#11 Decision checklist for assessing potential funders

This is intended as a decision-making guide for boards, management and consultative forums for organisations in the cultural sector.

woman pushes piano during a performance
Sarah Nicholls / Future Piano. Photo: William Fallows.

This is not intended to lay down hard ‘red lines’, but to help organisations arrive at agreements that some funders, sources of money and particular sponsorship deals are much more harmful than others. Going through this process thoroughly will dispel the relativist and amoral notion that all money is tainted so it doesn’t matter where we take it from. It will help organisations to communicate their ethical decisions back to funders, staff and the public.

Image shows three people smiling towards a fourth person whose back is towards the camera, as they sit around a table.
Photo by Rachel Wright


Assess the impact of a potential funder

Prompts are included below each question, as a resource for this task.

  • Question one: What is their historic contribution to a range of harms? And what harm is likely to emerge in their future activities? (See a list of harms below.) 
  • Question two: to what extent are these harms a legacy of the organisation, or are they still being pursued? 
  • Question three: what is the scale of the organisation and the harm it causes? 

These harms might include: 

  • Ecocide, or harmful land-use change e.g. due to deforestation, soil degradation, intensive animal agriculture, pollution and irresponsible waste, extractive mining, overfishing etc.
  • Greenhouse Gas emissions e.g. from fossil fuels, or from the destruction of ecosystems that are carbon sinks, including significant investment in those high-emission activities.
  • Producing, trading in or training in arms and other technologies of violence.
  • Animal exploitation and slaughter e.g. livestock-based food production, animal testing, or capture for entertainment.
  • Not respecting the rights of people with protected characteristics, in their actions or relationships, including upholding racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, and ableism.
  • Causing ill health in people on a significant scale e.g. from careless management of toxic material or pharmaceuticals.
  • Exploitation of people in labour e.g. dangerous conditions, trafficking or indentured workers.
  • Profiteering e.g. by flipping properties or shorting the market.
  • Involvement in corruption e.g. fraud, illegal trades, manipulation of democracies etc.
  • Financing of any of the above.
  • Advertising or promotion of any of the above.

Question one: Is the funding arrangement showing signs, for this project or others that they have funded, that they are using it to achieve dubious corporate goals

These might be: 

  • Seeking social licence to operate harmfully
  • Wanting to influence narratives or framings of a particular issue, for example in choices of imagery
  • Wanting to choose the topic that they fund because it aligns with wishes to influence public understanding or policy.  

  • Question one: How unequal are they in terms of salaries and bonuses, and decision-making? 
  • Question two: If they are promising to change, is there any scrutiny done already on how authentic and meaningful this is?
  • Question three: How transparent are they about their ethics and footprint, their relationships and lobbying activities? 

Question one: How important is their support to us?

Is there strictly no alternative to carrying out the project, with this particular funding? (e.g. anything other than essential repairs or financial rescue.)

Question two: Are they exploiting us? How much is the funding worth for us, and what are they asking for in return? 

Question three: Does it compromise our charitable objects and policies?

Question four: Is there room for staff and stakeholders to be consulted? 

Review all your notes from sections A, B, C and D.

Use these to make lists of Pros and Cons. Discuss the weighting of the Pros and Cons.

Use the Precautionary Principle: asking, can we be absolutely sure that our decision won’t cause harm?

A group of people stand in the rain outside the Department For Digital Culture, Media and Sport, holding a large CDE banner.
CDE at The Big One, 2023

Continue working through the guide

Culture Takes Action: Tools for an Emergency Response


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