Helping Europe’s Social Funders to Collaborate


European Foundation Centre’s Annual Conference – Amsterdam, May 2016


Mapping your place in the “funding ecology” – a first step towards creating change?

In examining the potential for greater philanthropic collaboration, mapping has increasingly become a “first-step” tool used by foundations. This session, chaired by Liz McKeon, explored both the mapping technique and funding ecology concept as ways to help independent funders to be more aware of the wider context within which they operate.

Andrew Barnett and Henry Kippin introduced the two concepts, sharing where and why they think they add value in today’s funding context. Andrew Barnett stressed that when it comes to mapping there is no perfect model, but there are guiding principles that can help funders begin to think about their role and place, and that of others within an ecology. Henry Kippin spoke of the need for independent funders to put the cause before the organisation; to acknowledge interdependence; to ask and explore the right questions; and to be clear about where your organisation creates value. It was argued that without being aware of the wider ecosystem and building smarter and more collaborative approaches, the sector will struggle to change the structural underpinnings of the social problems they exist to address.

Dawn Austwick then shared Big Lottery Fund’s (BLF) experience of applying the New Funding Ecology concept in the design of their strategic direction. By exploring the ecology they operate within, BLF went through a process that explored the needs of various communities, the capabilities that are required to deliver the outcomes, and looked to build a better understanding of BLF’s strengths and role within society. One driver for this was that by being aware of their role and place within an ecology they are better placed to focus their activities and support and complement other funders in their areas of strength.

Key points of learning

  • The Funding Ecology concept provides funders with the opportunity to locate themselves and others and understand trends – something that is crucial in today’s global context.
  • Funding Ecology challenges the common rhetoric around capacity building within an organisation. An organisation’s strength/capacity does not necessarily equate to greater impact/change.
  • Currently there is a lack of cooperation within the “ecosystem”.
  • Exploring Funding Ecology can unlock and stimulate collaboration. The diagnostic aspect can act as a base.
  • It’s not just about identifying gaps but learning different ways to do things.
  • Trust is necessary to begin to build an ecosystem.
  • There is a need for foundations to find allies.
  • The ecology language is useful but needs to be more widely shared.
  • Distributed leadership and strengths-based behaviours are crucial preconditions for a funding ecology approach.
  • The value of mapping was seen as crucial to identifying a baseline of activity.
  • Funders and organisations should consider the principles of mapping rather than look for a set of rules.
  • It may be easier to map supply, but it is crucial to map need as well.
  • Often work cuts across sectors, meaning that you can’t categorise. The feeling was mapping shouldn’t be disregarded if it’s not perfect.
  • There is value in mapping sectors beyond foundations i.e. public and private.
  • It might be that foundations are poor at sharing data, as opposed to being data poor.
  • Mapping relationships is critical where collaboration is already taking place across the sector.
  • It’s not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about gaining access to essential tools and learnings.
  • Mapping how money is being spent is just as important, if not more, than how much is being spent.
  • Funders should consider partnering with others for the mapping (a means as well as a goal).
  • Consider the type of language used; barrier versus enabler.
  • Mapping is only as good as the data you put into it.
  • Mapping must be developed with a clear goal in mind.

Going forward

Session participants were interested in knowing more about: How they can find allies (with other funders); how mapping can bridge the gap between funding, activity and outcomes; how to consider and apply learnings from the funding ecology concept; and whether an online space where mapping activity could be shared would be possible.

As an initial response Collaborate has made the commitment to explore the above comments. Additionally, Collaborate is in the process of developing a programme of work for the next stage of the Funding Ecology. The focus will be on furthering the concept through a mix of deep dives, prototyping, and building a coalition of the willing. Collaborate invites anyone who is interested in the concept and would like to find out more and/or be involved to contact Henry Kippin at

This article was written by Hannah Anderson, Project Delivery Manager at Collaborate. It was published on the EFC website May 2016. Click here to access the original article.

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