Funder relationships: getting the most out of grants and contracts

Laura Smith coordinated the core work of the Sustainable Funding Project (enabling voluntary organisations to implement a sustainable income strategy). Laura no longer works for NCVO but her posts have been archived on this site for reference.

At our Sustainable Funding Conference on 24th November 2011, we held three sessions on grants, contracts and commissioning.

We chose to put these two income streams together this year, as we know that many of the issues organisations are facing stem from the move from one to the other – whether it be because money that used to be given out via a grant is now been shifted (rightly or wrongly) through a procurement model, or whether it’s because staff who are highly experienced accessing and managing grants are now having to deal with tendering and contract negotiation and delivery.

We heard from six speakers who are living and working at the midst of these debates, and who shared their expertise and own experience to suggest practical solutions to some of the challenges.

Before signing on the dotted line . . .

Ian Hempseed, Partner and Head of Third Sector at Hempsons (one of our conference sponsors), gave a fantastic workshop on identifying the pitfalls and minefields to look out for before signing a contract. Denise Largin, Chief Executive of The Camden Society shared lessons from her organisation’s experience of managing multiple contracts across various statutory authorities.

Both speakers offered sage advice on how to ensure you’re getting a ‘good deal’, and not taking on unnecessary risk by signing a contract that you haven’t fully understood.

Ian stressed the important of starting early with your negotiations, and that your aims in negotiation should be to:

  • Reflect the deal
  • Gain clarity
  • Fairly share of risk
  • Clearly demarcate responsibilities
  • Mitigate hidden risks and liabilities
  • Achieve better protection

You can see Ian’s full presentation here.

Managing commissioner relationships

Shane Brennan, Chief Executive of Age Concern Kingston and Siobhan Clarke, Managing Director of Your Healthcare CIC, discussed the challenges of managing relationships with commissioners in the current environment.

Key learning points from the discussion included:

  • Quality commissioning varies significantly; commissioners are looking for solutions and you need to help commissioners to do their thinking.
  • The turn over of commissioners is high – this can be an opportunity where you can use local knowledge and experience to support new appointments.
  • You must demonstrate what difference you make – knock on the commissioner’s door and show them your part of the solution.
  • Good relationships take time but are worth the investment. NHS spin outs are provide opportunities for new and different relationships.

Grants v. contracts?

Miia Chambers, Director of P3 Social Enterprise and Debbie Pippard, Head of Programmes at Barrow Cadbury Trust, debated whether contracts or grants create better relationships between funder and fundee. Some of their conclusions included:

  • Good relationships allow for better use of money – cooperation is key. Shared outcomes can support innovative solutions.
  • Commissioners are driven by getting more for less; in this climate you need to use all of your assets, including people and staff, and engage service users in co-production.
  • Grants are seen as less risky, so funders can use grants to support more experimental work. The right match of an organisation with a funder is key to a creative and productive relationship, so think about how you can show how you can help the funder to support innovation.

You can see Miia’s presentation here.

Procurement law – a help or a hinder?

Finally, Andrew Daly at Hempsons gave a fantastic bitesize lecture entitled ‘Levelling the playing field: does procurement law help or hinder?’. In his 20 minute round up he told us that:

  • The objective of procurement law is to ensure transparency and fair process, not value for money or the best deal for commissioners
  • Procurement law is often applied defensively to commissioners, so that statutory authorities apply full EU Regulations when they don’t always have to, but…
  • …procurement rules are increasingly bidder friendly

Read his presentation here.

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