Helping funders to share and connect

Ab Brightman
Ab Brightman

Ab Brightman, part of the Funders' Collaborative Hub design team, writes about how we're exploring new ideas to make it easier for funders to share and connect with others, so they can achieve more together.

It’s been a productive summer for the Hub’s design team. We've been working to define the most valuable role the Hub can play (as Nick wrote about last month) and developing new branding that will help us convey this. Now we're pressing ahead with designing the next iteration of our services, focusing on two big priorities: our directory of funder collaborations, and a new 'Share and Connect' service.

The focus of Share and Connect will be to fill a crucial gap, which our research shows lots of funders are looking to the Hub to address - how to make it easier, and more appealing, for funders to share and connect with others who have similar interests.

We think that this has the potential to transform funders' everyday work. But we also know that right now this ambition is too broad to imagine exactly how it might be delivered. So it is important for us to build a pragmatic, experimental and active team and process to design and test different ways of seeing and solving this challenge.

Where We’re Starting From

Luckily, we are already sitting on a lot of valuable insights and opinions from funders of all kinds, which we’ve gathered over the course of the Hub's pilot year, and from  recent consultation on some of our latest service ideas.

Funders' feedback on our initial 'Share and Connect' concept included:

“Being able to identify with people who might want to collaborate around particular topics shortcuts the networking required to identify potential partners” 

“Gives the opportunity to learn from experience and not have to 'reinvent the wheel'. Should also reduce duplication of effort and improve the experience of those applying for grants.”

“As long as there is a way to filter preferences - you don't want people receiving too many emails or regularly having to check an [online] notice board (people may disengage or simply miss great opportunities).”

“Being able to identify with people who might want to collaborate around particular topics shortcuts the networking required to identify potential partners.”

“I have had a need for this service and know others who have also.”

“Working in a small foundation, I have a slight hesitation about being contacted proactively by someone at the Hub for a chat about potential collaborations. I would probably prefer the option to hear about them from automated updates (as happens with questions on [ACF's] Funder Network) which gives me the option to follow things up myself in my own time.”

These, along with many other comments, give us a great sense of the potential value that a Share and Connect service could bring - as well as how it could fall short. In the next couple of weeks we will bring these insights together with our other knowledge of funders’ networking and tech behaviour, and other sources of inspiration we may be able to learn from where there has already been success.

Building a Hypothesis for Share and Connect 

Given all the above, the main focus of our kick-off session last week was to gather reflections from the whole design team (including colleagues from ACF, Shift and freelance designers) on a hypothesis we could agree on and then design our Share and Connect experiments to test.

As design co-leads, Nick and I drafted three different potential hypotheses. By discussing these with the wider team we started to sense where there might be most value for us all to focus on.

Find a funder friend service
'Find a funder friend' 

The team’s thoughts on hypothesis 1: 'Find a funder friend'

  • There could be a lot of different ways of doing this and quickly, likely to subdivide into several ideas to test in practice
  • This feels almost like an extension to ACF’s Funder Network, which people mostly use to ask smaller, one-off practical questions rather than making more strategic connections with other funders
  • This resonates most closely with where we currently are based on collaboration requests we receive
  • This would have a clear link with the Hub’s Directory, but surfacing far more upstream collaborations
  • This hypothesis feels most achievable 
  • We would likely need to start with a lot of manual matching or drawing on knowledge from within the team at first
  • Revisit early idea to proactively catalyse collaborations around old issues/new needs, connect funders to those - not just responding to funder interests but making funders aware of emerging opportunities that they might not have thought of or not know about
  • It feels natural that we would start with themes to allow us to test from.
Open strategy platform
'Open strategy platform'

The team’s thoughts on hypothesis 2: 'open strategy platform'

  • This feels like the nub of the problems
  • Is this similar to NPC's new Open Philanthropy programme?
  • This would be a good beacon to the sector but might rely on working with one funder at a time, so how impactful is that? How will the concentrated effort be distributed and scaled up?
  • Could we use this as a springboard for bringing some funders together around ‘shared missions’ rather than just focussing on one organisation?
  • This would be hard but what is the smallest version of this to test, e.g. rather than looking at their whole strategy is there a specific ‘point’ in it which might be best to focus on?
  • Given that ideas and branding using a data and 'strategy hack' frame of reference performed poorly in our research with funders, how could we reframe something like this to appeal to funders, more of an emphasis on community and involvement?
Shared funder learning space
'Shared funder learning space'

The team’s thoughts on hypothesis 3: 'shared funder learning space'

  • How can we encourage more open sharing around work in progress/drafts of learning reports/early learning and insights, and make it feel less formal? 
  • Again, does this overlap with some of the aims/use of the ACF Funder Network?
  • Could this be the place to pull all the insights collaborations have shared on the Hub website together on the site?
  • Can see the value in this but it needs more fleshing out, for instance could it be widened to include strategy? 
  • This complements the Hub’s directory as it would capture a different type of knowledge, even less static
  • Have observed that funders are more likely to want to collaborate on learning than any other part of a project, so could this be the easiest way to see quick impact with funders?

Next Actions

The quickest, most important thing to get done next is distilling all these reflections into a hypothesis which we can all feel fits the challenge and change we’re gunning for. This includes seeking feedback from the Hub’s Project Group, who meet regularly to provide advice and guidance to the design and delivery team.

It’s also critical to ensure that the journey of Share & Connect links with the work on the collaborations directory and wider development of the Hub website. We'll be staying in touch with our colleagues who are designing the next version of the directory, as they start work with new web developers next week. 

Then we need to ensure we carry forward this momentum until the end of the year. We aren’t yet in a position to plan the next three months in detail, but we'll be using the next week to:

  • plan how we might begin testing responses to the hypothesis with real funders
  • think about what else we still need to know 
  • check in with the rest of the Hub team to make sure that this all makes sense to them.

And then to get cracking!