Christian funders and grant-making: an analysis
From a report by Theos
Theos published a report in November 2016 which looked at; who are the Christian funders registered in England and Wales who give to multiple organisations, what they are doing and what the future of the sector might look like.
They identified 268 Christian funders and used annual reports to see what these actually support in practice.
Education and the relief of poverty/welfare are by far the most common foci but the data illustrate something of the breadth of interests. In fact, Christian funders are so varied in almost every aspect of what they do, it makes it extremely difficult to conclude that this is a cohesive sector at all.
The sector is dominated by smaller funders, with 74% having an income of less than £250,000 a year. In theological terms, there is also a reasonable amount of diversity in the sector. A significant majority have a Christian identity, but no specific denominational identity. In some cases this is due to a definite decision to work in an ecumenical manner.
The advancement of the Christian religion is a stock expression used by many funders to describe their charitable activities to the Charity Commission. However, how it is understood varies significantly. There are some trusts who believe that advancement is something that requires evangelism and ‘winning souls for the Kingdom’. For others, the key to the advancement of the Christian religion lay more in causing change within the Church, to see Christians act or think differently.
There are popular areas for which there are a large number of available funders. By far the most common were poverty and education, though there was a significant range in what that meant in practice.
There were a number of ’Marmite’ issues – areas which trusts either very consciously supported or explicitly rejected. The key example here is evangelism, with around half of interviewees explicitly stating they would not fund evangelistic activities under any circumstances, while a few saw that as their primary purpose. Church buildings and staff salaries were another such issue, sometimes for simply pragmatic reasons (buildings are very expensive and many funders felt were simply too large for them to support), others for the ideological reason that they felt religious groups should pay for those things themselves. Research was the final Marmite area – with many rejecting funding that work on the grounds that they couldn’t see the practical outcome from it.
There were a large number of relatively niche funding interests that were unique to particular trusts or only found in particular small groups of trusts.
There was a major philosophical divide in funders between supply- and demand-led funding. Supply-led funders had a very particular mission and purpose for which they provided funds (e.g. they had seen the need to confront a particular educational problem and provided grants to those contributing to the solution). Demand-led tended to have a less clear sense of their own purpose and instead funded the things they were approached with that seemed most impactful to them at the time.
Supply-led funders could get bogged down in their own criteria and struggle to adapt to the way demand from applicants was changing. Conversely, they tended to be clearer about why they existed and avoided a drift into undefined, arbitrary funding that could sometimes be a risk with demand-led funders.
For some Christian funders their faith identity was expressed entirely in the areas that they funded. For others, however, part of being a Christian funder was being Christian in all aspects of their existence. So, for example, many placed a premium on relationships between funder and recipient.
Inevitably the question of impact assessment was growing across the sector, though many still did not have particularly developed or sophisticated models for how to do this.
It was widely agreed that the most difficult thing to fund was core costs and infrastructure.
The main barrier to the Christian funding sector was one of over-demand. Many trusts are simply over-saturated with applications, short on time and manpower with which to review them and insufficiently resourced to fund everything that is worthy of help.
The report then goes on to give five recommendations for the future of this sector. These are summarised as:
Address the gaps - core costs plus evangelism which is urgent. reduce funding to secular charities.
Address what Christian identity actually meant.
Improve application processes - make clear and make proportionate.
Measure impact but keep it proportionate.
Download the report here.
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