You've Googled until there were no more links to follow and you couldn't think of any more search terms, asked everyone you know, read through pages of other organisations' financial accounts, you've even contacted the local council; how on earth do you get your hands on funding? In the mysterious world of philanthropy, it seems funding is only available to those in the know and with the right connections. After all this research you have three leads; everyone else has said no because you're a) not a registered charity, b) not been running long enough c) they're not interested in the issue you're trying to tackle or d) you're too 'radical'.
Lead one only accepts applications once a year (and you've just missed the deadline), lead two doesn't accept or acknowledge unsolicited applications, preferring only to fund groups they already know. So that leaves one. You've got a long form to complete and don't understand half the words in it. No one at the fund will talk to you. The application has to be written from scratch because you need to tell them exactly what they want to hear, according to their funding criteria.
Another look at the guidelines results in a change of plan. You wanted to campaign against the destructive plans of a mega corporation, which would affect your community and the environment. But the guidelines say "we only support 'charitable' activities". You desperately need support to keep your group going on a day-to-day basis, but the guidelines say "we only fund project costs". So instead you decide to apply for money to plant trees with local schools, at least that way you can help restore a little of the damage done.
Off it goes into the abyss of funding applications. When you finally hear from them someone at the other end reminds you "we don't pay salaries... we don't pay for travel costs...", apparently charity workers and campaigners have the ability to survive on air alone (they don't have bills to pay like everyone else does) and very long legs.
You try to put it to the back of your mind but it inevitably becomes hard not to question whether the decision-makers, sitting behind the desk of an office that you know only too well has glass ceilings that predominantly only allow the privileged few through, can really understand where you're coming from.
This poses the question; can a white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied, healthy, British, educated and employed male really understand what it might be like to not be a few of those things, as much as they might try? Can they really understand what it might be like to be part of a disempowered community suffering from poverty, discrimination and oppression or having a coal mine, power plant or runway forced upon them? Can they truly understand what it takes to start up a project on a zero budget and what sacrifices have to be made to make it happen unless they've done it themselves? Perhaps, if they are fully immersed in those communities and projects, but that is not the case for many office-based grant-makers and trustees. But apparently grant-makers and trustees know better than the communities who are actually living the issues they aim to solve, and if you want the money you have to do it their way.
So, finally you have news and the application is successful! Now, you need to remember to write a lengthy report, keep all your receipts and, above all else, prove that your project was a success. Except that you didn't do all you wanted to because you wasted so much time on paperwork. And after all that, you discover the funder has an existing relationship with the very company forcing this development on your community and that their main motivation appears to be the plaques mounted on the walls of each of the schools with their name on it. Now you're starting to wonder whether you might actually have preferred to have received one of those standard one-size-fits-all rejection emails, destined never to know where went wrong.
This might appear an extreme example, however it's a common story (although many would not be persuaded to plant trees instead). Whilst there are some great funding organisations out there bucking these unfortunate trends, not enough is being done. And whilst much healing and restorative work is worthwhile, it receives a disproportionate amount of funding when compared to the work addressing the root, systemic causes of these problems and thus eliminating the need for this restorative work in the first place (perhaps because those root causes are also the same structures that allowed philanthropic bodies to accumulate their funds in the first place). Thankfully there are many people entirely committed to challenging injustice through systemic change, but they need support to enable them to not only carry on, but to step it up to a level where we have a hope of creating the change we need.
It's time now that we not only challenged some of these practices but revolutionised philanthropy by creating a model that can support social change in a collaborative way. Let's start with devolving donor power by sharing decision-making with communities we aim to help (and activists working in solidarity with them) and minimising and sharing the responsibility of the application and reporting requirements. Let's make funding genuinely accessible to those who need it most, provide more core funding and give groups more autonomy to do what they need to do by trusting that they know best. Let's also see if we can help move groups away from dependence on foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals, which in the most part give money to further their own agendas, in preparation for living in a world where both extreme wealth and poverty are far less common. Grant-making organisations have a unique potential to bring groups together to learn from each other; funding could actually be a movement-building tool. Who's up for the challenge?