Next task: building lasting relationships with your Covid funders

If you’re a charity who has won new funds / funders in this period, you need to think how to sustain and grow those relationships. Don’t stop at one-off funding. Think: how can we building a lasting relationship?

This isn’t hard, it just takes a bit of understanding that your relationship with funders is about more than the money. They want to be associated with great work, and you have knowledge, credibility and insights that they need.

Below is a copy-paste of some advice I shared (specifically with Black ending-Violence Against Women and Girls specialist charities I’ve worked with this year) about how to do this. I hope it helps.


I hope this finds you all very well, although it’s a heavy sky here in Hackney.

This morning it occurred to me that as you’ve all been successful in bringing in new funding and funders, the next task is to maintain and build those relationships. Rather than think about it as a financial transaction with funders, think about it as a relationship you want to build. If this is something you want to do, below are some ideas how.

Although we’re living and working through a very difficult period, there is change happening which you are driving and will benefit from. The wider world is becoming more conscious of racial disparity, and of the particular harms, trauma and discrimination suffered by the women you work with – and often your organisations. This means that funders are more conscious (perhaps than they have ever been) about the importance of your work and what and who you represent. They want to support you, they want to learn from you, and they want to be associated with you.

This should open up the opportunity to build long-term relationships with your funders – and to win repeat funding. In order to build your chances of this, be mindful of these relationships, and nurture them. Try and keep yourselves in the forefront of their minds. This will promote your organisation but also the communities you represent.

This needn’t be a lot of work for you, and isn’t complicated. If you start by thinking what it is they as funders want – and then provide that for them. I think what funders want from you is:

  • To know their funding has made a difference to real people
  • To know they’re supporting excellent organisations to be sustainable and bold
  • To learn – about communities, needs, emerging, issues
  • To be publicly associated with diverse, socially conscious work

You may have ideas of ways you can do this, and it doesn’t have to be often (maybe quarterly?) or long or take too much of your time but some ways could include:

  • Occasional case studies showing how their work has affected real people
    • These could be videos, photos or written
  • Sharing observations and data about your communities and their needs are changing
    • You are the funders’ best source of understanding communities, so help build their knowledge
    • Explain any changes you see, like rises in mental health and why you think that is
    • Remember that you are experts with valuable knowledge: funders want and need to hear this
  • Using social media to tag them in updates about your work
  • Update them on positive changes within your organisation – as well as some of the challenges you’re facing, and the goals you have for the future

I hope this helps. I really think your funders want to align with you and want to work with you: the door is open. If you find ways to push at it – ways you feel comfortable with and have time for – you can position yourselves well for repeat funding.

Going freelance for the voluntary sector: what I’ve learned

Furlough, job cuts, funding insecurity and sustained economic disruption: a lot of people are going to end up as freelancers over the next few months. Some people will lose jobs and others will quit as the promise of transformation gives way to a painful backwards retrenchment and they realise if change won’t happen now, it never will.

Feeling pushed out isn’t easy, whatever the reason. Your ego will have a lot to say about it and the coming months you’ll need to have the energy to nurse that while also finding the  forward propulsion to forge a new career. Don’t be too hard on yourself as you find a way to strike a balance.

Personally, I fell into freelancing because being an employee had become unbearable. Too much of my energy was sucked up in politicking and battling – both of which I’m bad at – at the loss of all the things I’m good at. I never doubted I had much to offer but I knew I wasn’t making the difference I should.

Despite coming from a family of freelancers I had always dismissed it as too unknowable, and myself as unqualified. I had visions of freelancers rattling behind them a trail of MBAs and early morning interest in Agile Sprints and GANTT charts. A two day meeting with McKinsey a decade ago had left a permanent impression of the kind of people who are consultants and it wasn’t me.

I didn’t know where to begin freelancing and I hadn’t planned it. Having not been employed in the voluntary sector for five years I had considerable anxiety that everyone had forgotten me; and even if they hadn’t, how do you make yourself known again? Jump out of someone’s birthday cake?

The thought of selling myself felt horrible. I am not a marketer (as I expect many people in the voluntary sector are not. We sell ideas and principles, not ourselves). Two former bosses asked what my elevator pitch was. ‘You both know me!’, I cried. Surely that is enough?

And actually, it is.

Being yourself is the great, secret joy of freelancing. Often as I’m pedalling off to a client or the (now closed) British Library I think to myself, no one is ruining my day. You’re hired by people that like your brain and your attitude and have given you a mandate to use your strengths to change and challenge them. I’m not saying its always easy, but its definitely easy far more of the time. You’ll hit misunderstandings, learn the need for repetition and the risk of nuance. Sometimes you’ll propose a step too far and have to rewind: but always I feel like I know why I’m here.

Stepping out of an institution your work develops its own rhythm. A virtuous cycle forms where good work leads to more good work. You become your own mistress and with that the anxious ego of the first few months gives way to a deep revolution in confidence.

Not that it is all easy, and I say all this from the vantage point of a slew of privileges. Also, the next 24 months are unknowable for all of us. Freelancing is a path that takes a lot of faith (but if you’re ever going to believe in anything in life, it may as well be yourself).

My own business plan for the next 9 months consists of (a) cutting all my spending and (b) a karmic belief that in working for free or next to nothing, some pay will emerge at some point. That’s probably not the most assured approach but it feels right for me and I feel for the first time that my approach to work is entirely in accordance with my values.

If you do go freelance, I wish you well. Find company, seek advice, have other freelancers to share stories with. After all, if you follow your instincts, what can possibly go wrong?