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Funders achieve more by retaining their autonomy says new research on grant-making in North East England

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The latest report from the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland’s 10-year Third Sector Trends research programme. released today, finds there is no case for funders to do more collaboration. The Strength of Weak Ties, explores whether foundations should work together more closely to maximise benefit from collective effort. The research, led by Professor Tony Chapman, Director of Policy & Practice at St Chad’s College, Durham University, looked at the work of 25 national and regional charitable trusts and foundations working in North East England.

With around 7,000 voluntary and community organisation and social enterprises serving beneficiaries across the region, demand for grants outstrips supply. But Professor Chapman’s research concludes that trusts and foundations achieve more be retaining their autonomy. While partnership and co-production can work well, the report says it is not a popular option, and funders rarely contemplate pooling money. Professor Chapman concludes that ‘good-neighbourly’, ‘cooperative’ and ‘complementary’ behaviour among funders likely benefits the sector more.

Using data from 360Giving the research found that more than 50 charitable trusts and foundations award over 4,000 grants a year to charitable organisations in North East England worth at least £50m. Professor Chapman argues that this is not enough to achieve social transformation and so, rather than pooling or spending time creating formal partnerships, ‘sprinkling the money’ achieves more.

Professor Chapman, author of The Strength of Weak Ties, said: “This research shows that while foundations cherish their autonomy, they do not make choices in isolation because they take their responsibilities to society seriously. They keep their eyes open to see how other foundations are working, where they are giving, what they hope to achieve and how they assess whether valuable achievements are produced. And they talk to each other, sometimes informally and discretely, sometimes formally – to help them make tough decisions on what to back and what to dismiss.”

He added: “No two foundations are the same but they all want to spend their money well and sometimes the time taken to formalise relationships is felt to be an impediment. As one foundation observed: Often we can just do it when it seems like it’s a good idea to work with others. Chalk and cheese often go together quite well.’ By keeping the ties loose, relationships are stronger. This is because autonomy is important to foundations. And it is not surprising that they want to protect that autonomy given that they are in a stronger position in this respect than many organisations in the private or public sectors.”

Rob Williamson, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation said: “This research confirms that our approach to working with other funders has been on the right track. As a place-based funder we have worked with other trusts and foundations in whatever ways work for them to maximise the benefit to our communities in North East England. Sometimes this has meant helping make grants with their funds but more often it is about being ‘eyes and ears’ in the region sharing our in-depth knowledge of the sector and the issues facing our communities. The Third Sector Trends research alongside our Vital Signs research is part of that knowledge.”

For the summary of the research as well as the full report and ten years of Third Sector Trends research go to our Third Sector Trends page

In the spring the Community Foundation will be publishing the latest iteration of the full Third Sector Trends research. Sign up to the newsletter or follow the Community Foundation on twitter @CFTyneWearNland to hear the latest news.

1 Read our report no 1 Third Sector Trends: Strength of Weak Ties (Full Report, 2020) CFTWN-Strength-of-Weak-Ties-Full-Report-February-2020.pdf 1 MB pdf center no Third Sector Trends: Strength of Weak Ties (Summary Report, 2020) CFTWN-Strength-of-Weak-Ties-Summary-Report-February-2020.pdf 686 KB pdf center no loop document module document 1 Want to know more? Visit the link below to access ten years of research on the scale, dynamics and needs of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in North East England. element_group list Array 1 Click here Click here to access our Third Sector Trends archive blue #page:112 element text_cta module ctagroup