As part of our review of our first seven years, we have looked at recent research on how to help life outcomes for young people from poorer homes. We have mapped our grants against the latest recommendations, showing that the money we have given has gone to the right kinds of projects.
We now turn to a series of other questions.
• Have our grants helped innovation?
• Have our grants helped projects become sustainable?
• What have our grants achieved for young people?
• What makes a project successful?
Some of the answers to these questions will, necessarily, be subjective, but we will do the best we can. So here goes.
Have our grants helped innovation?
We are a small organisation and able to make decisions quickly. We are also prepared to take a risk on unproven ideas which seem to us to be worth trying, giving organisations time to generate proof of concept. We have consciously tried to encourage innovation – sometimes we have approached organisations and asked them what ideas they would like to try out, sometimes charities have approached us with new ideas and sometimes we have challenged organisations to try things a bit differently. In this last category, our involvement has ranged from discussions with the charity, to introducing experts in an area or helping charities find additional funding from one or two friendly grant giving trusts.
Nearly two thirds of our total grants (£583k out of a total of £950k) have been to first time programmes or projects and nearly half of those programmes originate from discussions between us and the charity. We were also able to support about 50% of these projects with additional help by way of introductions to others who helped fund the project, or by way of expertise.
One such project was Tbase, an online project undertaken by Connection at St Martin’s. More recently, Off the Record in Croydon, a mental health and counselling charity, came to us with an innovative idea for an online tool. We have helped them refine the project and have provided them with a volunteer who is experienced in IT projects to monitor and advise them.
So a sizeable proportion of the projects we support have been innovative. Should we only support projects which are classed as innovative? We don’t think so, because we also need to see ongoing projects in order to work out “what looks good”. If we hadn’t worked with more established charities, we would not have seen the inspirational work done by Body and Soul, for instance. But we do look for existing projects that seem to be of high quality rather than just “me too” type projects.
Have our grants helped projects become sustainable?
This question needs to be considered at different levels.
First of all, do the organisations we supported still exist? We know of two organisations we have given grants to which have been wound up since we worked with them – Beatbullying ceased trading in 2014 and MyGeneration in 2010.The projects we were supporting at both charities were valuable but in both cases a lack of professional financial control proved to be the undoing of the overall organisation. Another organisation, MySI, which we supported from its earliest days, has also closed its door as it found it hard to generate funding streams.
All the other organisations we have supported continue to operate. We know that some of them have experienced a rather hand to mouth existence over recent years, but they have struggled through and found enough supporters so that they can continue their work. This is a great testament to them all and is particularly impressive given that the overwhelming majority of our grant recipients are small local organisations:
The next level of enquiry is whether the projects we supported are still going on or whether they have quietly disappeared since our funding stopped. Where we provide funds to innovative projects, we normally ask charities for objectives which include securing future funding and dissemination of their ideas so that other organisations can also see what works. We always explain to charities that we do not normally fund projects for more than 3 years and that they need to establish ways of measuring their work which will allow them to make a compelling case to other funders in the future. We ask them to set their own objectives but often challenge them to make their objectives clearer and more output focussed.
The following table sets out the current position for the 25 organisations we have funded:
Operating sustainably 16
Too soon to tell 3
Project not sustainable 1
One-off projects 2
Organisation no longer operating 3
Some of the projects we helped initiate or support in their early phases are still relatively young and it is too soon to say definitively whether they have a long term future – we encourage any funders out there looking for inspirational work to have a look at some of these projects – in particular, look at the work done on the Promise Model by the Winch, mentoring young people by Timebank, and enterprise training by New Horizon Youth Centre.
What have our grants achieved for young people?
In many ways, this is the hardest question to answer in a summarised way. Each of our supported charities has largely met its objectives. We are, of course, aware that this is on a self-reported basis and that there is an incentive for a good story to be told, but we have not identified any particularly unlikely pieces of reporting.
It is also hard to generalise what results have been achieved across projects – all are different, working with different types of young people (school age, post school, homeless, disabled, offenders, illiterate etc).
It is also extremely difficult to track young people once they have finished their direct involvement in the project so long term effects are hard to identify. Even where there is long term contact, there are the statistical measurement problems of survivor bias and working out what other interventions and events might have had an impact.
So we have come up with a proxy measure – do the projects succeed in getting follow on funding from other grant givers? By looking at whether projects get new funding and therefore continue, we can assess whether the objectives are robust and have largely been achieved, which in turn mean that young people have been assisted in improving their lives. As noted above, the charities which are no longer operating failed due to poor financial controls rather than because the individual projects were not achieving their objectives.
Using this proxy measure, then, we are confident that our money has indeed helped a wide range of young people.
What makes a project successful?
We normally meet the management teams of the charities we support – there are only two charities we have supported where we have not yet visited the charity or met the management team, and one of them was a one-off grant for outreach work by an arts organisation based in Yorkshire.
Where we meet the teams prior to giving a grant, we have often had some robust conversations, challenging the teams as to exactly what they mean by different outcomes, whether those outcomes can be improved and how they can be properly measured.
Based on this experience, we offer the following thoughts on what have been good indicators of success:
• Deeply engaged leadership
• Willingness on the part of the leadership to think in different ways
• Efficiency – the most impressive results often come from those charities which are efficient in getting us applications, feedback information and which have generally open communications with us. This is why we are less willing to support charities which send us poor, inaccurate or unclear applications – we use this as an indicator that future communications will be less than helpful.