As a supra-regional funding foundation, we use social risk capital to facilitate experiments and boost their dissemination in civil society. We work with and support civil society organizations as they grow – acting as a complement and counterbalance to public and private sector players. We place considerable emphasis on a clearly defined methodology which involves: promoting entrepreneurship, learning by doing, networking stakeholders, creating transparency.
We are entrepreneurial and take risks; we believe in cooperation based on partnerships; and we see ourselves as a learning organization that constantly questions itself and is prepared to keep evolving.
The capital, the income from which is used to finance the Foundation’s activities, is the result of entrepreneurial activity. And it is in this same entrepreneurial spirit that we work with our funding partners. We facilitate experimentation; we provide financing for organisations when they are first starting out; and we support and promote growth.
We focus on supporting an organisation over the course of several years. Our aim is to make sure that strong civil-society players become well established in their particular field of activity. But this takes time and patience. We pursue innovative approaches that offer new solutions to tackle the major challenges faced by our society; and we support projects that can provide leverage to achieve this goal. By working in this way, we help to turn small ideas into big projects.
We ‘sniff out’ our grantees for ourselves. In other words, we don’t use a fixed check-list to make sure that our grantees meet all our requirements. Over time we have come to realise that we primarily support organisations that have certain qualities – namely an entrepreneurial spirit, clear objectives and a sense of exactly how they are contributing to systemic change.
We see ourselves as ‘co-entrepreneurs’ of each of our grantees – even if we are not actual shareholders. At the beginning of each grant project, we sit down with our grantees and work out what specific needs – in addition to the straightforward financial support - their organisation actually has. This might be coaching, or a strategic process; a new organisational structure, or testing the waters to see if the organisation can go international. Our project leaders are actively and regularly involved in supporting the organisation. And through the ‘Schöpflin Coaching and Capacity Building Network’ we also provide our grantees with experienced advisors and coaches, should they need them.
As part of each grant agreement we set out so-called milestones. These are goals that, over the course of time, our grantees should achieve. After that, we make relatively few demands of our grantees other than asking for a fair exchange on and feedback about how the work is progressing; and for details of how, during the period of the grant, the options that have been pursued should be further enhanced and developed.
We support networking and alliance-building among NGOs - because sometimes, being many in number makes things simpler. We promote and support the development of entire subject areas – for example through studies and networking events.
We are usually joint-funders of projects, in conjunction with other foundations. This works in two different ways. On some projects, we get involved right in the very early stages and then work to bring in other partners to form a funding consortium. With other projects, we know very well that we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel and that, in the later stages, good projects need additional funding in order to scale up their work – so here we are happy to link up with projects that are already receiving funding from other foundations and become joint-funders.
It all begins with a conversation. We visit potential grantees in order to understand what it is they do and how they have an impact. We meet their team; and we hear about the challenges they face.
Then, back at our own organisation, we discuss the project, analyse the relevant documents and form an overall impression.
If, in principal, we feel able to move forward with funding, we then discuss objectives and how to achieve them. We invite the potential grantee to put in a grant application and we draw up a grant agreement.
The grant begins. Together we agree on how often we will meet and how we will keep each other informed about developments.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If we don’t make mistakes, we can’t improve. Not every organisation develops in the way in which it had hoped. Not every project is a success. We know only too well how difficult it is to become a truly ‘learning organisation’, one where mistakes are allowed and seen as opportunities. As difficult as it may be, we want to be an organisation that is ready to learn.
We see ourselves as a learning foundation. But if one wants to improve, one has to identify weaknesses and development potential. For this reason, we decided to conduct a partner survey in 2019, as this can help to understand the perception of our own funding practice and methodology from the outside, strengthen trust and identify needs.
The survey of our funding partners should not only serve to reflect on our role as a foundation and to optimize our own way of working. It also aimed to send a signal to our partners that their opinion counts. Last but not least, we also want to set an example for cooperation based on partnership in the sector.
In 2019, the Schöpflin Foundation conducted a partner survey to review its own funding strategy and methodology after four years of funding activity. For the partner survey, 82 current and former funding partners as well as "critical friends" were contacted, more than 80% of whom participated. We commissioned an external service provider, Wider Sense GmbH, to carry out the survey. This was to ensure that all information remained completely anonymous.
Basically, the results of the partner survey confirmed the path taken by the foundation and strengthened our self-image as a "learning foundation" that admits and allows mistakes, acts entrepreneurially and pragmatically and also takes a political position. We have also been strengthened in our aim to support NGOs and social enterprises in their long-term organizational support in a spirit of partnership and on an equal footing, and to supplement the support with capacity building, coaching and networking.
With regard to our funding methods and strategy, however, points of criticism, suggestions and wishes were also expressed. We have therefore taken the results of the partner survey as an opportunity not only to reflect on our funding methods and strategy, but also to sharpen our own position as a foundation and to derive further steps for the future from this. We have identified the following main wishes of the funding partners with regard to the funding process:
We believe that we have the same fundamental understanding of a successful partnership as our funding partners in the most important points. This can only be achieved on the basis of a relationship based on trust, for which, in turn, transparency, clear communication of mutual expectations and tolerance of error on both sides are fundamental.
PDF Download Results of the partner survey (Wider Sense)
Following the criticisms, suggestions and wishes of our funding partners, we have defined the Schöpflin Foundation's position in funding partnerships in 10 basic principles. In addition, we have decided on changes and adjustments in our funding methodology and our funding processes in various fields of action.
These include, but are not limited to
Initiation of funding:
We therefore see our opportunities as a foundation to contribute to a successful funding partnership above all in close, long-term support that is characterized by transparency and process clarity and has the goal of firmly anchoring our funding partners in the field through networking, consulting and capacity building.
PDF Download »Our attitude in funding partnerships: 10 basic principles«
Since 2017, we have held an annual “Leadership Day” for our grantees and network partners. At these events we work together on the social challenges of the day that we are specifically focusing on. The Leadership Days provide an opportunity for us all to inspire each other, to learn from each other and to exchange ideas.
The values and policies we use for philanthropic purposes are set out in our Code of Conduct.