Engaging funders early in the plan development process can ensure they have awareness and input into the plan, while creating space to discuss their potential involvement in the implementation of the plan.
Depending on your local context, you may be better off testing the waters first rather than approaching with a funding ask from the get-go. If you have a steering committee member or other engaged stakeholder who can help you bridge a connection with a funder, you may want to work through such existing relationships.
You’re unlikely to get a positive response by ‘calling out’ funders during public meetings. You’re better off approaching them on a one-on-one basis with clear asks. You may want a representative to sit on a committee or you may want the funder to co-sponsor the plan development costs. This is the approach taken in Calgary, where diverse provincial, municipal and local funders agreed to provide resources toward the youth plan.
Consider developing a ‘funders table’ that you can brief independently of other stakeholders. The funders table can be a vehicle to inform the group of developments and seek input into the plan. Funders’ perspectives are different in many ways to those of service providers and at times it is useful to engage them in separate discussions where they can offer insights they may not readily share in open forums.
A Way Home is working to align national and provincial funders with a stake and interest in youth homelessness to strengthen the local funding relationships. As an example of the value of this alignment, A Way Home’s partnership with the Home Depot Canada Foundation has enabled a concerted investment in various communities to advance local youth homelessness objectives.
Potential funders with a stake in youth homelessness include:
- All levels of government,
- Lead organization on local plan to end homelessness,
- HPS Community Entity,
- Local United Way,
- Local community foundation and
- Local Home Depot Stores or other local businesses.
From a funder’s perspective, a youth plan can be an attractive investment particularly when they:
- Already have an interest/prioritize youth homelessness or vulnerable youth;
- Are looking to leverage collaborative, system change efforts versus programmatic interventions;
- Recognize the potential impact of a youth plan effort on their broader funding portfolios;
- May be looking to divest/recalibrate funding envelopes but require strategic direction and research; and/or
- Seek enhanced public profile, which the planning process can provide through media attention, public consultation opportunities, etc.
Funders often have multiple priorities, of which youth homelessness is but one. Be strategic in your messaging. Highlight why addressing youth homelessness is important, socially and financially. But also, identify the ways in which the funder will benefit from involvement in the process. How will their participation contribute to their own goals and overall mandate? Again, discussing your approach and key messages with individuals who know the funding organizations and key decision makers can go a long way in preparing a successful pitch.
Leverage your external experts in these contexts; a national advocate with a high profile can help you approach funders and bring public attention to the issue thus, raising its profile. In St. John’s, Choices for Youth hosted a roundtable of local and national experts from A Way Home to do just that. They successfully leveraged the onsite presence of leading experts on youth homelessness calling for provincial action on the issue and gained enhanced participation from key decision makers. Funders Together to End Homelessness from the U.S. has some excellent resources for convening funders on the issue of homelessness; there is now a Canadian chapter as well.
There are inherent power imbalances involved in engaging funders, including government, in the planning process. Yet, without their involvement and ultimately alignment of resources to the plan, there will be little chance of enacting the type of transformative change needed to end youth homelessness. While community groups may wait to engage funders in the initial stages, the earlier you bring these stakeholders to the table, the better.