Paying What It Takes Case Study 1: Building Sector Capacity

Ferdi Hepworth of the William Buckland Foundation spoke to Philanthropy Weekly about why building trust, sustainability and transparency are integral to building capacity.

Participants: The William Buckland Foundation, Equity Trustees; Australian Progress.

The William Buckland Foundation aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged Victorians through grants that support better housing, health, education and employment outcomes. We also fund initiatives that build resilience in rural and regional communities.

Australian Progress was founded 10 years ago as a major initiative to build civil society’s capacity to run winning advocacy campaigns and engage the public on the big issues facing our future.

Contributors: Ferdi Hepworth, Foundation Lead, The William Buckland Foundation, Equity Trustees

Kirsty Albion, Executive Director, Australian Progress (AP)

How do you see the practical application of the Pay What It Takes approach? (From a funder’s point of view, and an advocacy organisation’s point of view.)

In this example we are providing core support to help AP deliver on their strategy, which gives the freedom and flexibility to do that in their own way rather than tying too tightly to a project.  

One of the recurrent themes emerging from the research into NFPs’ operations during COVID-19 has been their diminished capacity. How do we build capacity in the aftermath of COVID, especially if we are adopting a PWIT framework?

I’m not sure what to do from a grantee side but from a grantmaker side I think we need to challenge ourselves to stop admin burden creeping back on to the plate of the grantees. One of the very few silver linings of the pandemic was that it gave us permission to go back to basics and simplify the application and acquittal process with the goal of making it as easy as possible for our grantees. We are so cognisant of the burden that we place on grantees for information that we don’t do enough with to warrant the time it takes for grantees to gather. I will keep challenging myself to put myself in my grantees shoes and see how I can support rather than add extra barriers for them.

What are the impediments/obstacles that prevents PWIT from being adopted more widely across philanthropy? Are there funding partnerships that lend themselves more to PWIT than others? Why/why not?

I really hope that the belief that the role of charities is to distribute income from philanthropy in the cheapest manner possible is fading.

Instead, let’s recognise that the for-purpose sector is capable of creating the solutions to market failures that the market is not able to resolve. I take my hat off to these innovators in the for-purpose sector who are some of the most creative, driven and intelligent leaders I have met, and they do it all on the smell of an oily rag.

If we want to equip the for-purpose sector to create impact that lasts we need to pay for it.

Core funding is fundamental for sustainability and ultimately to help foster capacity building – what are the important elements (with trust a given) that distinguish those kind of funding relationships? Transparency? Flexibility? Understanding? (Realising that ambitious goals are desirable but not always achievable.)

I get deeply suspicious when people say we are achieving what we thought, and things are going according to our plan. I love it when things roll out differently to what was first thought because to me that means that the project is actually being rolled out in reality. I want to see that things have been tested and tried, stopped and changed if they’re not working or if the context shifts because that’s real life. So, back to the question, I want a relationship that’s strong enough to say: ‘We tried this, it didn’t work but we learnt this from it so now we’re going this way.’

On trust – when capacity building is so urgent, how do you build trust quickly? Or doesn’t it matter when the problem is so pressing?

I don’t think you can build trust quickly. You can establish shared values, meaning and purpose and from there trust builds over time. If you want to solve the same challenge, then that’s what you align around first.

From a funder’s point of view, how significant is it to consider an organisation’s capacity to achieve change or impact when you’re assessing a grant? From a grant recipient’s point of view, is capacity the in-built limiter to what you feel you can achieve? Or is more a matter of finding ways to build the sector’s capacity more generally? (And a rising tide floats all boats’ approach.)

Funding through Equity Trustees Sector Capacity Building Fund is fundamentally about providing capacity building support to organisations that can strengthen the sector. is why it’s so obvious for us to fund the amazing team at Australian Progress because the flow on impact of the skills’ building, they do in the sector is a sector more able to advocate effectively is so much larger than funding one organisation to advocate.