Charities in Northern Ireland will be able to apply for a share of more than £20m in funding from dormant bank accounts from next month.
Conor Murphy, the Northern Ireland finance minister, has launched the Dormant Accounts Fund, which will provide multi-year grants of up to £100,000 to improve the sustainability of voluntary sector organisations.
He said the fund, which will be managed by the The National Lottery Community Fund, would be worth an initial £20.5m, but this amount would increase as further sums from dormant accounts became available.
Funding from the scheme could be used in areas such as supporting mergers or collaborations, improving the skills of volunteers or trustees, developing new leaders, or enabling organisations to use data analysis to increase the effectiveness of their work.
The fund will also support larger, strategic projects that enable collaboration across the sector and develop new and creative approaches to sustainability, the Department of Finance said.
These could be NI-wide or sector-specific proposals that might focus on a particular issue such as diversity and inclusion, social finance or volunteering.
Dormant accounts are UK bank and building society accounts that have been untouched for 15 or more years, and where the financial services provider has been unable to contact the account-holder.
The coalition government launched the social investment wholesaler Big Society Capital in 2012, funded by money from dormant bank accounts in England and the four main UK high street banks.
Kate Beggs, Northern Ireland director at the National Lottery Community Fund, said the new fund would provide “flexible, multi-year funding and allow a diverse range of organisations to plan for a more secure future”.
She said: “While 2020 has been a year of emergency funding, we know many organisations are trying to plan for the long term and thinking about the changes they need to make to become more sustainable.
“Those changes require leadership, strategic planning, new skills and strong governance – and time to stop and think.
“Those are things for which funding often isn’t available, and that’s where the Dormant Accounts Fund comes in.”
Murphy said: “Third sector groups are often limited to annual funding, causing constant uncertainty and hindering long-term planning.
“By offering multi-year funding, this fund will give groups a bridge to become more financially sustainable. Ultimately this allows them to have an even greater impact on people’s lives.”
The Dormant Accounts Fund will open for applications at noon on 12 January.