Many fundraisers would like more autonomy in allocating funds from philanthropy. Here’s the five things on Gill Whelan’s wish list.

fundersLast week I attended a conference in Sydney that brought together fundraising and partnerships professionals from not-for-profit organisations around the country.

One session in particular stood out for me. Leonard Vary, CEO of the Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund, spoke to a packed room about how, after careful reflection and research, they are refreshing their strategic plan to move towards providing general operational funding rather than specific program funding. The room erupted in a round of applause! There were even some misty eyes. It felt like someone had finally listened to what we, as charities, have been crying out for.

Or perhaps we’ve not been crying out loudly and publicly enough?

Prior to Leonard speaking, when I’d had the opportunity to chat to my counterparts at the frontline of fundraising, the conversation always seemed to come back to the subject of grants. And I’ll be frank and tell you that it was often an exasperated conversation. Philanthropic grants are vital to what we do, and we are extremely grateful, but also very reliant on them, particularly for charities that don’t receive any government funding. Our experiences were all very similar; how much time and resources it takes to apply for them, how clunky the process can often be, and the work involved in reporting is significant.

What resonated was the power imbalance in grantmaking. Grant makers often have specific ideas for what they want to fund, even if that is not in line with the needs of the not-for-profit organisation, or the core service that they need to deliver. Still, we dedicate a lot of resources to the application process, work hard to fit the very specific criteria, try to budget for outcomes… and sit back and hope!

I’m not the first to voice these sentiments but I do believe that we, as charity professionals, need to consistently speak boldly about how we’d like more autonomy in allocating funds from philanthropy; only by speaking up will we see change in the way this funding works.

Here’s my wish list for funding:

Invest in people. That doesn’t just mean funding new positions but also existing roles – with competitive salaries so that working in a not-for-profit organisation becomes a highly attractive choice for talented graduates and professionals. (Shout out to the Bank of Melbourne Foundation who have part-funded my role for two years!)

Invest in professional development. Provide pathways and tools for upskilling, innovation and creative thinking. And help us retain those people who’ve been on the journey with us, who know our stories and who live and breathe our mission.

Keep our lights on. Please pay our rent and utilities bills for multiple years and let us tell everyone that you’re doing just that. Our donors will see how much you believe in the work we do and they will also feel that their donation is going directly to the communities we seek to help.

Let us tell you what we need money for. It might be a new program or it might be the same old, excellent, successful program we’ve been running for ten years. Or it might be keeping the lights on.

Please make applying for a grant really, really simple. Just ask those questions that you specifically want the answer to. You can always ask shortlisted applicants to provide more detailed information if necessary. Or come and meet us and take a look around. We’d really love to meet you.

What’s on your funding wish list?

Gill Whelan is the Partnerships Manager at St Kilda Mums, which has a mission to rehome pre-loved nursery goods to support Victorian families in need while saving the earth’s precious resources.

The conference Gill attended was F&P’s Big4 Fundraising.

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