01 / Jul / 2023

Strategy review reflections

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In 2022/23, we carried out a strategy review to set our strategic framework for the period 2023-2027. Conscious that so much has changed in the wider world and in philanthropy since we developed our last strategy in 2018, and because we’re growing, it felt important to go about this review in a different way. So, for the first time, we commissioned nfpResearch to survey both successful and unsuccessful applicants and worked with an external consultant to hold in-depth discussions with 32 sector leaders and partners. It was invaluable for us to hear more about the challenges our partners are facing, and their reading of the current context, as well as their perspectives on our work. We want to thank everyone who took part for sharing their thoughts and reflections with us.

We were really pleased to find out that partners seem to value our broad approach to grant-making, which comprises unrestricted and, increasingly, multi-year funding, light-touch processes, and a focus on building supportive relationships. We are committed to continuing this approach and keeping with our priorities.

Yet it’s clear that the organisations we fund face huge challenges - working in a hostile and polarised environment, with rising demands, increasingly constrained resources, and a workforce at real risk of burnout. We know there’s more we need to do. Over the coming period, we will continue to improve our processes to minimise the burden associated with fundraising. We will increase the average size of our grants, and the proportion of multi-year grants. We will also explore if there are other ways, beyond funding, that we can use our platform and resources to support our partners, while bearing in mind that we are a small team with limited capacity.

One of the tensions we need to manage over the coming period is balancing support for established partners, while making room for those we’re not currently funding. It’s clear there are significant inequities in funding in our sectors, with many smaller organisations, especially those led by people from racialised communities and with first-hand experience of the issues they are tackling, being locked out of funding networks. We have already been taking proactive steps to try to address this. But the review gave us the space to interrogate our mission in more depth and highlighted the need for us to be relentless in our focus on the most marginalised communities both within and across our priority areas. If we want to support these communities, while trying to change the systems that entrap them, we need to do more to reach out to different types of organisations. We need to place a stronger emphasis on work that is rooted in affected communities, is asset based and prioritises dignity, and is led by people who work in collaborative, movement-generous ways. Our decision-making will reflect this thinking.

Findings from the review suggest our work in shared spaces, alongside other funders, is appreciated and has made a difference. In the future, we’re keen to work even more concertedly with others to make best use of limited resources, strengthen sector infrastructure, address gaps, and model ways of responding to the needs of historically under-resourced communities and geographies in our areas of interest.

Finally, the review has confirmed the importance of engaging with and learning from our partners and the communities they support. We’re keen to find ways to do this that help us to be flexible and to continually adjust and improve our work, but which also feel mutually beneficial. In doing this, we will need to be much more aware of who is in our networks, of who we’re listening to and who we’re not. We know we’re not alone in thinking about these questions and would welcome the opportunity to learn from others about the approaches that are working for them.

This is a work in progress, and we hope the review marks the beginning of an on-going conversation about how we can best support our partners and the wider sector to achieve the goals we all care about.

See A B Charitable Trust’s strategic framework 2023-2027