At Work: Fundraising - Funding story - Sussex Community Foundation

Radhika Holmstrom

The first round of grants from this new foundation highlights the increasing availability of local community funding.

With the first grants from the new Sussex Community Foundation beginning this August, community foundations now cover almost the whole of the UK.

They are based on the principle of harnessing local support to link local donors to local needs, and they also build their own endowment funds to establish a steady income stream (sometimes quite startling amounts) from which they can make grants.

However, they're still not terribly well known to many organisations that operate beyond local level, partly because they're relatively new.

Although the oldest ones in the UK date back to the late 1970s there's been a dramatic increase over the past decade. "The earliest ones tested the concept, with some real trailblazers that demonstrated how these things could work anywhere," says Clare Brooks, network development director at the Community Foundation Network. "They appeal to donors' sense of place."

The first Sussex grant round totals just under £35,000 for nine community groups. "We're hoping to put out £100,000 in grants this year, and ultimately grow to about a million," says trustee Caroline Nicholls. The foundation has a characteristic mix of donors after whom different funds are named.

There is also a fairly characteristic set of criteria for some funding, because the Marit and Hans Rausing Fund is targeted at "projects that address the root causes of local issues rather than individual problems".

Could criteria such as these exclude local groups that have historically pulled in local money but aren't suitable applicants for a fund? Sussex, for instance, has a plethora of animal organisations. "If you are a local charity with your own supporters, you don't need a community foundation," argues Brooks. "If you are a community group without a great fundraising machinery, then you do."

However, the emphasis on appealing to potential philanthropists and enabling them to set up their own funding streams does mean that some non-geographical criteria are inevitable in a lot of cases.

Nevertheless, the main story is positive. After all, as Brooks points out, areas that used to have a few charitable trusts may now have one community trust that is making a grants amounting to a million. "A lot of money still isn't being unlocked," Nicholls says. If you're cash-strapped, that's encouraging news.

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