Opening up Lloyds Bank Foundation – why we’ve published open grants data and what we plan to do next

Alex van VlietEarlier this month the Lloyds Bank Foundation published data from over 4,000 grants made between 2010 and 2015 in line with 360Giving’s open data standard. It’s available as a spreadsheet to download from our website. In doing so, we have joined a growing band of grantmakers in the UK who are opening up their datasets for others to use.

Historically, the Foundation published its grantmaking data every six months in PDF reports, split by government office region. Transparent, yes, but not reusable – or, I suspect, terribly useful to our grantees, applicants or other stakeholders across the sector. When I joined the Foundation last year as the organisation’s first Research and Data Analyst, using an external data standard seemed the natural approach to improving the transparency of our giving.

Although our recent strategy has seen us make fewer, larger grants, we still have active grants with almost 1,000 charities. Our hope is that by pooling grantmaking data from our organisation with that of other major grantmakers, we can begin to use the intelligence generated to make more intelligent decisions about who and how to fund. For example, 360Giving data could be used to identify ‘cold spots’ – areas of high deprivation where funders have made relatively few grants. Equally, it could facilitate the better sharing of information between funders on geographical areas or sectors where they have expertise.

360Giving is opening up grantmaking data at a time when grants have lost momentum as a funding approach across the sector. According to figures from the NCVO’s Civil Society Almanac, the proportion of government funding for charities given as a grant has fallen by over 60% since 2004. The dynamics of government funding have shifted radically towards competitive commissioning and contract models.

The Foundation is particularly concerned with how these changes have affected small and medium-sized charities – in our main funding programmes, we only fund charities with an income between £25,000 and £1m.

Evidence from a recent literature review by IPPR North suggests that the shift to contracts has failed to create a level playing field for small and medium-sized charities, exacerbating their vulnerability. Large organisations, including some large charities, are dominating the market for providing public services, to the detriment of small and medium-sized charities and the individuals they reach.

In response, the Lloyds Bank Foundation is proud to be a founding partner of Grants for Good, a new campaign calling for a halt to the dangerous decline in grant funding by public bodies to charities and community groups. Grants for Good is run by Directory for Social Change, Charity Finance Group, Children England, NAVCA and the Foundation. We want to use our networks to gather examples of effective grantmaking and build a case for commissioners to choose grants instead of contracts where a responsive local service is needed.

By opening up our grantmaking data through 360Giving, we hope that we can support a stronger evidence base for the value of grants. We also want to encourage other independent funders to publish their data, and to speak up for grants more widely.

As Paul Streets, our Chief Executive, said: “As an independent grantmaker we know that grants are a highly effective way of funding, allowing us to choose quality but supporting those we fund to run their services to best meet need. In contrast, contracts have high transaction costs and force organisations into prescriptive ways of delivering, often focused on meeting tick-box targets over real outcomes… We [want] to make the case to central and local government that good grantmaking does work and we need more not less of it.”

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