I am really hoping that we move beyond the standard stuff: online, multi year funding etc etc. It would be quite marvellous to address some of the big issues across the funding ecosystem.
So in the interests of putting my thoughts onto the interweb, here’s what I want to talk about.
I question to view of making it easier to register. Actually – no. The last thing we need more charities. Right now we have about one charity for every 166 New Zealanders. The usual narrative around this is how generous New Zealanders as a nation are, but actually – not sure that’s the case. How many charities have been formed because of the way grant makers demand their accounts be presented? How many volunteer hours are churned up in governance of very small groups which achieve very little? And what sort of back office costs could be saved if we could rationalise and co-operate.
Let’s look at Health charities. There are 2000 of these. How many have cancer in their name? I don’t know, but surely the task they are doing is the same? Support, lobbying and awareness? How about social services? Again, almost 2,000 charities in this space? How many of these have relief of poverty as their charitable purpose?
While thinking of social services, why are they asking for grants at all? As a society we don’t really talk about why these organisations who generally have government contracts are only funded to 80%. Should it be 100%? Should grant makers just work with these organisations on trying new stuff? In Canterbury in 2014, grant makers gave social services $7.6m. If we extrapolate this up nationally, that’s around $76m put into social services by grant makers.
And seeing I have gone there, then why is the Canterbury community raising money for a helipad at the hospital? Core DHB function? Library? Surely a council obligation. Same with the ambulance – other emergency services are 100% funded, so why not ambos? Air rescue is interesting again, with some funded by government to 80% operating cost, others to 30% of their operating cost. Why?
Let’s look at grants processes and time liberation. Now, I have a paid gig doing grant applications. Nice people. Rubbish role. I call myself something that doesn’t sound like Funding so I can get money to make sure I am paid. I photocopy reams of paper, find something to wrap a request around, and send it off into the wind to hear about six weeks to six months later. I fill in forms to show that yes, indeed, we spend that grant on that stuff. It’s a paper shuffling, box ticking role. And frankly, the DIA application process is the best I have found (so far).
But how can we reinvent the whole grant making process to cut my job from the books, reduce the cost burden from the grant maker, focus on outcomes for the community not spending cash, and get more funds through to those who do actually make a difference. Imagine a world with a transparent grant system, open data on approvals – and declines. A world where organisations are judged and funded on the outcomes they achieve for the community, rather than the “heart wrench” of the charity’s brand, or the “fingers crossed” nature of income generation. A place where charities are not beholden to the crumbs from the corporate table.
I also think the grant makers could do with some better information, like benchmarking. I have previously looked at regional funding differences, which show real data on what’s happening in Canterbury and Otago. Is the ecosystem really demand driven? Or driving by supply of funds? We can also look within category, such as the Air Rescue example above, or at club level for football (some clubs get $400 per registered player – others ask for and receive none), or grants going into specific codes (from the Delfi 2014 data, Rugby Union gets $240 per registered player, Touch $15). I touched on this stuff in my TedxCHCH talk in 2015 and received a wonderful supportive email from a woman who had been involved in a club for years. “Those who provide grants need to get 100% smarter checking on accountability and sport needs to get off it's collective butt and do something for itself.”
There are a bunch of reasons we struggle to have these discussions. Like it or not, there is a power relationship between grant makers and NFPs which reduces the ability for candid conversation. There is little scale in both grant makers and NFPs, little tension for change, and besides, it’s probably not core business. The people who are most involved with the process are the ones whose jobs are most likely at risk, which again, reduces objective thinking. And lastly, do the gaming trusts actually see themselves as grant makers? Last year they put over $340m into the community, so they certainly are. Of the 86 members of Philanthropy NZ, around 0 gaming trusts are members. And PNZ members include one licensing trust and four councils. Given the importance of the gaming trust sector to the conversation (in Canterbury they were responsible for 51% of funds in 2014, and 29% in Otago) they need to be at the table.
It’s great DIA is showing leadership around this: now we need to leverage this opportunity and make sure that all arms of the organisation, grant making, regulatory and gambling compliance work together to make our ecosystem as healthy as it can be. Here’s to great lunch.
Love to talk with you if you think this is at all interesting. Check out my website www.delfi.co.nz.