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Andrew Bibby is a professional writer and journalist, working as an independent consultant for a number of international and national organisations, and as a regular contributor to British national newspapers and magazines. He is also the author of a number of books.
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The Funding Network:
supporting good causes the collaborative way
This article by Andrew Bibby, in a slightly different form, was first published in The Observer, 2004
If you've been approached by a chugger on a street corner one time too many, take heart. The innovative Funding Network demonstrates that it is possible to give to charities in ways which don't require you to be mugged for standing orders by polite if pushy direct marketeers.
The Funding Network talks of trying to turn charitable giving into a much more collaborative and collective experience, of making the act of giving as enriching to the donor as to the recipient. It seems to have succeeded in devising a formula which its participants find very successful. Karina Vestergaard, for example, regularly travels from her home in Brussels to attend Funding Network meetings. “What I like very much is that the group of people who have been brought together are very diverse, of all ages and all sorts of backgrounds. If you want to give something back to society, it's a great way to do it,” she says.
The idea, devised two years ago by London art dealer Frederick Mulder in discussions with a group of friends, is a simple one. Every few months the Funding Network organises an open public meeting, usually on Saturdays in central London , at which representatives from organisations seeking funding explain why they need help. Their informal presentations are followed by a pledging session, where those who have turned up to listen can, if they wish, make donations. Pledges are called out, with the totals scribbled up on flipcharts, so the atmosphere briefly resembles something of a cross between an auction and a revivalist meeting. Typically, a Funding Network event will have presentations from about eight to ten projects and will raise about £40,000-£60,000.
The Funding Network talks of funding ‘social change' causes, a definition which in practice is very broad. In recent months, support has been offered to ventures as varied as a microcredit venture in Zambia and a creative writing project for prisoners in Britain wanting to write stories for their children. Support is also given to research projects, including for example one linked to the Jubilee campaign to revoke third world debt.
“We don't do donkey sanctuaries, or things like the Royal Opera House. We support, I suppose, slightly edgier things,” says Frederick Mulder, explaining that many of the projects helped are relatively small ventures for whom a few thousand pounds represents a very significant boost. Mr Mulder and several of the other founders of Funding Network are also active in the Network for Social Change, a long-established friendship and support group of relatively wealthy people who meet twice a year to discuss ways to use their money to good effect. Unlike this latter organisation which prefers to maintain a relatively low-profile, the Funding Network is keen to attract as many people as possible.
“People give widely different amounts, but it doesn't seem to matter,” Frederick Mulder says. The minimum pledge is £100, and until recently members were asked to commit to donating about £1000 a year through the Network, though this limitation has now been removed. There is no obligation for those turning up to become members, or indeed to make any pledges at all.
What membership, which costs £50, does confer is the right to put up ideas for projects worth supporting, and to take part in the selection committee which chooses which will be put to the meetings. Marika Freris, who has been coming to Network meetings for about eighteen months, has so far sponsored two proposals, one for a permaculture project in inner-city areas and another for a women's sustainability project in the Amazon, each of which successfully raised several thousand pounds. She finds the opportunity to meet at first-hand the individuals who are actively engaged in the projects particularly valuable. “A lot of the projects are very moving. Yes, I've invariably shed a tear or two,” she says.
The next Saturday meeting of the Funding Network takes place in central London on July 3rd  but the group are also experimenting with evening meetings, and the second one of these has been fixed for Thursday May 27th, at a community health centre in Clerkenwell, London . In another extension of the original idea, a regional Funding Network has been created in Bristol and the South-West, whilst there are well-advanced plans to launch a similar venture in Scotland .
“There are a lot of issues that need help out there. Many of us would like to be doing this work ourselves, but instead we're doing something else which pays us well, or well enough. This is a way of helping someone else do the work which we would ideally like to be doing,” Frederick Mulder says. Or as Marika Freris puts it, “This is a much more enjoyable way of giving, much more personal.”
The Funding Network can be reached via the website www.thefundingnetwork.org.uk .
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