How Co-op Foundation awards grants

08 Dec 2022 In-depth

CEO, Nick Crofts, offers insight into how the Co-op Foundation aims to build fairer communities of the future.

The Co-op Foundation was incorporated in 2000. In 2017, we launched our Belong programme to tackle youth loneliness. This was informed by Co-op’s research with the British Red Cross which found that young people were lonely more than any other age group. Over the next five years, we awarded more than £7m in grants to community groups, helped to strengthen the youth sector with networks and resources, and ran our national campaign, Lonely Not Alone.

We launched our new five-year Building Communities of the Future Together strategy in October 2022. This will see us fund organisations and young people to create future communities that are fair and built on co-operative values. By doing so, we will also deliver on Co-op’s vision of “co-operating for a fairer world”. We asked young people to help shape this vision as they will be the leaders and pioneers of the future. Almost 100 young people gave their input to define six strategic priorities for the Future Communities Vision 2022-27: health and wellbeing; equity, diversity and inclusion; sustainability; youth activism and shared power; safety and prosperity; and access to opportunity.

We gave out £3.09m in 2021. As of today, we have 152 active partners that we support through our own funding and match-funding partnerships with the likes of Co-op and the #iwill Movement.

In 2021, we signed up to a series of pledges through IVAR to be a flexible funder. Within this we committed to working closely with partners to understand their needs first. We delivered on this in September 2021 by awarding our largest single grant to date – £250,000 to Refugee Action to tackle the Afghan refugee crisis. We have continued our approach since then and stepped it up a gear with a new strategy as we have committed to principles around co-operative funding for organisations and young people.

We believe how we fund is just as important as how much we fund. We aim to ensure that we learn from, and share, our partners’ knowledge, and achieve the greatest impact together. The grant application process depends on the specific fund but we try to communicate with purpose about the funding that’s available and not waste anybody’s time by them applying for funds for which they may not be eligible. We will make eligibility criteria clear and use a simple, flexible, two-stage application approach to achieve this, while also prioritising longer-term funding so partners are not trapped in a funding cycle of repeatedly applying for grants.

We had one open funding round over the past 12 months as we prioritised working on our new strategy and supporting existing partners. This fund was our £3m Carbon Innovation Fund and we received 232 first-stage applications. In total, 29 partners made it to a second stage and we awarded £1.5m of funding to 15 new partners in June 2022. Round two of this fund will open in February 2023 and we will announce this on our website

We are looking to work with a diverse range of organisations which can help to deliver our Future Communities Vision. We are looking for organisations that are exceptional at delivering great impact. The best way to understand what we are looking for is to sign up to our blog on our website.

Our Future Communities Fund went live on 23 November. We will be awarding grants of up to £30,000 per year for up to five years to organisations looking to help us achieve our vision. Specifically, we are looking to partner with UK-based organisations that celebrate, raise awareness of, and advocate for, diversity and inclusion in all sectors of society and that prioritise youth activism by sharing power and involving young people in decision-making and transparent governance.

Community groups with an annual turnover of up to £250,000 are invited to check their eligibility and start the process of applying for funding on our website from 12pm on 25 November. Access to our eligibility checker closes at 12pm on 23 December.  

Nick Crofts is chief executive of the Co-op Foundation

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