Focus on securing funding taking time from delivery

The Funder Dialogue Series was a pivotal tool in shifting the approach to funding and securing viability of the participating networks.

“Core cost really is key for us because if it’s a project, the project would have to take the time of some staff, that time has to be compensated for. If there’s no funding for human resource, then we do not go for that kind of funding, because what it would mean is that they’re going to drain other projects. In order to avoid that we go for the project that provides core funding.”

Simple inputs for maximum outputs

The concept of the series was simple. Following a community of practice in which the networks had the opportunity to express their ambitions and challenges, build trust and relationships, we created an opportunity for unrestricted access to funders to give the network leaders the opportunity to ask the questions they had always wanted to ask.

Each monthly session was a two hour virtual meeting, with every participant involved in asking questions.

Outside of these sessions we encouraged collaboration and discussion between the networks to share best practice and joint funding proposals.

You can listen to curated Q&As from each of the sessions here.

The networks listened and asked challenging questions of each speaker. They translated what they heard into action, a demonstration of the capacity of networks to learn quickly, implement change and rapidly see results.

“It has enhanced my level of confidence in terms of engaging with donors; I have a feel of what donors are looking for . I do a scoping of what the donor does, and what the donor is, and see which of our interventions or projects align that donor’s interest. I am more specific on what the donor needs and the discussion goes much more quickly.”

Uncovering the value of collaboration

The networks were already delivering significant impact before the Funder Dialogue Series. However, their engagement shone a light on the ways in which CEOs and senior leaders tend to operate in isolation when it comes to fundraising and business development. Self taught and often working with limited visibility of the funder environment, these networks were working extremely hard for limited outcomes.

The initiative supported them to uncover the value of collaboration and peer engagement to deliver outstanding results.

“Our engagement with organisations and partners is a shift from seeing ourselves as recipients of grants to seeing ourselves as partners and collaborators in the sphere; so resource collaboration which helps in engagement to cocreate projects and activities. It has opened more doors for us and for long term projects. We have also diversified our funders. Before we were just working with our long term funders. Now we have developed more than ten new relationships with relevant opportunities rather than just a few partners and donors.”

Outstanding and immediate results

Our evaluation showed that:

  • Participation increased the network’s confidence in conversations with funders
  • The networks now understood how to write core costs into proposals
  • Each network held between five and fifteen new funder conversations in the six months following the Dialogue
  • There were 67 new funder conversations, with a conversion to contract of 45%
  • Visibility of the funder environment changed through participation
  • Funding received during the year increased 15 to 40%
  • Business models shifted to diversify sources and balance of revenue to de-risk their portfolios, changing the percentage of income from funders, programmatic funding, membership fees or grants
  • Networks have changed the way they select funding partners

“Previously partners and funders didn’t reach out to us, we were chasing them. That has changed with them reaching out to us. Government agencies are recognising our work and deciding they want to work with us so our position in the ecosystem has completely changed. Funders are giving us a better platform for engagement; they are reaching out and inviting us.”

Would you like to either fund or participate in a Funder Dialogue event, or community of practice? We are excited to test this approach to benefit networks and organisations in different cultures and contexts.

Get in touch to discuss how we can work together to level the playing field for networks and organisations seeking viability and sustainability.