Why programme management matters

14 March 2018

Deborah Smart, Head of Grant Programmes, identifies the characteristics of good programme management - a key area of focus in the recently released Strength in Numbers research report.

We recently published a report – Strength in Numbers ​– which looked at what we had learned from managing various support programmes at Social Investment Business over the past few years. 

The report highlighted a number of areas where we think we can improve. One of particular interest to me is programme management and how it can improve the support that we offer. 

Full disclosure; my role here at Social Investment Business is to oversee the management of our grant programmes. You may think my concern here could be due to vested interest. Honestly, it really isn’t. And I hope the following explains why.

I regularly get feedback from charities and social enterprises that the funding landscape is getting harder and harder to navigate.  Understanding what support is available, what it’s designed to help with, how you apply, who to and with what information can be a full time job itself. Never mind actually doing an application.

And that’s without considering everything that organisations are gathering and providing for their customers and commissioners. Unfortunately, all this complexity ends up creating extra work for the organisations that we’re all trying to support. That’s not what we want. Thankfully, good programme management can help.

Good programme managers need to be able to reduce complexity and help organisations navigate the landscape. We need to be able to invest time and resource into helping applicants work out what support is right for them – and letting them know if something isn’t so they can move on quickly.

This can only happen with an approach to programme management that is built on developing relationships, not just facilitating transactions. 

There have been times when I’ve reviewed applications from great organisations doing fantastic work who need support that isn’t what they’ve applied for. And to do so someone will have spent a lot of – wasted - time putting the application together.

When this happens we always try to look at the information we provide to see what we could do to try and prevent this. However, it would be even better to be able to spend time talking to someone before they apply so that we can understand their needs and direct them straight to it. Good programme management can enable this.

We also need to focus more of our time on learning.  Not just as funders – which is definitely important– but to learn from the outcomes of different projects to understand what’s worked and why. 

Prioritising time and space for organisations to embed what they learn could also help them reduce their dependency on external support further down the line. Facilitating better peer-to-peer support could be another way of doing this and one that we hear time and time again from the organisations we work with.

But we have to keep learning, and be open to changing and improving what we do. Only then we can better understand the needs of the organisations we’re trying to support and help them improve the lives of the people they work with. After all, that’s why we’re here.

Click here to access the Strength in Numbers research report


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Deborah Smart

Director of Grants

Deborah directs the delivery of our grant programmes and has over a decade of experience in social finance and grant-making.  She entered the social finance sector in 2005 with The Social Enterprise Loan Fund, and joined SIB in 2009.

Deborah is a 2015 Clore Social Fellow, and in her free time volunteers with a small broadcasting charity in Essex.

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