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Q&A: CEO Julie McDonald shares “the power of the collective” in empowering individuals to give

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The Funding Network

Since 2013, The Funding Network has brought people together to find, fund and support grassroots social change programs in areas spanning homelessness, women and children, Indigenous issues to mental health. They have introduced thousands of people to the joy of giving through high-energy, high-touch events that demonstrate what can be done if done together.

Third Sector Australia talked to the organisation’s Chief Executive Officer, Julie McDonald, to discuss how they meet their goal of empowering everyday individuals of all ages and walks of life to support small and often unknown grassroots non-profits.

Whether they are giving $100 or $10,000, TFN model aims to make giving accessible, enabling everyone and anyone to contribute to their community in a meaningful way.  To date, they have facilitated over $12 million in financial and pro-bono support to 316 non-profits programs around the country – a true testament to the power of the collective.

How do you measure success for your organisation and for the non-profits and social enterprises it helps?

A key measure of our success is through donor reporting. We provide donors with six and 12-month updates on the impact their generosity has had on the non-profit programs they’ve supported. Through these reports, they get to see precisely how their donations and in-kind support has helped NFP programs grow and scale their impact. Furthermore, to help us gain a deeper understanding of the effect of our model, we carry out regular impact evaluations. The most recent was in late 2017, when we worked with Social Ventures Australia to conduct an independent assessment of the impact we’ve had on the organisations we’ve supported. The evaluation confirmed that TFN had been a transformative experience for most, creating a lasting impact that goes far beyond the funds raised at events.

Why do you think it’s important to support visionary leaders in the grassroots space?

According to the latest Australian Charities Report, small to medium charities – the kind we support – account for 78 per cent of all non-profits in Australia but receive just 3.4 per cent of the sector’s total revenue. We address this gap by bringing together individuals, philanthropists and businesses to ensure the innovative work being pioneered by grassroots leaders is given the chance to thrive. We believe grassroots organisations are often in the best position to understand and address the issues at the root of community problems. They also have lean operating costs and are deeply entrenched in their communities, having a direct and measurable impact on the people they serve. For our donors, that means their generosity will have the greatest impact on the people who need it most.

Where is the organisation in your goal to build the capacity of grassroots non-profit organisations?

Our purpose at TFN is to build the capacity of grassroots non-profit organisations, so it informs everything we do. In the last few years, we started exploring new ways to offer the TFN experience to the wider social sector as well as other purpose-driven businesses in order to build their capacity and facilitate greater community engagement with social innovation. The solution was to launch two new initiatives – Pitch Coaching Workshops and White Label Live Crowdfunding Events. Our Pitch Coaching Workshops help social change leaders perfect the art of pitching, ultimately to engage new audiences and secure more funding. Through our White Label private events, we upskill non-profits and businesses on how to deliver their own live crowdfunding experience that draws on TFN’s tried-and-tested model. These offerings deliver the additional benefit of helping TFN reduce our dependence on philanthropic support so that we can continue to deliver on our mission.

Can you tell us more about TFN Learn? Challenges? Successes?

Since we launched TFN Learn, our White Label events have facilitated over $3 million for 90+ non-profit programs. Additionally, over 690 non-profits leaders have been through our pitch coaching workshops.

Nothing compares to experiencing a TFN Live event and seeing the magic of what we do come to life. Our events are a celebration of the joy and collaboration that make collective giving so powerful. Our non-profit clients are using the model as a donor reactivation or engagement strategy, while large corporate clients are using it to bring their workplace giving programs to life. Like most events, the challenge lies in getting people to come along to experience it for themselves – because once they do, they’re usually hooked! They key is having a message that cuts through a very crowded market and encouraging both friends and supporters of TFN to spread the word.

What can we expect from The Funding Network in the next years to come?

We are excited about introducing new audiences to the joy of giving through our live crowdfunding events, specifically through a focus on the next generation of philanthropy and extending our model to regional and rural Australia.

Looking ahead, we have set ambitious goals that see us increasing our impact by two-fold – 100% – over the next three years. To achieve this, we intend to host 28 TFN Live events raising $3.6 million for 84 non-profits and actively supporting more than 300 alumni through ongoing training, workshops, networking opportunities and pro bono service offerings from our partners. This will bring our total impact by 2022 to an estimated $22.5 million for 654 programs and 2,740 non-profit leaders.

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