Public funds for good causes are on the wane. Government grants awarded to charities and voluntary bodies amounted to around £6 billion in 2004. Fast forward ten years, and whilst the number of groups seeking grant aid has grown, the money in the pot has reduced sharply – down to around £2 billion today.
Research indicates this declining trend in grant supply over recent years is down to governments favouring fixed contracting opportunities for charities to engage with over grants. The NCVO’s Civil Society Almanac shows that, during 2012/13, the charitable sector was awarded just over £13 billion from government sources (central departments, local authorities, regional and devolved governments and the EU) of which more than 80% was presented through contracts.
However, grant support can be deployed according to specific beneficiary needs, as opposed to contracting arrangements, where services provided may not be appropriate as these needs evolve over time. With figures demonstrating a 60% reduction in grants over the last decade, they now account for just 5.5% of financial aid across the sector. Idox’s leading funding service GRANTfinder currently features around 1,000 open grant opportunities from government sources, which non-profit groups can access. Compare this to more than 1,500 grants presently on offer from trusts, lottery and corporate funding providers for the same groups.
A new movement which aims to set about reversing the reduction in government grants and protecting future public funds in this area is gathering momentum. ‘Grants for Good’ is a campaign backed by a cohort of charitable partners and headlined by the Directory for Social Change (DSC). Launched in February 2016, the campaign stresses how important government funding is to the success of thriving communities throughout the country, driving non-profit groups to manage social activities in their local area.
Small, user-led local groups, where people are in close contact with their communities and the people they are serving can hold much more sway than larger charities that are disconnected with the projects taking place on the ground. The DSC believes a reduction in government grant giving, particularly to smaller groups, harms the delivery of positive outcomes for people and communities. ‘Grants for Good’ aims to bring this decline to the attention of the public and help to enact a reversal in the trend by making a fresh argument for grants, in spite of continued austerity cuts.
Through the campaign, DSC is highlighting the benefits of grant giving, for example:
- Investing locally – enabling finance to be retained within local economies, coupled with the added benefit of encouraging public and corporate donations and volunteer activity.
- Supporting community – by engaging the understanding and skills of local people, the unique requirements of each community can be better met and maintained.
- Empowering people – drawing on the expertise of individuals and service users working on behalf of the community and its residents at a grassroots level, rather than fixed contracts that only look at the bigger picture.
- Saving time, effort and resources – grants have a more targeted focus and are often quicker and easier to enact change than fixed contractual endeavours.
- Nurturing innovation – grants provide beneficiaries the opportunity to look at the most appropriate outcomes for people, instead of the top-down approach of contracts on service delivery.
The campaign is being promoted as a call to arms among the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector, in support of public sector grants, aiming to influence commissioners and politicians to continue government grant giving.
Launching the campaign, Debra Allcock-Tyler, Chief Executive of the Directory for Social Change, said:
“DSC has long expressed grave concerns about the rapid decline in grant funding from government for the voluntary sector. Grants are absolutely essential for charities and community groups because they can put people at the very centre of projects and services, allowing them to solve problems in their community. When local councils slash grants or dump them for hugely restrictive contracts they are simply shooting themselves in the foot! That isn’t a solution – it just means social problems will increase as vital services provided by charities deteriorate or collapse.
“This might seem like a curious time to launch this campaign – when we are staring down the barrel of more cuts and local government in particular is under huge financial pressure. But actually grants can be part of the solution. It’s high time to make the counter-argument and start campaigning for Grants for Good.”
Charities, voluntary and community sector organisations that have previously benefitted from grant funding are being urged to share their stories and sign up to the campaign’s ‘Save our grants’ summit, being held on 4 March in central London.
By Mike Dever, Idox