Grants aimed at boosting sector

Helen Barrett

The Baring Foundation has announced a £900,000 grants programme aimed specifically at strengthening the independence of the voluntary sector.

The foundation will make the awards to help voluntary organisations build legitimacy and confidence as the sector takes on more contracts with government agencies.

It claims this is the first grant stream to exist for such a purpose.

"The Government has recently become the largest funder of the voluntary sector," said Matthew Smerdon, assistant director of the foundation, who led the programme's development.

"Some charities are finding that this has created pressure on their ability to retain their culture and values, as well as their primary focus on users' needs, particularly while coping with crippling accountability regimes, unreliable contracts and continually changing government priorities."

Smerdon hopes the grants will help charities to develop more robust relationships with government agencies.

As well as making the grants, the foundation will work closely with chosen organisations to produce case studies on how best to promote the sector's independence. The results will be widely disseminated, Smerdon promised.

The foundation plans to distribute more than £3m in total grants to the sector in 2006. Its two other main grants programmes are arts and international development.

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