#LocalCharitiesDay: Place-based giving schemes support small charities to act bigger

These people-centred programmes can make a huge difference to smaller organisations, writes our columnist

Cheryl Chapman
Cheryl Chapman

It’s #LocalCharitiesDay – a day, as designated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, to celebrate the work of small community charities. And with good reason. Small charities, those with incomes of £100,000 or less, are the backbone of the voluntary sector, working at society’s grass roots with people who are often on the very margins.

Small charities make up 82 per cent of the sector in number, but account for less than 5 per cent of the total income, according to National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ UK Civil Society Almanac 2017.

They are the life blood of communities and represent good value for money, but are feeling the austerity squeeze more than most.

The City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, which is working to tackle disadvantage and inequality in London, works with all sizes of charities, but is particularly keen to work with local organisations, helping communities and vulnerable individuals that really benefit from support.

About 47 per cent of the City Bridge Trust’s £20m annual funding over the past three years has gone to small, local charities, to organisations with incomes of less than £500,000, and about 10 per cent to those with incomes below £100,000.

But as well as funding individual local charities, the trust believes its impact can be even greater when working with others as part of a place-based strategy. This is why it is funding London’s Giving to help develop place-based giving schemes across the capital’s boroughs and engage small local charities in community vision.

Place-based giving initiatives are founded on the premise that "everyone can give". They bring businesses, funders and individuals together with "unusual suspects" such as schools, universities and volunteers from all walks of life, to work with charities and deliver a stronger communities by celebrating and leveraging their local assets based on the evidence of need.

A good example of this is Lewisham Giving. Operating in a less affluent borough with few community assets, the initiative is concentrating on encouraging people to contribute their time. Volunteers are rewarded through a Contributor Card Scheme that gives access to a growing number of favourable deals from local independent shops and businesses that want to support volunteering. In more affluent Kensington and Chelsea, better-off residents who don’t need their non means-tested Winter Fuel Allowance are asked to donate it for those poorer residents who are having to choose between heating and eating.

This 21st Century model of charitable support is inspired by Islington Giving, a ground-breaking, cross-sector collaboration that is a response to the poverty, mental health and isolation its residents face, as revealed by the Invisible Islington report.

Islington Giving director Kristina Glenn says place-based giving is "more than just targeted giving in a geographical place. It’s an approach, a philosophy to building a good place that involves funding, conversations, relationships, ideas and action."

Collaboration is at the heart of decision-making and delivery, from involving local young people on grants panels to inviting coalitions of local charities to apply for funding to meet a particular need.

In seven years Islington Giving has raised almost £6m, made grants to 60 organisations, helped 20,000 residents and engaged 4,000 volunteers.

Importantly, widespread and ongoing consultation with residents is leading to new ways of working. An insight that service users want to be treated as people, not cases led to the creation of the Catalyst programme, which focuses not on the person’s presenting problem, but on their aspirations. Charity partners are given £6,000 to make immediate micro-grants to people and "seize the moment" where appropriate, giving people a sense of belonging and value that humanises them.

These tiny amounts of money can make a huge difference to people who are applying for or starting work or college courses, moving home, at a key point in their recovery from an illness or substance misuse problem or who are reconnecting with family or friends.

Place-based giving schemes delivering these kind of insightful and people-centred programmes are now having an impact in 20 boroughs, including Lewisham, Newham, Camden, Hammersmith, Kingston, Hackney, and Kensington & Chelsea. Each tailored to local need and the unique assets and challenges of their boroughs, they are helping small local charities play to their strengths and punch even higher above their weight.

Cheryl Chapman is head of philanthropy engagement at the City of London Corporation

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