This year, I’ve been working with the Joffe Charitable Trust. It’s been a real privilege, working as a donor with some extraordinary organisations tackling poverty in sub Saharan Africa.
During the year, we’ve reviewed what the Trust funds and how it goes about selecting grants. We’ve applied some of the ideas set out in this website’s management agenda in an effort to maximise the contribution we make.
The Trust has settled on two areas to focus on: campaigning work in the UK & EU and pro-poor private enterprises. We believe our relatively small grants can make a real difference in these fields. They also build on the trustees’ experience and provide a focus, so we can continue learning how to use funds better.
We are funding more risky initiatives and those which are hard to fund from elsewhere. Other donors are better placed to provide funding for larger initiatives, for instance delivering services to poor people.
We’ve reviewed our proposal and reporting formats. We don’t ask people to submit a logframe table. Instead we ask for a clear statement of objectives and activities supported by a ‘stakeholder analysis’. The stakeholder analysis sets out who would have to do what in order to achieve the objectives. We ask applicants to comment on each group of people’s commitment and capacity to do these things.
For reports, we’ve tried to keep the burden as light as possible for both grantees and trustees. We want to know if the work is on track to achieve objectives, rather than if each activity has been carried out as initially planned. It won’t come as any surprise that we ask for feedback from external stakeholders, summarising their views of the work’s relevance and quality.
You can see a presentation about our proposal and reporting formats. So far they’ve worked well. But we’ve yet to receive reports using the new approach.
Earlier in the year, we ran an open call for proposals in the field of maternal health, before we settled on the two areas above. This produced a mixed crop: some proposals were excellent, others weak. In general, the best proposals came from people we had identified as doing great work during initial research. The worst were for work that did not have a clear strategic purpose or activities that did not stack up.
Other donors have found the same problem, like the Shell Foundation. They commented:
In our inception phase (from 2000 to end 2002) – where we largely provided short-term project-based support to multiple not-for-profit organisations – 80% of the initiatives we supported failed to achieve scale or sustainability. This reflected either poor execution or lack of market demand for the proffered products and services. Having changed our strategy to focus on co-developing and implementing new business models with a few carefully selected strategic partners, we now find that 80% of our grants meet our criteria for having achieved scale or sustainability.” (Enterprise Solutions to Scale, p. ii)
We probably won’t go this far. But the Trust will continue to focus on getting to know impressive leaders through face-to-face meetings, rather than funding more run of the mill proposals.
I hope these measures help the Trust strengthen its contribution to efforts to tackle poverty in Africa.
I’m extremely grateful for the chance to have worked with inspiring people in areas as varied as injectable contraception in Ethiopia, acid violence in Uganda and making private investments work in Africa, along with many others.