I’m a funder – what can you give me?
On: 4th January 2012
This isn’t a question of bribery or looking for under-handed ways to support your applications for Nominet Trust funding – it’s a genuine question about exchange and the value of ‘giving’.
I was reminded recently of Malcom McLuhan’s phrase that ‘the medium is the message’ through another excellent RSA podcast – this one a lecture by TimeBanking founder Edgar Cahn. The context of Cahn’s use was that the way in which we give, offer support, or help others, can damage the confidence of the ‘beneficiary’ to grow from the experience. That within the medium of giving, according to Cahn, we are showing our value as provider and demarcating the beneficiary’s value only as a receiver. As soon as they have received, we head to another needy person. The value of that person to us, is their need. Once that need is sated, their value to us diminishes.
Value exchange of giving
To return to the title of this piece – what is the value exchange that we can offer as a funder. The starting point of course is that we want to ensure that the resources we have available are used to create social value. That's an obvious starting point, but we focus on understanding how we can work to maximise the social value of our investments, whether that through attracting the best applications, using the most appropriate investment strategies or providing support beyond funding. But in return for that investment, it's not just the social good that we want to see. We want to understand the context in which we’re working in more detail; to understand better how the Trust can work, to understand the models that create the greatest social value.
From a Development Research view point, this begs the question of what can we learn from the projects in which we invest. The value of our 'exchange' is not just 'Nominet Trust funds in return for your ability to create social good', but is about learning from that exchange to inform how we, and others, develop what we do.
It's why we place such high value on our evaluation approach. We don't simply give grants because people/organisations need funding. We invest because we need those organisations to help us understand how best to work and to create social value.
Our research is about testing assumptions – ideally through well designed tests where the conditions are understood and causality can be recognised by accounting for all other influences on the participants (well, I did say ideally...) And there are assumptions throughout all of the work in which we're involved - this isn't a derogatory statement - simply that there are statements/expectations that particular activities will lead to particular outcomes. These may build on lots of research or practical experience or may be assumptions that a radical approach might take off - never the less they are assumptions (or beliefs, or expectations, hopes etc) that we invest in, in the hope (or informed view) that they are correct.
One of the values of our funding is to help the wider community test those assumptions, to refine them, to help us all deepen our understanding of how we all act to bring about social value.
So, I'm a funder, what can you give me?
- Applications that highlight how our (collected) resources can bring about social value;
- Activities and interventions that help us refine and test assumptions of how to best generate social value;
- An honest partnership to inform what we (together) and other groups can do in the future to maximise the resources we have available, and
- An opportunity to learn from one another, to inform our own work and development.
Does that sound like a value exchange you'd like? If so, in return, what can we offer?
- Grants and investment capital
- Support beyond financial investment (including business, comms and research support)
- Links to networks of committed organisations and individuals
- Insight into other work addressing similar issues
- Learning from our other social investments
It could be a pretty balanced value exchange - I'd be interested in what more we could add to our side of the equation, but it you think that it's a balanced value exchange already, check out how to apply.