Localism - a focus on community

By Russell Prior

The first wave of COVID-19 saw a rapid change in both practices and approaches to philanthropy to focus on the massive level of need at a local and community level. Yet as lockdown started to ease, we could already see a reversion to previous ways of working. As we look to the future, we have to find ways of embedding the benefits of the incredible steps forward, and not fall back on old ways.

When COVID struck the UK in March, grassroots charities mobilised. Their agility and size meant they could quickly channel resources to reach the most vulnerable people in their local communities. Their intimate local knowledge and trust became the vehicles for COVID response.

The role of community-level philanthropic bodies in connecting donors with under-the-radar community action became more visible and more essential. And funds followed — from individual philanthropists, companies, housing associations, local and central government. Why? The ability to quickly reach projects, community groups and small charities, who in turn can reach the people most in need.

So what were and are the critical elements that will enable this powerful shift to become not just the vision for the future, but the reality?

Amplifying the voice of the frontline. A louder and more powerful voice for the frontline challenges donors, rebalances power and influences the direction of funding. For example, at London Community Foundation (LCF) the needs of London’s communities were built into the approach for our COVID funding — over 50 per cent of funds have supported BAME communities, more specifically investing in BAME-led organisations; almost 20 per cent has been directed towards domestic abuse services; and the 10 London boroughs with the highest child poverty rates have received 48 per cent of COVID funds.

Collaboration. Working together and challenging each other builds trust, proportionality and flexibility. The London COVID response saw a collective of over 60 funders come together to share insights and resources to design COVID grant programmes and deploy funds through one central portal for charities and community groups. Quicker and stronger together.

Recognition of the infrastructure. With so many small charities hit hard by the lack of fundraising events, it is a harsh reality that many, even the most impactful, may not be here in six months. We have to recognise the incredible role by played by grassroots organisations.

The outcome? A new partnership. Charitable organisations bringing profound trust, reach and insight; donors and funders guiding and developing impact ambitions alongside people with life experiences to help shape and inform their work.

Localism and a focus on community, where it is accountable, impactful, and resolute, will connect constituents to not only help drive social change but also bring more equality to our communities.

This article was originally published in Philanthropy Impact magazine.