I’ve worked with a number of faith-based charities—whether they required my help to secure funding for capital work on their church or other religious building, whether they needed money to enable an outreach project of some sort, and much more.
Their religion is often at the forefront of their fundraising applications—but is this more of a hindrance than a help?
One of the first things I say to my clients, when we’re working on their fundraising strategy and researching appropriate grant-makers to approach, is to align with the funders’ values. If, for example, you’re a charity that delivers projects and services that are either underpinned by, or have a focus on, Christianity, it would be a no-brainer to apply to grant-makers who give financial awards to Christian charities. You will share the same values and aims, and only fellow Christian organisations would qualify for support, which could reduce the field of competition. Compare this to more general funds that have no specific Christianity or religious values, there would be many more charities vying to secure funding for their organisations.
On the flipside, however, general funders, specifically those for whom religion isn’t one of their overriding concerns, are unlikely to back a faith charity, maybe because they believe the grant-makers that only support religious organisations will already be supporting them.
Whilst it’s great to get buy-in from grant-makers, it’s proving more difficult for faith charities to attract funding from the private sector, according to a recent report from The Civil Society.
For example, Christian Aid’s income in 2021/22 was down 9% on the previous year, which is a significant loss, possibly at a time when demand for support from their beneficiaries has never been higher. (It’s not just faith charities that are experiencing this issue, which I talked about towards the end of this article.)
What some people may not realise is that faith charities support people of any religion, even those who don’t have beliefs around any particular ideology. Their faith drives them to be all-encompassing when it comes to offering their help and support; however, the public’s perception of the work they do may be much narrower. This could be the reason why funders/donors who aren’t overly religious typically discount faith charities when choosing who to financially support. They may believe that any support faith charities offer comes with a side order of spiritual and religious guidance, even though this is rarely the case. These charities aim to relieve issues that affect humanity as a whole—such as poverty, homelessness and injustice.
Faith charities are often side-lined because of donors’ assumptions, suggests a spokesperson for Christian Aid. They added, ‘It’s disappointing when policy prohibits partnership as, in our experience, once prospective partners understand what we do, any concerns are quickly overcome.’
When selling a product, marketing gurus would tell you that targeting a niche audience will bring you more success. Because, in theory, there is less competition for funding within their niche, faith charities should have little to worry about, given that grant-makers who award funds on religious grounds will likely support them. However, the funding they receive doesn’t stretch far enough—and, mirroring the same problems the mainstream funding landscape is experiencing, there are too many faith-based charities chasing funding from the grant-makers in their niche.
However, if faith charities cast their net wider and approach general grant-makers for financial support for a project that combats a more generic issue—such as beneficiaries struggling with their mental health—the general funder will likely focus, perhaps unfairly, on the charity’s ideology rather than the impact they may have within their locality relating to said problem.
Sarah Gulamhusein, Communications Manager at Inspirited Minds, echoes this. She says, ‘We’re anxious or hesitant to apply for certain grants because we feel like we’ll be automatically stereotyped. It’s got to a point where, even though we qualify for a grant, we have to have that extra consideration about who’s giving the money and whether they’re more likely to stereotype us just because of our past experience. Not only does it take more time, it also pushes us to just consider a small subset of people giving grants, like those who are more open to giving grants to Muslim organisations. That really limits the number of applications we make.’
There’s no doubt that it’s a difficult time for any charity looking for funding from grant-makers in the third sector. However, if you believe that faith-based charities have it easier than most to win funding, given how their values clearly and easily align with grant-makers that have a religious focus, you’d be wrong. As you can see, whilst this can work in their favour, it can also work against them.