Independent funders are well placed to support the valuable work that small voluntary and community organisations do in communities and neighbourhoods, according to Jan Crawley, manager of the South West Foundation, which makes grants to voluntary and community bodies in south- west England.
"However, they must make themselves accessible, cut out as much unnecessary paperwork as they can and be prepared to take risks," she says. "Community groups are a valuable asset to our communities, and we must do our best to ensure they survive."
According to funding advice workers across the region, the foundation does its job admirably. On 6 July, it received the region's first George Award from the South West Funders Advisers' Forum, known as 'George'. The award was established to acknowledge and celebrate excellent performance and service from funders and is the result of a set of overlapping networks for third sector funding in the area, according to John Skrine, head of funding at Creating Excellence, a support organisation for groups involved in regeneration in the south west. "We think our work's unique," he says.
"We've created a way of building relationships within the nexus of getting money to voluntary and community organisations."
Skrine facilitates separate networks of funding advisers, whose work involves providing free advice to funders and to voluntary and community groups. He also runs a forum that brings the two sides together. "Each needs its own space, as well as the togetherness," he says.
For the award, George asked funding advisers to nominate both funding bodies and individuals. According to the nominators, the South West Foundation has a "quick turnaround and in-depth knowledge of the community it services". Its advice, assessments and communications materials are rated as excellent, and its quick response to applications, is described as making groups feel valued.
"Funding advisers have strong views about funders, and funders are aware of that," says Skrine. "It's nice to show good practice."