Third Voice: Grant-making trusts should start shaping policy

Sukhvinder Stubbs, director of the Barrow Cadbury Trust

Grant-making trusts are reinventing themselves. It is now accepted that simply handing out cheques does not make enough of a difference.

Trusts have got wise to the need to be strategic and, as a result, have started to focus their grant-giving. This doesn't mean becoming predictable or inflexible - it means identifying the impact they want to have and how best to achieve that.

But more change is on the way. It is no longer sufficient for trusts to develop strategic partnerships with funded projects. Trusts now want to have a role in shaping policy or, more accurately, enabling their funded projects to do so. For too long the cry of the voluntary sector was that it was too busy firefighting - delivering desperately needed resources at local level - to really change things.

Trusts are now determined to play their part in giving marginalised groups a voice where it matters - at the top table. We are into the third term of a Labour Government - long enough to put the rhetoric of inclusion to the test. Long enough, too, for the Government to realise that it can't effect lasting change from the top down.

That's where trusts have a key role to play. The Government knows what it needs to do - stimulate action at local level - but it doesn't necessarily know how to do it. It wants to listen, but doesn't know how to create the spaces in which local people can speak. Disability campaigners and human rights groups have shown the way, but asylum seekers, people with learning difficulties and the poorest in society want a voice too. At the Barrow Cadbury Trust, we have programmes under way that put politicians and civil servants in the same rooms as individuals from community organisations so they can hear their stories, listen to their ideas and see their visions.

Never has this advocacy role been so important for voluntary groups.

Yet, as the Government asks them to get more involved in service delivery, it is under threat. This endangers the very independence that allows them to make fresh and edgy contributions to the debate.

Trusts, too, face a challenge. Together, they can lever tremendous power and provide a platform for thousands of organisations. But they value their independence highly. The task they now face is to ensure that their corporate pride does not stand in the way of unlocking the potential of those they fund.

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