New research report: Funding Grassroots Mental Health Work

We have published a new research report into the experiences user-led mental health groups have trying to get funding to sustain their work. This report explores these experiences and provides action points for funders.

In the winter of 2021 we carried out a survey of 137 grassroots user-led mental health groups regarding their funding experiences. These small and often-overlooked groups work to support the mental health and wellbeing of their communities in a whole host of ways. “User-led” in this context refers to groups led by and for people with lived experience of a particular issue; they are by and for their communities, which may be based on shared experiences, identities, or geographies.

Our research confirmed that these groups and organisations find it very difficult to get the funding they need to sustain themselves. We hope this report, including the action points and self-evaluation questions, can support funders to resource small grassroots groups sustainably while preserving the qualities that make their work effective and powerful, such as their independence and autonomy.

Key findings

  • Those who have previously applied for funding reported inaccessible, inflexible and overly-complicated processes. Intensive application processes that demand huge amounts of information and paperwork with no human element are described as a burden on the extremely limited capacities of grassroots groups, which are often run by a small number of volunteers who do this (unpaid or underpaid) work alongside other commitments.
  • Over half of the groups surveyed did not feel that funders understood their work or the reality of the conditions they operate under – doing urgent and often deeply emotional work with little capacity, no time for impact measuring procedures to “prove” that what they are doing helps people, and often no fundraising expertise.
  • Groups who have not previously applied for funding have many reasons. They often simply struggle to know what funding opportunities are available. They might be put off due to rigid eligibility requirements around things like structure or they are discouraged by extensive application and reporting processes, which were regarded as inaccessible.
  • People urgently need more funding pots where money is available for core costs to be made available. There is a huge amount of need for larger, longer-term amounts of funding that is not just for new projects, so that groups can move towards sustainability rather than constantly chasing small, restricted pots of funding.
  • Funding norms are having a negative impact on the already-difficult working conditions of those in user-led organisations. Burnout, fatigue, and precarious working conditions were prominent themes in this research. The process of applying for funding is exhausting and financial insecurity creates huge amounts of anxiety. This is on top of the work itself already being emotionally taxing and deeply personal.

Summary: action points for funders

  • Increase simplicity, flexibility and transparency in the application and reporting processes
  • Offer support and interactivity to small, user-led groups
  • Make your offer less project-bound
  • Work towards mutual trust
  • Reject a one size fits all approach and develop your understanding of the work of user-led groups