Opinion: An uplifting story from the cider country

Nick Cater, a consultant and writer: catercharity@yahoo.co.uk

How many charities do you know that have raised and spent in excess of £1m in four years from a standing start with a mere handful of staff?

That's the success story of Somerset Community Foundation, which is quietly celebrating its seven-figure achievement in cider country. Its work can be seen in scores of grants to small-scale causes - usually people-centred investments in charities that work directly to make a difference.

Because it is a start-up, most of the money has come by convincing the EU, government departments, other foundations and appeals such as Sport Relief that community-focused groups with clearly defined patches and strong local know-how are an excellent bet when distributing grants.

Somerset Community Foundation's next challenge will be building its own multi-million-pound endowment fund to accept donations and generate interest, so that local causes have a permanent source of funding close at hand with easily understood systems and priorities.

At the same time, there's another trick up a community foundation's sleeve: offering local philanthropists and existing charities a grants management service with strong grass-roots knowledge, but without most of the paperwork, accounting and legalese they'd face if they spent the cash themselves.

Community foundations often have far more to offer corporate donors and payroll giving schemes than any single-issue charity, and can be a perfect solution for those looking for a way to give back to the community that enriched them.

Community foundations are a smart and flexible mechanism for meeting needs, and the pressure on them to be responsive to their neighbours and stakeholders is a powerful imperative to learn from those with experience to share.

The independence, intelligence and integrity of community foundations have big advantages over, say, the lottery distributors that are here today and abolished, merged or politicised tomorrow .

And keep it quiet, but I hear that the lottery's incoherent complexity for organisations seeking small sums of money can drive charities up the wall as they jump through forms to fill in hoops.

Almost unnoticed, about 60 community foundations are already collectively giving away more than £50m a year, while their total endowment is on its way towards £100m.

I'll raise a glass of scrumpy to that.

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