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  • 19 Mar 2014

Alliance Magazine breakfast club held at Paul Hamlyn Foundation

Grant Making for Social Change from Paul Hamlyn Foundation on Vimeo.

Alliance Magazine, the publication for philanthropy and social investment, held a breakfast event called ‘Achieving social change: what role for grant-making?’ at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation offices in King’s Cross, London, on Wednesday 19 March. The occasion brought together delegates from a wide range of third sector organisations to discuss the role of grant-making in modern philanthropy.

On the panel were Martin Brookes, Director of PHF; Michael Green, Executive Director of Social Progress Imperative; Barry Knight, Secretary of CENTRIS and Judith McNeill, Grants Director of Comic Relief, with Caroline Hartnell of Alliance Magazine chairing the debate. Each member of the panel shared their thoughts on grant-making before responding to questions from the audience.

The discussion sought to address the claim that grant-making is an unsatisfactory model for achieving social change, following speculation in the sector that venture philanthropy, strategic philanthropy, philanthrocapitalism and catalytic philanthropy are better ways of doing things. Questions on the capacity of grant-makers to effect social change were raised, with panel members and attendees presenting evidence on the strengths and weaknesses of grant-making compared to other, newer philanthropic methods.

One advantage of grant-making is that it enables grantees – with their specialist knowledge of the issues they are working on – to tackle areas of concern in the way they see fit. In contrast, other philanthropic methods which contrive big-business style strategies to solve social problems may overlook the valuable input of people ‘on the ground’.

Impact was a central focus of the discussion, with panel members drawing attention to a disregard for measurable outcomes and a ‘culture of mediocrity’ in philanthropy. Although it can be difficult to quantify impact, it was agreed that more needs to be done to ensure money is well-spent and that grant-makers need to have a clearer understanding of why projects succeed or fail. Martin Brookes spoke of the Foundation’s endeavours to improve our assessment of impact, citing the introduction of applicant perception reports as a positive step in the right direction.

The Foundation is currently undertaking a strategic review, which will be published later this year. The learning from the breakfast event will help to stimulate our thinking in the ongoing strategy discussions.

The March edition of Alliance Magazine, which includes a special feature on ‘Grant-making for social change’ guest edited by Barry Knight, is available here.