Two minds better than one as The Funding Network marks 10 years - Philanthropy Australia

28 April 2023

The Funding Network is celebrating its 10th Anniversary – and $22 million in giving – with a specially streamed pitching event. Philanthropy Weekly speaks with CEO Kristen Lark and its founder and former CEO, Lisa Cotton, who are working together again. They reflect on the decade’s achievements, how crowdfunding has changed and what more is possible.

Congratulations on TFN celebrating its 10th anniversary. Firstly, please give us an overview of what TFN is and how it works. 

Kristen: The Funding Network (TFN) brings people together for good. During the past 10 years, we have acted as a catalyst and amplifier of more than 300 emerging charities and 2,000 changemakers, facilitating more than $22 million in funding and deepening the culture of giving in Australia.  

We vet and guide the organisations we work with through shortlisting-to-presenting at live crowdfunding events and then provide ongoing capacity-building support so that they can continue to thrive. This increases their overall effectiveness, improving outcomes for those experiencing entrenched disadvantage. Equally important, our approach inspires more people and organisations to donate to grassroots organisations and keeps them invested in their success. 

How did TFN get started?  

Lisa: The idea of TFN Australia started when my co-founder, the late Steve Lawrence, heard about the model in the UK and asked me whether I thought it would work here. I have always believed that societal problems are immense and far-reaching, but so too is the untapped market of everyday Australians wanting to help solve them. TFN was the perfect vehicle to make this happen. 

Sadly, Steve passed away before the first event, but the global founder Frederick Mulder CBE and TFN UK CEO Eugenie Harvey were exceptionally generous in supporting the pilot in 2013. They now use TFN Australia as an exemplar of how to innovate around collective giving and remain close friends and supporters. Today, we are part of a global network that includes affiliates in 20 countries.  

What do you think TFN has achieved in those 10 years? What are you most proud of? 

Lisa: TFN has become the go-to national platform for grassroots giving and inspired more than 20,000 people to see the world not as it is, but as it could be. 

For me, TFN represents much more than funds raised and connections made. Its effectiveness to drive action is evident through the amplification of story to inform, educate and, in turn, create a ripple-effect of positive impact for all participants – non-profits, corporations and individuals. 

I’m most proud of the fact that TFN has been the launch-pad for so many successful grassroots organisations whose work is playing a fundamental role in the non-profit and social enterprise fields.  

Are there particular projects or stories that have stayed with you? 

Kristen: The first one I heard has stayed with me. Don Palmer pitched at our pilot event in 2013 about Malpa’s Young Doctors program that empowers Aboriginal children to take control of their health and shape the future. It is such a beautiful example of a grassroots program that draws on the knowledge and expertise of Aboriginal healers to improve health outcomes and I love hearing about their continued impact. 

Tell us about the 10th anniversary pitching event. What’s the energy like in the room? How do people get involved? 

Kristen: TFN is marking our first decade of impact with a special crowdfunding event featuring three of our alumni – Anika LegalDeadlyScience and Hotel Etico. It will be a high-energy, high-impact event where business leaders, philanthropists, social investors and everyday Australians will hear compelling stories and experience the joy of giving. Guests will come together from across Australia and have the opportunity to make a pledge – online, in-person or via their mobile phone. It’s incredible to see the power of community in action. Together, we can give more, do more and change more. 

Anyone can join our 10th Anniversary event on 4 May and experience the joy of giving and the power of community in action.

What’s at the heart of TFN? How would you say it fits into the philanthropy ecosystem? 

Kristen: TFN acts as a social catalyst – bringing people together and prompting them to engage with one another through the power of storytelling and collective giving. We want to build the capacity of grassroots charities and social enterprises, deepen the culture of giving and increase community engagement – all things that are essential to a thriving philanthropic ecosystem.  

Lisa’s come back to celebrate TFN’s 10th anniversary and explore what the next decade could look like. What’s it like to come back to an organisation you founded and how are two working together? 

Lisa: It’s a wonderful full-circle experience for me as Kristen was my first hire, sounding board and all-round sanity check when we first started out and had to prove (against some cynicism) that people would step up and pledge support in a public setting. 

I’ve remained TFN’s biggest champion and the opportunity to work with Kristen again and look at the model with fresh eyes and further insights is exciting. We know that with TFN’s extensive reach and reputation, there’s much more opportunity for greater impact. 

We will be engaging more deeply in key issue areas and sharpening our focus on grassroots giving. We will also be doing more capacity-building work for our alumni and leveraging our Giving Heroes platform to support kids and their families to be active changemakers. 

What would else is possible in the future for TFN? 

Kristen: We want to make it even easier for people and organisations to find, support and donate to grassroots organisations and we know technology can play an important role in bringing people together. Expect to see us experiment with new ways to connect and more ways to give.   

What’s your take on how crowdfunding has changed? 

Kristen: Back in 2012, crowdfunding was primarily online or used in venture capital where enterprises pitched for angel investment funding. Now, it’s become a mainstream way to broaden networks and access funding, and is amplifying impact in many cause areas. 

Lisa: TFN has also inspired other collective giving models, which is fantastic for the sector. Even though we have funding in the name, the real power of TFN as a field-building intermediary is that we influence, support and complement the efforts of those working to reduce disadvantage. 

Would you get in the ‘friendly shark tank’? 

Kristen: I am diving in head-first on 4 May! As a charity, TFN needs support to make more events like this possible, so we’re going to do our own mini-pitch. Just like all of the organisations we support, I’ve got a pitch coach helping me tell our story, and I can’t wait to experience what it’s like to be inside the tank!  

TFN co-Founder Lisa Cotton (left) with current CEO Kristen Lark (right) 

The Funding Network’s 10th Anniversary Pitch event is on Thursday 4 May 2023 at 6pm-8pm. It will be streamed live from Sydney via Crowdcast. The event is sponsored by ASX with matched funding by long-term TFN partner the AMP Foundation. You can register here 


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