The Interview Summary

Could you please tell me a bit more about yourself and your role within CAST?

  • I’m the director of CAST. CAST is a charity that supports the agency, presence, and influence of social impact organisations. We work with civil society organisations to help them develop their understanding and their use of digital in pursuit of their own charitable mission.

We’re here to talk about the funder ecology working group within Catalyst. My first question is how would you describe the purpose of the working group?

  • The funder ecology working group recognises that funders play a critical role in setting the context for how civil society organisations operate and how they respond to changing context. That includes all of the organisations that Catalyst are looking to support and engage with, so the purpose of this group is to work and engage with funders, organisations who are supporting civil organisations, and charities to help them learn from one another as peers, help them hear and learn from what’s going on across the Catalyst network and to share their work with Catalyst.

Where did it originate? How did you define there was a need for this particular working group?

  • Because of the influential role funders play, there’s always been a focus on how we align new practices between charities, digital capabilities that are available (such as agencies and support partners), and the way in which funders act. 
  • As Catalyst has evolved, it’s been clear that supporting funders in this journey is just as important as supporting other organisations, so it’s been basically from the start. Over the last two years there’s recognition of the opportunity to share the practice of Catalyst with funders and reciprocally share their work back and that this is an important part of ensuring the whole network flourishes.

Who’s been involved in the group to date?

  • One of the intentions of this group is to grow the number of funders and funding organisations that are involved in Catalyst, so we have the core founding funders that includes National Lottery Community Fund, Esmee Fairbairn, City Bridge Trust, Paul Hamlyn Foundation as well as Comic Relief. They’re still engaged in this work, but it’s evolved since then as more people are interested in supporting collaborative approaches, so Power to Change are already involved, Sport England, Disrupt Foundation, Well.come Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund. 
  • As the working group develops its practice, there’s more commonality with grant funders or other grant funders who are interested in digital, so the number of people and organisations involved is growing.

Since when have you been running the working group? 

  • It’s gone through lots of iterations; it’s always been baked into the intentions of Catalyst to support the group but titled as the Funder Ecology Working Group, that’s evolved over the last year.

What have you done so far? What would you say the main activities have been?

  • There are two main activities. The first is how do we bring together a peer group of funders to help them understand the insight and evidence that’s coming from Catalyst? For this there’s been the reports, peer sessions and collective meetings coming together to discuss those strategic updates. The other part is identifying specific roles that funders can play in supporting us to achieve the shared objectives of Catalyst. Probably the best example is how we can support funders to create terms and conditions that support Reuse. And one focus there would be a set of activities around open IP. There’s been some research work, working with an amazing organisation called Naomi Korn looking at the terms and conditions grant makers can create that are more open and accessible for charities. 
  • Secondly, how can we bring a form of organisations together to help them figure out how they can adopt those terms and conditions? That’s one of the areas that’s expanded quite a lot over the last year, not only with those outputs and tools that were actively used by funders but also with the growing community of funders who are interested in how they can make more of their contributions to Catalyst objectives.

What outcomes/key learning are emerging from the group so far?

  • There’s been lots of progress. Some specific outcomes, like the focus on the open IP, but there’s a range of outputs that are used by funders. There are also the forums to help them support those practices, which we know will support Catalysts’ over all objectives. 
  • There have been greater connections between Catalyst and funding group. For example, the charity digital skills service last year came up with a set of recommendations for funders, so we ensured those were placed in front of funders so they can discuss them and think about what is means for their practice.
  • The open IP work links to IVAR’s research which is outside the network but now a part of it, so extending the activities which are involved in Catalyst more by sharing the tools and services available (e.g. Service Recipes or Dovetail), so that more funders are offering that to the charities they are supporting.
  • There is significant opportunity for funders supporting amazing organisations to provide greater, sector wide contribution. Open IP is the clearest example, where you fund one charity to do some great work so that can then be re-used by others and taking that mindset to think how do you ensure the impact and the benefit of that is felt across the sector?

Have you faced any challenges in running the working group to date?

  • This year the really significant decrease in funds available for charities to look at digital products and services, some of that has been moved into core funding recognising that digital should sit across everything (that’s my optimistic take on it). Ensuring there are the right sorts of funding available for the initiatives across Catalyst is one of the challenges that we’ve got to keep focusing on over the years to come.

What’s next for the working group?

  • A Focus on ensuring an active group of funders who are focused on contributing and benefitting from all those in the network -Ensuring Catalyst learning, progress, and outputs/outcomes are made available easily to funders to amplify that work to their communities and ensure funder work outside of Catalyst can be fed back into the network.