Learning from the first round of the Anchor Programme

The Anchor Programme first launched in April 2023, offering long-term, core funding to catalyse systems change. One year later, as a second round of funding goes public, Khadra and Clara, Heads of the Anchor Programme, share key learnings from the first year of awarding long-term core funding to London’s equity-led infrastructure organisations.

Clara and Khadra pictured in front of an aerial photograph of London.
  • Published: 10 May 2024

New ways of working

The Anchor Programme offered an opportunity for City Bridge Foundation to trial new ways of working. We ran two pre-application webinars for prospective applicants, to answer any questions they had and to further clarify the criteria of the fund. Questions asked in these sessions would later feed into the FAQ page on our website.

The webinars also gave us the opportunity to manage expectations and to clarify that we had insufficient team capacity to answer questions relating to specific proposals or to provide detailed feedback to applicants. Following the pre-application webinars we sent a survey to attendees to gauge how useful these sessions were and to see how we could improve.

City Bridge Foundation usually accepts applications on a rolling basis under its mainstream funding programmes. However, under the Anchor Programme a two-stage application process was piloted. This enabled applicants and the funding team to reduce the amount of time between the submission of applications and the receipt of outcomes. 

For the initial Expression of Interest stage, we formed a panel of front-line civil society organisations to support our funding team in sifting the applications. All applicants then received a speedy outcome within a couple of weeks of submission.

Positive feedback was received regarding the two-stage application process and the same format is being used for the second round of the programme.

Our Funding Managers usually work independently during the assessment period, seeking advice from colleagues as and when required. For Anchor Programme assessments, a peer support network and buddy system were developed, giving staff the support they required to oversee these larger scale assessments. 

In addition to this, a comprehensive training session on systems change was delivered by external facilitators to ensure the Funding Managers had an in depth understanding of the topic prior to assessment.

Things don’t always go to plan

When the Anchor Programme first launched it was difficult to predict how many applications we would receive. The team kept an eye on the applications coming in, and initially there were not that many (there was a minor panic that perhaps the programme had not been promoted well enough). 

However, in the last few days before the deadline, more than 100 applications came in and in total we received 173 applications. There was clearly a very high demand for a limited pot of funding.

We had scheduled a week to allow the team to do the initial short-listing and to consult with the sifting panel of front-line organisations. This had to be extended by a week as there was simply not enough time to go through all the applications.

The key learning here was the importance of building trust into any kind of co-design relationship. When things did not go to plan our sifting panellists were understanding and flexible, despite the very short notice.

A second piece of learning is that it was better to delay and extend the sifting period rather than make rushed decisions. Sticking to a plan made when it is unclear how many applications will be received is almost impossible. For our second round of the Anchor Programme the team has built in more time to sift the Expressions of Interest.

Reflection is as important as planning

Setting up the Anchor Programme was an all-round team effort, involving colleagues from our communications, governance, impact and learning, and funding teams. 

During the reflection period following the awarding of 13 major Anchor Programme grants in Round One it was important to get feedback from the Funding Managers who carried out the assessments, and to review the processes we used, both new and old, and to consult the organisations that were unsuccessful in securing funding, as well as those that were successful.

It was important for us to listen to what the application experience had been like for unsuccessful applicants. Finding the right balance between providing enough information, without overwhelming applicants with too much information, can be tricky to get right. 

Although we developed a dedicated webpage, with detailed guidance, FAQ page, and a glossary of common terms used to describe the Anchor Programme, feedback received from applicants suggested we go further and provide more information. 

The key learnings we received were that there needed to be more clarification around terminology used, case studies from the first round of the programme, and visual timelines. 

An understanding of what systems change” means beyond written definitions and a blog, was also suggested. We addressed this issue more explicitly in Round Two pre-application webinars, focusing on systems change more widely, whilst also providing case studies from Round One to demonstrate work that would contribute to systems change.

Systems change is complex, and it is not a linear process. In order to address it we need to be open to the fact that there are many components that need to move together for effective change to come about. 

With an advisory panel we discussed how the term systems change” can be daunting and how we need to be clear that organisations are not expected to bring about systems change on their own, and in a set period of time. It is about how they contribute to it and how they form part of a wider ecosystem. Similarly, as a funder, we have a responsibility to ensure we remain flexible and relational in how the grant agreement is managed.

Sticking to the co-design ethos

Following the reflection period some changes have been made to the criteria of the Anchor Programme, but the main aim of the programme remains the same. The fund is here to support equity-led infrastructure organisations to bring about systems change through core funding. 

Before finalising the criteria for the second round of funding, the advisory panel of seven civil society organisations was consulted on the criteria of the programme and the application form questions. Continuing with the co-design ethos has been fundamental for this programme, as has the building of trust and the creation of a space where organisations can be honest and transparent with funders.

When we reflect on how we felt prior to launching the first round of the Anchor Programme in 2023 there was a lot of uncertainty. We didn’t know how many applications we might receive, and we didn’t know if the aims of the programme would match the vision we had co-created with the sector. 

However, through continuing work with our learning partner TSIP, it is clear to see that the initial aims we had are being realised, and we continue to take learnings as we deepen our relationship with the 13 funded organisations from Round One of the Anchor Programme. 

Throughout the first year of the programme it was very important for us was to communicate that this was a pilot for City Bridge Foundation, and that we would embed learnings from the first round of funding into this next round of the programme.

We are excited to embed this learning into Round Two of the Anchor Programme, which opens for applications on Monday, 13 May 2024.