A local funding fair always provides me with quick insights into the state of the local sector's funders and supporters. So a visit to the funding fair in York, organised by Debbie Megone from the York Centre for Voluntary Service, was a must. In less than three hours, 140 people from 118 voluntary groups visited 16 funders' stalls, collecting information and making contact.
The City of York Council stall had little to offer. As a visitor from Age UK York said to me: "The council used to be a major funder of local charities. It's sad to see how insignificant it is now."
Mary Bailey, from the council's communities and equalities team, was doing her best to be cheerful. "We have small grants available to support community groups and sports clubs in every ward of the city," she said. But there is no longer a grants budget to support charities that work across the whole of the city.
The Police and Crime Commissioner's team for North Yorkshire had more to offer. Its community fund offers voluntary organisations grants of up to £20,000 for projects that support communities to "be safe and feel safe". The priorities are to stop people becoming either victims of crime or offenders.
The Big Lottery Fund was busy impressing visitors with the news that 70 per cent of applications to its Awards for All initiative were successful. By contrast, Yvonne Taylor, regional organiser of the Lloyds Bank Foundation, was warning that it rejected 70 per cent of bids.
Not all stall-holders were offering grants. Chris Gatman, from the Cranfield Trust, and Caroline Wilcock, from York Cares, were encouraging charity leaders to offer opportunities for business volunteers to work with them. Clearly, bringing in private sector skills can open up new funding and trading possibilities for some local charities.
York has a rich philanthropic history, represented at the fair by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and its housing trust. Its current grant priorities include support for dementia sufferers and what Helen Robinson, its community grants support officer, idealistically called "ideas that could help us create a poverty-free York".
I was pleased to see HM Revenue & Customs promoting Gift Aid. Members of its charities outreach team told me that many small charities were hesitant to use the online Gift Aid claims system: they reckon York charities could be missing out on as much as a £1m a year. I often meet treasurers who won't claim Gift Aid because they think it is complicated and time-consuming. I reassure them, as the treasurer of a small charity, that the whole process takes me just a few hours each year.
Across England, councils for voluntary service have been forced by cuts in local authority grants to make their funding advisers and development workers redundant. Organising a funding fair once a year is a low-cost way of providing local charities with a really valuable service.
Kevin Curley is a voluntary sector adviser