Better Careers for Better Care: Learning from the open funding call

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Blog, April 2024
Better Careers for Better Care 2023-24 Funding Call

Better Careers for Better Care: Learning from the open funding call

As part of the Foundation's grant-making programme into adult social care Better Careers for Better Care, a call for Expressions of Interest (EOI) was open between November 2023 and January 2024. In this blog, Head of Grants, Susan O'Sullivan, shares what we have learnt from the EOIs we received, as well as from taking a more proactive and strategic approach to funding in this area.

At the end of last year, the Rayne Foundation, for the first time in its history, put out an open call for Expressions of Interest (EOIs) in collaborative projects for Better Careers for Better Care. The funding call was seeking bids focused on transformation within adult social care, and in particular on workforce development and career progression opportunities within the care sector. We based our funding priorities on what we had heard from the sector through a period of learning and consultation. Read my blog here to learn more about this journey.

Taking a more strategic and collaborative approach to grant-giving is a test for us, to see how the Foundation’s limited resources can have the biggest positive impact in our areas of special interest. Learn more about this approach from our Director Crispin’s blog here.

In this blog, we will cover:

Response to the funding call

We did not know what response we would receive to the funding call in terms of the number, focus or character of the bids. We received 48 EOIs from across England and were deeply impressed by the passion and commitment to improving the experience of care workers and people drawing on care, and the scale of ambition to transform workforce development and career progression within adult social care.

The exclusions which are a part of our open grants programme did not apply to the open call, and as such we received EOIs from a wide range of organisations with almost a third coming from partnerships led by statutory bodies including Local Authorities, NHS Trusts, and Integrated Care Boards. The call was kindly shared by colleagues in the sector including Skills for Care via the We Are Social Care Nursing newsletter, IMPACT and ADASS and as a result there was a good geographical spread across the bids we received, with particularly good representation from North East and Eastern England.

The quality of the EOIs was very high and there were many more excellent projects proposed than could be funded by the money available. Longlisting and then shortlisting the EOIs, with the support of an Assessment Panel made up of External Advisors and Foundation staff and trustees, was an exciting yet difficult process due to the high calibre of the proposals we received. All those involved recognised the privilege of assessing the EOIs and the responsibility in the decision-making process.

Emerging Themes

Across the 48 bids, certain themes emerged, indicative of current best practice and trends within the sector. They included:

  • Recruitment, training and development through Health and Care Academies.
  • Strengthening and growing the social care workforce through opportunities for local people and the existing workforce.
  • Values-based recruitment.
  • The need for collaborative infrastructure for the external workforce to overcome the varied and fragmented provider landscape.
  • The need for commissioning models to focus on outcomes and facilitate integration of health and social care.
  • Commitment to hearing and amplifying care workers’ voice.

Many of the bids we received involved piloting or rolling out best practice career progression opportunities for particular roles within the social care workforce or developing specific skills such as leadership, delegated healthcare tasks and dementia care. The EOIs that scored most highly also included thinking around the commissioning models that would be required to maximise the potential of these career progression opportunities and what needs to be in place to make the case for sustainable investment.

Bids being developed to full application

We have now completed the shortlisting process and are working alongside partner organisations to develop seven full applications to be taken to the Foundation’s Board over the next six months. These seven bids fall into two broad camps.

The first camp is made up of bids based in a particular geography, where the proposed work has an element focused on improving care provision through career progression or training opportunities in combination with an element focused on developing the commissioning model to support improved care provision. Having both providers and commissioners working together, ready to challenge and change the way they do things to support workforce development, felt like the most fertile ground for transformation at a systems level.  

Through the many stories those in the sector have generously shared with us, we are acutely aware of the need to shift the narrative around social care to one that acknowledges, values, and celebrates the skills, passion, commitment, and love displayed by care workers each and every day. The second group of bids being developed therefore focus on supporting and enabling those working in social care to share their stories, shift the narrative, and influence both policy and strategic decision-making at a national level.

Internal learning

The Better Careers for Better Care funding programme is testing a new way of funding for the Foundation and as such we are committed to reflecting and learning throughout the journey. Below outlines the way in which the funding programme differs from our open grants programme, and our internal learning so far.

More strategic and directive in what we are seeking to fund

By being specific about our funding priorities and criteria for assessment, the vast majority of the bids we received were eligible for funding. We were deeply impressed by the quality of the bids and have reflected as a team that by being clearer about what we are likely to fund in all our grant-making programmes, we will better support potential applicants to understand whether their work is a good fit for the Foundation’s funding and in their application to us. We are currently reviewing and updating our open grants application process and guidance with this at the forefront of our thinking.  

Additionally, by being more focused in what we would fund through Better Careers for Better Care, we have learnt a huge amount about the transformative work going on across the adult social care sector. We feel confident that we can be even more specific about what we are likely to fund in any future funding rounds based on this learning.  

Expression of Interest process and scoring system

The EOIs were scored by the Assessment Panel using the funding criteria. Guiding questions were agreed collectively by the panel to support consistency of thinking when scoring. While the EOI highlighted the criteria to applicants as the scoring system, it did not ask specific questions against each criterion. This made the scoring fairly complex for assessors and may have made writing the EOI more complicated than necessary for applicants. In future, a simplified system with questions in the EOI which reflect the scoring criteria could provide a more straight-forward and effective system for both assessors and applicants.

Open invitation to connect in the development of bids and feedback offered to those that were unsuccessful

The opportunity to meet with Holly, the Programme Development Lead was taken up by more than 40 organisations over the course of the nine weeks that the funding call was open. Following the funding call, feedback was given via email to each applicant, and follow-up calls took place with a quarter of unsuccessful applicants. These numbers indicate an appetite from grantees to engage with funders to understand their priorities and decision-making. Across all conversations, there was a keen desire to continue to engage and to create a community of practice bringing together people and organisations trying to do things differently within adult social care.

Removal of exclusions in terms of type of organisation

The removal of exclusions increased the range of organisations that connected with the Foundation and, importantly in the context of adult social care, included statutory bodies that are currently struggling to enable innovation due to financial constraints and restrictions. In order for the Foundation to contribute to positive social change in this area, it felt vital to exercise our freedom to fund where the commitment, energy and momentum to transform is, and where we can make most difference regardless of the organisation’s constitution. As part of the review of our open grants programme, we will be challenging ourselves to explore which exclusions we need to retain and why.

Assessment Panel including External Advisors

It was a privilege to benefit from the insight and expertise brought to the panel by the four External Advisors. The Advisors brought experience of and expertise in commissioning, delivering, advocating for, and drawing on social care services, and were involved not only in the decision-making on which bids to develop to full application, but also the framing and guidance provided to potential applicants. The supportive challenge provided by the Advisors greatly enhanced the design and communication of the grant-making process.

The variety of perspectives held by the Assessment Panel led to a fantastically informed and robust discussion of the shortlisted EOIs, and there was real excitement from the panel about the bids being moved forward to full application. For us at the Foundation, having the benefit of the External Advisors’ expertise and experience was invaluable in the decision-making process and gives us additional confidence in the work going forward. The External Advisors have kindly offered to stay engaged with the programme to provide further guidance and support as the grants are made and the work starts on the ground.  

External evaluators supporting from the outset

Our external evaluator Bean Research was commissioned in September last year and was able to feed into the design and delivery of the funding call. Throughout this period, the Bean team also worked with the Assessment Panel to develop an Impact Framework for the programme which then supported the assessment of bids. Being able to articulate from the outset how we hope to measure impact across the grants supported the Assessment Panel’s discussions and improved our decision-making. 

The Bean team has since been meeting with the partner applicants to develop specific evaluation plans for each grant which feed into the overarching Impact Framework. By working in this way, we hope to better understand the impact of the individual grants and the Better Careers for Better Care programme overall, how we can build greater impact and fund the most impactful change, and ultimately whether there is a strong case for the Foundation to continue to invest in this way and at this scale.

Next steps

In terms of the Better Careers for Better Care programme, we hope to see all the designated funding pot committed by the end of 2024. Alongside these grants, we intend to share updates and learning as the programme continues and would like to bring colleagues together to share best practice and support collaboration. We will develop plans to contribute to wider sector networks and support a community of practice over the coming months.

In terms of our broader grant-making, much of the learning from running the open call will feed into the revision of the Foundation’s open grant application process and guidance. This will be published in Summer this year. Learning around impact evaluation and drawing on external expertise will continue to be reflected upon to support our future grant-making. 


If you would like to receive further information on these plans as they develop and on any further funding opportunities, please email Programme Development Lead Holly to be added to the mailing list -