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Our approach to designing the d/Deaf and Disabled people's organisations funding programme

Richard Paynter, Head of Grants, South, discusses co-designing our d/Deaf and Disabled people's organisations programme, and the changes we have made to our approach to our funding and support.

We were delighted to launch our new funding programme for d/Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs) at the beginning of June. The launch kicked off the first of at least four annual funding rounds, through which we will be committing over £11m. This is the start of the journey for organisations looking to apply to the programme but for us it’s an end point of sorts, or at least a staging post, in the development of the programme.

Building a better Future, our strategy for 2022, report front cover

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The programme itself stems from the commitment in our strategy to support people facing injustice and inequality. It’s no secret that it’s really hard for many people just to get by at the moment, but we know that those people and communities who were already disadvantaged are by far the hardest hit by the rising costs now. That includes d/Deaf and Disabled people who are almost three times as likely to be unable to afford essential goods or services as non Disabled people.

The need for the fund was clear, but we were also conscious that this was new territory for us, so we needed to make sure that the funding met the needs of those we were trying to reach; that meant designing the programme in partnership.

We kicked off a co-design process with DDPOs last summer, including depth interviews, focus groups and service design workshops, all intended to help us to answer the big questions: what and how should we fund?

What Should We Fund?   

Even though the fund represents 25% of our main grant making budget, we know that the level of need is huge, and we needed to be clear about where our priorities are. The feedback from the depth interviews and focus groups helped us to crystalise these. Key insights from these were:

  • d/Deaf and Disabled people continue to be poorly represented in the leadership of organisations which exist to serve their needs. This is a particularly pressing issue for Disabled people, as there is often still a perception in wider society that it’s ok for people outside the community to speak on behalf of them. More so, in fact, than for other protected characteristics. Consequently, we realised that we should be supporting organisations that are clearly led by the community that they’re serving.

  • Coming out of Covid and into a cost of living crisis, d/Deaf and Disabled people need practical support to get a foothold in a worsening financial environment. Despite Disabled people being more likely to be on lower incomes than non Disabled people and facing additional costs, they are having to fight to access their entitlements from the social security system.

    We should be supporting organisations providing advice and advocacy to d/Deaf and Disabled people around their benefits, social care or housing. We need to change the social security system too, to make sure the safety net is a reality, something the Foundation is championing through our influencing work.

  • There was a strong desire from d/Deaf and Disabled Peoples Organisations to better reflect the diversity of the communities they work in and to support Disabled people who also face additional barriers, such as race, sexual orientation or gender identity.

    The organisations we spoke to acknowledged that this isn’t always an area of strength at the moment, so we agreed not to make this an essential criterion of the programme, instead we would prioritise charities who might be in the early stages of developing their practice and services around this.
A group of people sitting in an office room at tables and in deep discussion. There are various papers with post it notes on the wall and the table itself

Image from our co-design workshops

A group of women sitting at a table in discussion. On the table are various papers, and they are looking towards a board with various post it notes on

How Should We Fund?

Funders are never short of applications. This can lead to complacency about how we do things and, given that our aim is to use our funds to have the most and best social impact we can, it’s important for us to regularly consider ‘who isn’t applying who could and why?’.

With the help of partners Hyphen8 and Opening Doors, we hosted two service design workshops to understand the kind of things that put off or stopped d/Deaf and Disabled people’s charities from making funding applications as well as how we should approach decision making for the programme. Key learning for us was:

  1. We need to do more to proactively engage with potential applicants and the importance of putting a face to a name.

    Being a corporate Foundation can make us seem larger than we are and people engage best when they have a personal connection.

    To address this, we hosted a webinar to meet members of the team, outline the key programme criteria and answer questions about it.

    For people that may not want to ask questions in this setting or may have a very specific question about their work, we are also hosting online meetings for potential applicants to have a conversation with a member of the team. This approach has the added benefit of applicants finding out early and directly if they’re not eligible to apply, saving a lot of wasted effort.

2. Applicants will have wide and varying needs and some potential applicants face barriers through the process itself. It’s up to us to make sure that the process and guidance is accessible.

Earlier in the year we added an accessibility widget into our website providing text to speech for all our web pages, created guidance documents in multiple formats including easy read, and agreed that we would accept applications in different formats. We know that there will be much more that we can do to improve further and that it is vital that we listen and respond to individual needs. We don’t want our systems to be a barrier to applicants and we know that making funding requests costs money, so where it’s clear that extra costs are being incurred applicants can now request up to £500 to help to towards them.

3. Applicants want to be confident that decisions will be made by people who understand the issues facing d/Deaf and Disabled people, both professionally and personally. If we are funding organisations led by the community then decision making needs to be led by them too.

Our trustees are responsible and accountable for our funding decisions, so there is a risk in sharing that power; however, they also recognise that decisions are made better when informed by lived and learned experience. For the first time DDPOs will be on our decision making panel, and form the majority, with the same delegated power for decision making as our trustee representatives. This exciting partnership approach to decision making will mean that decisions are led by d/Deaf and Disabled people but responsibility for them still sits squarely with the Foundation.


The approach that we have taken to developing this fund has led to a fair amount of confusion and head scratching at times, as we faced just how much we don’t know, could change and should change about how we do things. It’s taken longer too, but it’s been worth it. Many of the changes are already being applied across our wider work and there’s no going back to the old ways. For now, we take a breath, see what works and what doesn’t, then we go again making the next round better.

Learn more about our funding