The benefits of joining the London Community Response – A family foundation perspective

Written by James Fitzpatrick (Director, Joseph Levy Foundation)

We’re all really busy at the moment so here are the TLDR[1] headlines:

Participating in the London Community Response (LCR) has saved us time and given us access to organisations we wouldn’t otherwise have known about.  It provided a learning opportunity for us through the regular Zoom calls focused on specific thematic issues, and has given us a vehicle to respond quickly and to enact some of our core values through coordinated and collaborative funding.  

Ongoing use of the LCR portal is causing us to reflect on our level of knowledge about needs and capabilities of organisations and communities within London – but also our lack of knowledge about what’s happening outside London, particularly at this time of crisis. 

London Funders has done a huge amount with a small team in a very short time and has once again demonstrated the essential value of collaboration.

[1] Too Long Didn’t Read

The longer version:

Who we are

The Joseph Levy Foundation (JLF) is a relatively small family foundation with an annual grantmaking budget of £500,000 and a small staff team of 2.25 fte.  As a London Funders member, we had signed up to the Funders’ Statement on Covid-19 initiated by London Funders before lockdown.

What changed at JLF?

In response to the pandemic the JLF board agreed to meet every 3 weeks and decided that our initial focus would be on supporting organisations with which we have an existing relationship.  In addition, the board also established an Emergency Grants fund of £100,000 (which is being kept under review) to support smaller charities that have immediate Covid-19 related needs, and which would not be limited to charities we are currently supporting. It was decided that some of the funding from this emergency pot would be directed through the London Community Response.

Although we had some previous experience of collaborative funding, our board was initially concerned that signing up to the LCR would limit our ability to be flexible and to continue to make independent decisions.  We also had a concern that the level of funding we had available wouldn’t be large enough to make a difference to the LCR.  However, our trustees recognised that aligning with the LCR would extend rather than limit our options and meant we retained our ability to make independent decisions.

The LCR process – how has it helped us?

The LCR process has been very useful for us – particularly the regular Zoom calls to share intelligence between funders which has helped us to understand more about how communities are responding to the pandemic and the support they need from funders. 

The grant applications portal has been easy to use and has allowed us to review a large number of applications in an accessible way.  The “baggsying” process (being able to reserve an application while going through our internal decision-making process) is especially user friendly. 

What’s been particularly impressive is the iterative nature of the LCR process – continually learning and adapting – and also being prepared to wait and consult so that the response can be as effective as possible.

What we’ve funded so far:

So far JLF has awarded five grants totalling £35,128 (due to be 8 totalling £55,185 by 1/7/20) through the LCR.  We expect that amount to increase as new grant waves are launched. As a UK-wide funder, one of the factors we considered when assessing applications was whether the activities would also provide some benefit beyond London – and this influenced our decision to award two of the grants.

We have also “baggsy-ed” two applications which we subsequently found out had been funded from another source outside the LCR.  This is good news for the organisations concerned and shows how fast-moving things are and underlines the need for us funders to be able to make quick decisions. 

Some of what we’ve learned so far:

We suspect like many funders, the speed of the pandemic has challenged JLF to develop new ways to make faster decisions.  But it has also raised questions about how and when we should respond.  Should we allocate all our available funds during the initial crisis or keep some back to help with rebuilding when the pandemic is over?  With our own income likely to fall significantly along with the value of our endowment, should we spend some of the endowment now to help with today’s crisis – but at the risk of having less to allocate in future when we can’t know whether the situation will be better or worse?  Hearing the views of other funders through the LCR process has helped to shape our thinking on this.

Beyond London

As a small UK-wide funder based in London, the pandemic has also highlighted how little we really know about what is happening outside the city. The LCR has offered funders both a pooled fund option and an aligned fund option and, crucially, it has demonstrated what can be achieved by bringing together public, charitable and corporate funders focused on a single place. 

It may be that other cities or regions in the UK have ways of achieving the same benefits (e.g. a single point of access for funders and fundseekers to speed up the funding process) and there are funder networks covering a small number of areas outside London which may be doing the same thing.  If this is true, we would find it really helpful to know how to engage with them and if not, from our experience, the LCR would be a very useful model for them to consider.

The benefits of collaboration

For us, the LCR also provided an opportunity to collaborate beyond London with another foundation – the Leathersellers Company, who (during a London Funders meeting) offered to share applications to their oversubscribed emergency fund with other funders.  JLF took up that offer and has so far funded two of those applications.  It should be routine for funders to share applications like this to reduce transaction costs for everyone –  not just in response to crisis situations.

The LCR applications portal has clearly demonstrated the value of a single point of access – bringing together funders and fundseekers.  The LCR process has also demonstrated that funders can reduce the level and range of bureaucracy they separately require of applicants and grantees.  Overall, it has underlined how wasteful the traditional grant making process is.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The LCR’s early focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has been really important, as has its willingness to change, including recognising the need to involve organisations that are expert in the needs and assets within specific communities – particularly minoritised communities.  And to fund them to provide that expertise rather than expect them to provide it for free it to some of the richest organisations in the UK.  This focus on DEI has provided a further opportunity for our board to discuss the issue in relation to our own processes

Looking Ahead:

London Funders’ small team has done an amazing amount in a very short time and we are very grateful to them. 

JLF will continue to use the London Community Response to distribute funds, inform our broader response to the pandemic and improve our funding practice over the coming months. 

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