How are Funding Programmes Actually Developed?

When it comes to funding, what works and what doesn't? Together with the EVZ Foundation, we asked 120 changemakers from Germany and abroad. Here are the results.

by Katharina Dermühl, May 6, 2018
funding for social projects

How are funding programmes actually developed? I asked myself this question, especially as a founder, when I was commissioned to develop a concept for a new funding format for the Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation.

My personal opinion, shared many social change makers in my network, was and is that those who develop the programs don't know exactly what they need.

That's why I was all the more enthusiastic when Andreas Eberhardt, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Eberhardt Foundation, said at the kickoff for the Accelerator in Prague: "In the development of all our programs, it is always a great concern of ours to bring the people on board who will later benefit from them. The same applies to experts who have already developed popular programmes for a similar target group.”

In cooperation with tbd*, we therefore developed a survey that asked 29 questions on the topic of funding for social projects and companies—what works and what doesn't? More than 120 social change-makers from Germany and abroad gave us their time and answers.

In an interview with tbd*, Andreas Eberhardt stated, "I was surprised to learn that these needs and experience values have never been surveyed on a large scale. I believe that the findings will be exciting and not only for our project an important resource. That's why we decided to make the results of the open-source survey available right at the beginning of the planning process."

Funding for Social Projects
Almost all of the founders want fast and flexible approval and funding periods, as well as long-term funding beyond six months and a committed and competent sponsor who supports them in obtaining follow-up financing.

Ambivalent Relationship to Existing Funding Opportunities

The survey drew a response of slightly more women, mostly 30-35 years old, and more founders of a social enterprise than founders of a social project (an initiative without a business model). Some of the respondents are employed (part-time) while founding something on the side or have ambitions to start something. Most projects have been active for two or less years.

When asked to think of three words linked to the topic of funding, my own ambivalent relationship to it is clearly reflected: cumbersome, bureaucracy, and lack of transparency. Most respondents list two negative and one positive aspect when answering this same question, and the necessity of promotion and its good points are also mentioned: opportunity and security are common answers.

One participant wrote: "restrictions, complicated, actually I need them." No wonder most of the participants stated that they have financed the start of their business through private savings and a job at the same time—only in third place are subsidies.

Since more than 80% of respondents have already applied for funding—mainly from foundations, but also from ministries and the EU—their statements do not come from hearsay. The founders argue that they either did not find suitable funding, as many criticised the time-intensive search process of where to look for funding, or the application itself would have been too time-consuming. However, their founding ideas were not yet mature enough, which may indicate that there are too few programmes that offer support in the idea phase.

EVZ Lab for Civil Society Starts in Prague

You are a Czech initiative that cares about the strengthening of democracy and open societies or culture of remembrance? You want to work on the next steps of your project in exchange with other initiatives and mentors? Then apply from 6.5. at the EVZ Lab in cooperation with the Czech Impact Hubs.

In an open comment, one participant offered a possible solution, "a Germany-wide funding register, in which I can register once for all funding programmes throughout Germany as a funding target, without having to siphon new projects out of my fingers every time, which is time-consuming (...)".

Rethinking Applications and Reporting

The topic of comprehensive reporting arose again and again. In general, the two parties (supporting and sponsored) usually do not meet on an equal footing. On the one hand, foundations and sponsors demand reporting because they are under strict regulations from statutes and legislation, which often involve taxpayers' money. However, this often results in an unbalanced dichotomy between the funders and the receiver. 

That said, there needs to be a simpler and more collaborative way to ensure transprancy without unnecessary burden.

On the otherhand, the written application form and the report were often cited as the preferred application and graduation format. This is not surprising, as our experts in the workshop also emphasized how important it is to write down an idea.

However, the level of complication does depend on the comprehensibility of the questions and scope. This is evident in the free answers to describe a wish-you-what-scenario: applicants are frustrated by ambiguities in the calls for proposals, the rigid formats and, above all, the impossibility of contacting the sponsor beforehand in order to find out whether there is any prospect of success and whether they really fit together. 

Money - Follow-up Financing - Relevant Networks

Respondents clearly prioritize their needs: financial support of the team (i. e. salaries) first, followed by financing of costs, access to sponsors and investors for follow-up financing, access to a relevant network, mentoring, and finally office space.

The following answer sums up the statements of the other founders: "the perfect promotion experience would be a freedom-to-operate through the promotion. I could make my living with the financial means and make meaningful purchases of easily retrievable material costs. I would not need to fill in long forms for this purpose, but would have an easy way of approving investments. In the event of problems, coaches and mentors in the program would accompany all levels of development (hardware, software, business model, law) and actively help to implement them."

Additonally, almost all of the founders want fast and flexible approval and funding periods, as well as long-term funding beyond six months and a committed and competent sponsor who supports them in obtaining follow-up financing.

Promotion at Eye Level

What do the results of this survey tell us? First of all, the time invested by the founders tells us that there is a strong desire for change in the funding landscape. Here in Germany, as well as in the rest of Europe, we have a pronounced funding structure which has yet to discover the topic of social entrepreneurship and react to the agile and fast-moving founders.

A new group of customers have opened up and they want to implement their projects quickly and efficiently at eye level. These founders solve major societal challenges in a sustainable way and approach their target groups on an equal footing, wanting to empower rather than help.

Therefore, they rightly demand that the sponsors also meet them in a spirit of partnership and are also open to innovative ideas and working methods. This can be achieved if promoters open up and the founders themselves provide insight into their methods and show that they can use the funds effectively without presenting a 30-page report.


As a result, the EVZ Changemakers Lab has been created at the ECC, which will support founders in the Czech Republic from summer 2018 on, who will take care of the issues of strengthening democracy and open societies. The programme is designed as an academy, with the teams meeting at one of the three Czech Impact Hubs. The first year is planned as a pilot and will be extended to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and Germany. Czech teams can apply here:

EVZ lab

We have stored the data of the survey here and are happy if others evaluate it or use it as a basis for new programs and research.