Reflecting on the learning for philanthropy through the crisis phase of COVID 19, contributors at our recent Member Networking event emphasised the power of collaboration, the importance of listening and the value of sharing insights and knowledge. Addressing the online forum, Sarah Watson, Head of UK Knowledge & Learning with The National Lottery Community Fund; James Banks CEO with London Funders and Alma Curran Corporate Affairs Manager for Ireland with Medtronic explored experiences of grantmaking over the last 12 months with Philanthropy Ireland members and colleagues.

The event provided opportunity to reflect on what can be done to ensure this period of change does not fall into rhetoric but informs and shapes future delivery of support, building understanding of challenges and potential reimagining. Rethinking solutions and potential approaches – evident in the immediate stages of the pandemic – can activate change, creating lasting impact for social good.

As highlighted by Alma Curran, speaking to the experience of Medtronic’s corporate foundation, the year compelled philanthropy to be bold in its response to the crisis and to “act with intention and attention”. This concept of intentionality proved fundamental in all contributions.

So, what does or can this mean? Societal inequities are long running and deep rooted. And while efforts to address such inequities achieve some successes, crises put the depth and extent of challenges into sharp focus.

A clear message for philanthropy emerging from this crisis is the value of listening: to beneficiaries, to service providers, to fellow stakeholders, to policy makers and within our organisations. Sarah Watson highlighted the significant banks of knowledge that sit with grant holders, fellow funders and foundation staff, which needs to be captured and shared. While it may not highlight anything new, at a minimum it brings issues into focus.

The theme of building from experience and using data and learning to inform action was evident in the work of London Funders. Previous collaborations proved pivotal in their response to COVID 19. Working across sector, linking with fellow organisations and drawing on learning reviews of previous collaborations informed their actions. Referencing previous collaborative funding initiatives such as the Grenfell Tower fire response in 2017, James Banks noted how the lessons learned there helped shape the London Community Response fund.

Agreeing shared principles on how collaborators could work together provides an efficient and effective framework for delivery of funding projects. Principles of being open, trusting, transparent, flexible, etc., while all quite straightforward, are fundamental to effective collaboration. The importance of relationships and working in partnership cannot be overstated.

Looking to the future, referencing words from the president of the Medtronic Foundation, the first chapter of change has been written, but the next chapter remains to be written. Taking learning from the last 12 months, there was much consensus on approaches for philanthropy and grant makers through the next stages of response: listening is fundamental; being clear on purpose and intent, based on learning, can maximise impact; being visible and agile contributes to effective responses; be cognisant of differences; collaborate and share – no one can do it alone.

While the desire to maximise impact will always be a key driver, the possible not the perfect is an apt descriptor from James Banks. There is no one way or perfect way, but as long as philanthropy remains open to learning and innovating, it can continue to impact for the benefit of society as we all embark on the next chapter of the pandemic experience.

Éilis Murray

CEO Philanthropy Ireland