Alison Gowman: The role of funders has never been more important

05 Dec 2017 Voices

Grenfell Tower following the fire on 14 June 2017

Credit: ChiralJon

Alison Gowman, chair of the City Bridge Trust, says funders need to use their influence wisely to tackle inequality and disadvantage effectively.

This year has been a difficult year for the UK, with terror attacks in London and Manchester as well as the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire.

In the capital, the 2017 London Poverty Profile, compiled by Trust for London, paints a picture of a city with a growing divide marked by wealth and opportunity. As a result, the role of funders like City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charitable arm, has never been more important.

After a challenging year and with such prevalent need, grant makers need to use their influence wisely to tackle inequality and disadvantage effectively.

UK funders like City Bridge Trust, which distributes £20million a year to London’s community and charitable organisations, are now absolutely crucial to the wider funding landscape, especially with Brexit and the uncertainty for some charities over the future of their EU funding.

And as London’s largest independent grant giver, our funds are critical to entire sections of society, from arts groups to services for the elderly, and from environmental charities to those supporting immigrants with English language courses. 

'A safety net to those who fall through the cracks'

But far too often civil society finds itself providing a safety net to those who fall through the cracks in the system, either through food banks and debt advice or support for migrants, who have no access to public funds.

We are increasingly seeing charities return to us for a top up to their grant or for an extra year's funding because they have struggled to find other ways to fund their projects or cover their basic running costs.

And although funders do not want charities to become over reliant on them, if alternative options for grants continue to decline, this will increasingly become the case.

We will always seek to help grantees as much as possible, either by providing funding, referring them to another grant maker, or funding in partnership with another organisation to share the support, which also means the charity gets known to another grant maker. It is important that charities are aware of all the funding opportunities available.

Smaller local charities often do not have enough resources to address issues outside of their day to day work, meaning they sometimes are limited in what they can achieve.

The role of charity support organisations are important in such cases where they can provide assistance around training, resilience, IT and finance as well as helping charities to adapt to new policy changes, like the upcoming new requirements around data protection.

Funders can fail to embrace small charities

And there are sub-sectors within the charity world which are now clearly receiving less support. We’ve particularly noted this relating to accessibility and activities for young people. Commissioners and funders can sometimes favour very large charities and fail to embrace the small ones that often have a huge impact and are changing lives locally.

City Bridge Trust supports London’s charities of all sizes, but it is particularly keen to work with local charities, helping communities which are often overlooked. For example, we recently gave £98,400 to Stop the Traffik, a charity working to prevent modern slavery and human trafficking, towards a community project in West London which will empower residents to take action to prevent trafficking in their local area.

Despite the many challenges, overall charitable funding is having a hugely positive impact. We need to continue to work hard to tell the stories of how our help and support transforms people's lives, and keep listening to those people working in the charity sector, giving them a voice to describe their needs so that we can respond.

This is exactly what we have just done to create our new funding strategy, Bridging Divides, which will show how we will spend our next £100million funding cycle to make London fairer over five years.

We will continue to finance valuable services for the most disadvantaged communities, but also invest in the campaigning work the sector undertakes to create a more just society.

A good example of this is how the London Living Wage campaign has brought commissioners, communities and charities together to co-create solutions to entrenched problems. By doing this together, we can invest in a sector that is both effective and powerful.

To move forward and continue this progress, we need to align all sectors – including corporates, who are keen to support local communities and have staff willing to volunteer, whilst also connecting charities with local authorities. All of these groups are providing their own skills and resources and by working together we can ensure that a community of giving and living thrives in London.   

Alison Gowman is chair of the City of London Corporation’s City Bridge Trust Committee

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