The Scottish Government gives out millions of pounds in grants to voluntary organisations. Some grants are direct and some are provided through others like Corra Foundation and Inspiring Scotland. Those of us lucky enough to get Scottish Government grant funding are very grateful but exactly how grateful we feel can depend not just on the money itself but how well the grant is managed.
Scottish Government grant managers can also find managing grant relationships with us challenging. Sometimes funding relationships can be painful for both sides.
But if we don’t have the right relationships it’s less likely that the grant achieves the best possible outcomes for the people of Scotland.
So that’s why a working group of SG officials and grantholders produced Principles for Positive Partnership in January 2020. This is guidance on effective grant management relationships between Scottish Government and third sector grantholders.
Early 2020 turned out not be a great time to launch new guidance so Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS), SCVO and the Scottish Government Third Sector Unit (TSU) are now on a delayed mission to raise awareness of the guidance and tackle the barriers to positive relationships.
We ran a roundtable in October and there’s another one in February. Roundtable participants so far told us that common challenges in relationships are caused by:
· Inconsistency of people relationships – it’s hard to have a relationship if the main contact on either side keeps changing
· Power issues: for example, grantholders afraid to raise issues with their grant manager.
· Process inflexibility: the well-known challenges of short time funding and bureaucracy amongst other things.
None of this is a surprise but the temptation is to say it’s all too big to change. We need to find simple ways to make things better for both sides.
And it’s not all bad news. ESS has collected many good examples where small actions have made a big difference. Here are three:
· A grantholder was struggling to deliver its project so the SG grant manager organised a network session where all grantholders in that fund shared learning. The struggling grantholder picked up practical solutions and got their project back on track.
· Grantholders and managers in another fund had regular informal catch ups about how the work is going. This built understanding of both sides’ perspectives and helped grant managers feel more comfortable with a range of outcome evidence – stats and stories.
· A grantholder in a third fund gave their grant manager advance warning of challenging research findings they would be campaigning on. This meant officials were ready to brief Ministers and they ended up involving in the grantholder in improving the relevant policy.
These – and others – are the kinds of examples we want to see more of so that grants really do make the best difference.
If you are a Scottish Government grantholder click here to book a slot on the next Positive Partnerships roundtable on 2 February.
Steven Marwick is the founding Director of Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS). ESS works with third sector and funders so they can measure and explain their impact and use learning to improve practice and influence policy. Steven’s previous jobs include the Community Fund lottery fund and Scottish Government. He is a Trustee of Eczema Outreach Support.