Key funding conference spotlights England’s charitable sector

The decline of voluntary and community sector funding – particularly from Government sources – has been heavily covered in recent press, with the Grants for Good campaign highlighting just one attempt to tackle regressive funding trends.

As the largest umbrella body for the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector in England, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) seeks to offer a voice to the sector via its 12,000 members. As a NCVO Trusted Supplier, Idox was invited to attend this year’s NCVO Annual Funding Conference, bringing together sector representatives to provide practical advice and tools from experts to boost funding, learn new ideas and discover new income streams.

The conference kicked off with a stark warning when NCVO Chief Executive Sir Stuart Etherington cautioned in his opening address that 2016 ‘will possibly be the most challenging of the next five years’ for the sector, which was likely to see ‘something of a cliff-edge in funding’.

Challenges at the Local Level

As Sir Stuart outlined, the greatest impact will be at the local level as funding for non-statutory services will be cut in half, and from April 2016 current grant and contract agreements will come to an end. The combination of local authority cuts and further devolution would mean, he explained, ‘local commissioning is going to look very different in a year’s time – and without intervention, will become increasingly complex for smaller organisations to navigate’. The challenges are further compounded due to many charities having made frontline spending their priority at the expense of improving the back-office. This has ‘reduced their ability to adapt to the new financial norm, leading to further problems securing new funding sources’.

‘Looking for Dirt’

If this were not gloomy enough, the charitable sector (there are more than 160,000 charities in the UK) could expect further media scrutiny in the year ahead. Nick Brooks, who heads up Kingston Smith’s Charities sector group, said the national press is ‘looking for dirt’ on charities, and that this would probably have ‘some effect on fundraised income’.  This, of course, comes after a year of bad press for the VCSE sector. News in 2015 was dominated by bad fundraising practices in cold calling with the examples of the death of poppy collector 92-year-old Olive Cooke who was ‘exhausted’ by requests for money from different charities; the closure of Kids Company; charity directors being taken to task for their high pay; charities claiming more in tax relief than they were spending on charitable purpose; and the resignation of trustees from high profile charities, among other headline affairs.

Reversing Bad Press?

Is there a way for the sector to reverse this bad press? The UK’s charitable sector has a long history of making an enormous contribution to the welfare of those in need, whether it’s people, animals or the environment, not only in the UK but across the world. In 2014, for example, the total amount given to charity by UK adults was £10.6 billion. And the Charities Aid Foundation’s annual World Giving Index ranked the UK as number six, out of 145 countries, in 2015 in charitable giving – reflecting the reality that the UK is a country full of generous people who ‘care and share’ not only their money but also their time as volunteers.

With statutory funding being further cut for vital services, however, it’s all the more important for the charitable sector to be visible for all the right reasons. They need to remind the public of what they do. In other words, the charitable sector needs to fight back and explain what it does and the difference that it makes in tangible ways. How can this be done?

Understanding Impact

One of the most interesting sessions from the NCVO event focused on the need for the VCSE sector to understand impact (what changes are brought about by the funding) when applying for funding.

Co-chaired by James Newell, Director of Kingston Smith Fundraising and Management and Joelle Bradly, Evaluation and Impact Manager of Barnardo’s, this session explored why impact is crucial to effective fundraising.

In a nutshell, charities need ‘to make the case for why they exist’ and not just defend their outputs. They need to be able to explain clearly why their project is important; how it can be measured; and what its wider impact will be. Charities need to understand their beneficiaries, what works for them and use what they learn to ‘maximise the effectiveness of their practice’. They need to understand ‘what good looks like’ and communicate the impact.

Take the case of Barnardo’s which has been around for the last 150 years. Last year (2015), it published its first Impact Report. The 27-page report clearly measures the impact of the charity’s services and the difference it makes to the lives of 240,000 vulnerable children, young people, parents and carers across the UK. The report sets out its aims, its work and its achievements for 2014-2015. Case studies show the practical changes effected by the funding as well as the contribution to shaping government strategy, policy and practices.

Although many non-profit organisations, such as Barnardos, can clearly measure their achievements, there are many more (especially smaller charities) which believe that their mission (that is, their good work) is enough to warrant funding.

Where to Find Funding Help

One small charity trustee, for example, stopped by the Idox exhibit to find out how Idox could be helpful to her as she had come out of retirement to take the helm of her charity and found that the funding landscape had changed from the days when she could rely on traditional sources to fund the charity’s good cause.

She was interested to learn that charities such as hers can turn to Idox’s flagship funding service GRANTfinder which currently features over 1,000 open grant opportunities from government sources as well as more than 1,500 grants from trusts, lottery and corporate funding providers.

What all participants at the event could agree was that the ‘funding landscape’ is far more challenging than it used to be in the ‘good old days’ and the terrain may grow more uneven in the foreseeable future. However, the non-profit sector need not be rendered helpless. There is still money to be found for good causes in Britain. One does need to know, though, where to source the funding information and then be able to communicate impact in a clear, compelling and accessible way.

By Sabra Aswani, Idox

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