Opinion: Third Voice - Futurebuilders is testing an investment model

Richard Gutch, chief executive of Futurebuilders

When we published details of the first round of applications to Futurebuilders late last year, some commentators, including Third Sector, highlighted the fact that 33 per cent of our applications came from the field of health and social care, while just 10 per cent came from those involved with crime.

This didn't surprise us. There are more voluntary and community organisations working in health and social care than in crime; there are also more developed purchasing arrangements through social services and primary care trusts.

Also, the prison and probation service is currently being reorganised into the National Offender Management Service - not an ideal time for voluntary organisations to be negotiating contracts.

Contextual factors like these are helping to inform a continual monitoring of our progress, and the evolution of the programme itself. We will inform the sector of any developments before our second application window opens in the spring.

One thing we were pleasantly surprised by was the high number of applications we received from black and minority ethnic groups (26 per cent), rural groups (19 per cent) and small organisations with an annual turnover of less than £100,000 (33 per cent). Whether or not we can maintain these proportions in our investment portfolio, we shall support a number of these types of organisations through development grants.

When we opened our first application window in July, we had no idea of how many organisations would apply. When around 1,500 people attended our publicity launch, we were concerned we might get swamped. I was reassured on the day when one visitor said: "I now know Futurebuilders is not right for my organisation."

Futurebuilders is not right for everyone, and nor is it able - or intended - to solve all the sector's funding difficulties at a stroke. Our aim throughout has been to be as clear as possible about what Futurebuilders is. We are testing whether an investment model, involving a combination of loan, grant and capacity building, can help voluntary and community organisations develop services which public sector agencies purchase through contracts or fees - thus supporting the sector's wider sustainability.

We received 641 applications in the first window, and have shortlisted 284. We are on track to achieve our initial target of making about 85 investments from the first round.

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