Never have Community Foundations been more relevant or valuable

The last few months have brought into sharp focus why and to what extent we rely on small charities and community groups. They’re the frontline organisations who know and understand the communities they serve, and when it comes to responding to those needs, are the best-placed to do so.

At Provident Financial Group, our Social Impact Programme supports our purpose of helping to put people on the path to a better everyday life by addressing key barriers to social and financial inclusion, and helping people overcome them. This programme covers three core themes: customers and vulnerabilities; education and skills inclusion, and community - supporting small community partners rooted in the areas where we operate. 

So, it’s in this context that community foundations play a key role in our approach to community investment. We rely on their local knowledge and expertise to advise us on issues relevant to those communities, and to then help us disburse our funding to those organisations who are tackling the challenges that are pertinent to their locality.                                 

From what we’ve heard during the pandemic, it’s clear that it is small voluntary organisations who are playing a key role in responding to the impact that Covid-19 is having on some of the most vulnerable in society. This is no coincidence. Having spent a lot of time with small charities, I’ve seen many examples of the trust and respect they embed with their service users, many of whom are the hardest to reach. And so it’s to these organisations that communities are turning for support during these unprecedented times.

As a result, now more than ever, we should recognise the role that community foundations play by offering a funding disbursement model which leverages their place-based expertise alongside robust grant-making processes. Not only this, they can help to identify the organisations with a proven track record of delivery, as well as supporting funders to invest in those where perhaps a bigger leap of faith needs to be taken. This latter point is important because it means innovation and development aren’t kicked into the long grass - community foundations can provide that all-important trusted advisor role which gives funders the assurance they understandably seek.

Whilst talking to our Community Foundation partners, a consistent theme has been evolving that whilst there’s been a need to raise urgent funding to help build capacity in the sector to respond to the crisis’ immediate needs, there’s also an urgent requirement to protect pipeline funding. Social and financial exclusion will present ever more challenges as we come through the other side of the pandemic, and  small charities and community groups will be key to keeping communities on their feet.  It’s therefore vital that Community Foundations’ existing funding streams are also maintained so that they can respond to the medium to longer term impacts of Covid-19.

Our Community Foundation partners also tell us that, unsurprisingly, flexibility for grantees is a priority. So, allowing our existing grants to be repurposed and used by grantees based on immediate need is essential. This means that funding can be used in a variety of ways such as for additional core, service delivery and volunteering costs – ensuring they can continue to meet their charitable objectives whilst remaining viable in the longer term. And of course, again, community foundations have been the key to communicating and managing these messages directly with grantees.

Ultimately, as funders, it’s vital we seek the best ways to support and sustain small charities and community groups because without these frontline voluntary organisations, our communities face an even tougher recovery from the impacts of Covid-19. Community Foundations are undoubtedly a core part of that solution and working with them effectively will help ensure that emergency and resilience funding (as well as longer term funding) gets to the right places.   

At a time of so much uncertainty, one thing’s for sure - never have community foundations been more relevant or valuable. And as a fund holder we can be confident they’ll continue to play a vital part in enabling us to achieve our purpose of helping to put people on the path to a better everyday life.

Provident Financial Group has been working in partnership with The London Community Foundation as a fund holder since 2015. As part of Provident’s commitment to local communities, their Provident Social Impact Fund in London invests in activities that seek to alleviate the underlying problems that prevent social inclusion – first in Tower Hamlets and Southwark and now focusing on Barking and Dagenham. Since launching the fund, Provident has supported numerous projects ranging from confidence building sessions for NEET young people with disabilities or mental health conditions to immigration casework to support young refugees and migrants.