Q&A with Lisa Cotton - The Funding Network

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TFN has inspired a new way for corporations, foundations and individuals to come together to engage in thoughtful giving.

While in Australia, funding opportunities for social enterprises are still few and far between, some all-star organisations, such as The Funding Network (TFN), are going above and beyond to provide the critical support social enterprises need to scale their impact.

In just a few days, TFN will be launching its first ever social enterprise specific live crowdfunding event, and we here at Tilt were so excited we decided to have a catch up with Lisa Cotton, co-founder of TFN, for a quick Q&A to see what they are up to, and how other social enterprises can access the fantastic support TFN provides.

Lisa co-founded The Funding Network in 2013, which has since then supported over 140 grassroots nonprofit organisations that run grassroots social programs in Australia and abroad.

TFN’s vision is for a more equitable society and a social sector that has access to the connections and resources it needs to thrive. To achieve this, TFN helps build the capacity of nonprofit organisations by hosting live-crowdfunding events around Australia, then uses these to get people more deeply involved in the community via volunteering and executive mentoring.

Prior to TFN, Lisa was Director Social Investment for Social Ventures Australia for seven years, and before that was Associate Director of DDB Worldwide Communications. She has also held senior management roles with the WA Government, including The Perth Mint and WATC.

Tilt: What was your driving purpose for co-founding TFN, and why is TFN important?

To address the growing divide between the haves and have-nots, I passionately believe we need leaders who can channel crowds and re-design society’s systems and structures to include and empower everyday Australians to support their communities. This is what TFN live crowdfunding events are doing.

We are uniting people with common goals and collaborating with a diverse and powerful network across Australia.

Tilt: Since founding in 2013, TFN Australia has worked with over 140 nonprofits raising over $5 million in funding. But, the aim of TFN is much more than money. Can you speak to the broader impact that TFN has had on those involved, and why TFN is doing more than just helping organisations to raise money?

Yes, we see TFN as an ‘enabler’ that has a powerful ripple effect for nonprofits and donors alike. On the donor side, TFN is stimulating a new culture of thoughtful giving by making it accessible, engaging and educational. On the demand side, we are building the operational capacity of grassroots charities via funding, pitch coaching, mentoring, evaluation and skilled volunteering. We estimate the in-kind value to our nonprofit partners sits at around $1 million.

While funding for these grassroots nonprofits is vital, TFN is about more than just helping them raise money. It’s about helping them to effectively tell their story, raise their profile, connect with new networks, and forge relationships with people who are passionate about their cause.

Tilt: In a few days, TFN is holding its first ever live crowdfunding night specifically for social enterprises (we are so excited!). Why now, and what are you hoping to achieve?

We’ve always believed in the power and potential of social enterprise, it’s just that up until recently we could not fund them with our DGR2 status. We now have DGR1 thankfully which enables us to fund and support all charitable organisations addressing disadvantage, including social enterprises. 

TFN provides a platform to give emerging social enterprises a voice and networks they would not ordinarily get in front of.

Tilt: Prior to your role at TFN you spent about 7 years working at Social Ventures Australia, and have a wealth of experience in the social enterprise space. What role do you believe social enterprise plays in solving complex social and environmental issues?

I think social enterprise time had come. By that, I mean there are more people and entities, including government, funding this area than ever before via different financial structures. These include social impact bonds, low-interest loans and impact investing. All smart ‘for purpose’ organisations can play a significant role in effecting change. The beauty about social enterprise, once scaled, is ultimately a reduced reliance on philanthropic grants.

Tilt: What is the impact that the live crowdfunding night will have on the social enterprises who take part?

Importantly, it will showcase the power of these organisations.  Impact typically includes access to networks efficiently and en-masse. We encourage the audience to be put in direct contact with the presenters. This often results in additional support beyond funding. TFN’s live crowdfunding events are the catalyser of many fruitful relationships that are developed between donors and nonprofit leaders.

Tilt: What do you look for in the organisations who pitch at TFN?

TFN casts a wide net to attract some of the most compelling nonprofits. On average, we receive around 20 applications per event, which is short-listed to six. Those six are then interviewed by an independent selection panel from which three are chosen to take to the stage at our events.

We want diversity of presenters and styles to inspire and challenge our smart and enquiring audiences across Australia, that comprise largely of business professionals of all ages and stages.

We are looking for nonprofit leaders who not only have compelling solutions to seemingly intractable social problems but also are authentic and possess an ability to articulate complex ideas in just six minutes.  

As you could imagine, this is not easy, but when it works, it’s magic.

Tilt: If you were to start a social enterprise right now, what advice would you give yourself?

Go for it if you truly believe in your concept. TFN started out as a story of defiance in 2013. A number of people said live crowdfunding would not work. That negatively quickly melted away when people experienced the contagion effect when there are compelling stories and facts combined with an audience curious about how they can contribute to social change.

Tilt: Will you be doing future socent focused pitch nights? And how can interested social enterprises get involved with the support that TFN provides?

Yes, we will. Social enterprises just need to keep an eye out on our website for upcoming events and subscribe to our database on our homepage so they can be notified when applications are open. We also inform the sector via intermediary organisations such as Social Traders, Donkey Wheel and Social Ventures Australia.

This live pitch event will be held in Melbourne, on Tuesday, June 6th, where three social enterprises, Brewing for Change, Youthworx and Property Initiatives Real Estate (PIRE) will pitch for funding from a live crowd, right then, and right there. To be a part of this exciting night or to support these three innovative social enterprises, register to attend the event here.

You can also stay up to date with TFN by following them on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, or LinkedIn.

Jackie ColmarComment