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Introducing The Funding Network: live crowdfunding for social causes

16 September 2019


Ask attendees of a Funding Network event to tell you what they are like, and they’ll most likely say it’s a combination of a TED Talk and a friendlier episode of Dragon’s Den. But these events are dedicated to helping small charities get the funding they need to make real social change. We asked Eugenie Harvey, the Chief Executive of The Funding Network, to explain the organisation’s history and purpose. 

The Funding Network (TFN) is a UK-registered charity that has pioneered live crowd-funding as a means of raising money for and awareness of the vital work done by small, grassroots non-profit organisations. 

Founded in London in 2002 by Canadian art dealer, Frederick Mulder CBE, TFN began as a voluntary endeavour where friends came together to hear from non-profit organisations working towards social and environmental change, and then pooled their donation money to maximise the impact. 

Today, a regular programme of TFN events takes place in London and are attended by hundreds of people from all walks of life, each eager to discover dynamic charitable organisations working to address some of society’s most pressing problems. 

Beyond our shores, there are nearly 100 TFN groups in 24 countries worldwide. Civil society organisations in countries as diverse as Uruguay, Australia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Russia and Palestine have adopted the TFN model and use it to engage people in giving, to raise awareness of pressing local issues, and to spread a culture of philanthropy in their country. In Australia, TFN is even the subject of a major TV series! 

How it works

TFN’s live crowd-funding model involves four small non-profit organisations making six-minute pitches at a live event attended by 70-100 potential donors. Following their pitch, the charities each have a further six minutes to answer questions from the audience. 

Prior to pitching, the organisations go through a thorough selection process, in which potential donors are invited to participate. To prepare for the event, presenters take part in a workshop to learn how to bring their work to life through stories and communicate their organisation’s impact in a short, compelling pitch. 

When they have made their pitches, the presenters leave the room and the audience is led through a ‘pledging session’, in which they are invited to pledge donations to each of the organisations. 

At a typical London event, each of the four organisations is hoping to raise at least £6,000. Many will raise considerably more and occasionally one does not achieve this target – there are no guarantees! 

‘Matched funding’ is a frequent and often hilarious feature of the pledging session, whereby one donor will pledge funds on the condition that it is matched by another pledger (or pledgers) in the room. A corporate partner may also provide funding – sending employees along to the event to distribute funds as they see fit or matching (sometimes doubling) anything given by their staff. 

More than money

As well as financial support, audience members are encouraged to offer time and skills. At the end of the pledging session, the presenters are invited back into the room and the amount of money raised is announced to cheers and, on occasion, tears. Presenters frequently comment on how empowering they find the experience of having a room full of strangers endorsing them and their work. Twelve months after the event, each organisation provides a short report on the impact of the funds raised which is sent to all donors. 

Since the first event in 2002, there has been more than 500 TFN events raising funds for over 2000 small non-profit organisations working for social change. These events have raised over £12 million, from amounts as little as £10 right up to several thousand, and everything in between. At a TFN event, there is no absolutely no pressure to give, yet few feel able to resist. And that’s the TFN magic!  

Octopus Giving and TFN

We were pleased to have Octopus Giving join TFN as a corporate member back in 2017, and we’ve been delighted that since then, they’ve become one of our most active members – using their membership to the full, delivering on their commitment to social responsibility and engaging their staff in so doing. 

Octopus Giving regularly sends a team of volunteers to TFN events, tasking them with pledging a pot of money allocated from Octopus Giving’s funds, and with volunteers even pledging their own money for deserving causes. 

Octopus has also hosted a TFN event at their Holborn Circus headquarters, and staff have nominated projects, including one of its charity partners Downright Excellent (DEx). DEx supports children living in London with Down syndrome so they can reach their full potential as individuals, and this great charity raised £8,400 in funding at a TFN event in December 2018. DEx gave a particularly moving pitch at our festive event last year, and went on to raise a further £5,000 at a special partnership event with Addidi Partners. 

Louise Skinner is the Octopus Giving Programme Manager. As she explains: “Our people really enjoy coming along to TFN events, and the feedback afterwards is always very positive. In fact, the interest in attending among Octopus people is growing, as word has spread about the fantastic atmosphere, the great organisations that present, the thrills of the pledging session, and the satisfaction of seeing Octopus Giving’s money going to such deserving causes”.

Just by attending a TFN event, and learning about the issues these grass-roots organisations are addressing, people can make a difference. 

To see TFN in action, watch this very short film or visit the website thefundingnetwork.org.uk.