Pragmatism in Practice

In almost every conversation I’ve had over the past few weeks, one of the first things I’m asked is how our Trustees are approaching their funding decisions in light of Covid-19. So, this seems like a suitable focus for the Foundation’s second Covid-19 blog. In fact, writing blogs isn’t even something I would typically do as the ‘day job’ of grant-making activity always seems more important; but then nothing about this situation is ‘typical’ and, from the feedback we received on the first blog, I have learned that hearing from us in new ways has been reassuring for charities who might look to apply to us and want to understand what we’re doing.

The first thing our Trustees did, on the first day of the lockdown, was to convene an emergency Trustee meeting and have a conversation about the approach they wished to take.  It was evident that the impact of Covid-19 was set to be more of a ‘marathon than a sprint’, so our steps as a Foundation needed to reflect longer-term need as well as allow for swift action on urgent issues. Right from the start it was clear that the situation was both fast-moving and unpredictable, so one of the key principles agreed was to be adaptive and not try to predetermine everything – we hoped that taking a ‘phased approach’ to funding would enable us to meet need as it developed.

At the time of writing we’ve made more than £9 million in grants since lockdown began and we are now focusing on a ‘resilience phase’ of grants, primarily to support front-line activities and cash-flow, rather than for longer-term capital plans.  Already some areas of focus have shifted in response to the way the situation has been evolving. For instance, following the wonderful generosity of the British public to our tireless healthcare workers, we have now moved our attention outside the NHS (when we gave £50k to both Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge and St Thomas’ Hospital in London as they were at the forefront of cases) to those supporting other vulnerable groups; with examples including the sick and elderly at home (£500k to Age UK), vulnerable young people (£500k to Onside Youth Zones), those experiencing domestic violence (£300k to SafeLives) and people needing mental health support (£100k to the Anna Freud Centre).

Of course, there’s always the question of how much information to ask for when charities are facing crisis so we have initiated a streamlined approach as we are aiming to strike a balance between ensuring we have sufficient information for our Trustees to make thoughtful decisions, whilst appreciating the pressures and constraints that our applicants are under. We are still requesting charity accounts – these provide insight into more than just historic financials as they cover areas such as governance and safeguarding, all of which still play an important role in our decision-making – but we don’t expect charities to create a ‘perfect application’ in order for a decision to be made.

So, it seems that the ‘recovery and rebuild’ phase is yet to begin, but we nonetheless still have our eye on this horizon while we have a practical focus on the ‘here and now’. We have some hope and expectation that some effective mergers may develop from this situation, but it seems too soon to predict which these may be. There’s no crystal ball as to how and when a ‘rebuild and recovery’ phase will emerge, and most likely it may vary across the different areas we support, but we will continue to listen to our charity partners so we can be as flexible as possible.