Fabian French: Place-based giving is much more than a buzzword

15 Oct 2018 Voices

Fabian French, chief executive of UK Community Foundations, reflects on recent research about place-based giving and argues that community foundations are leading the way but could do more if the government releases more funding from dormant assets. 

The latest buzzword in the charity sector seems to be place. Everyone seems to be talking about place-based giving at the moment. So much so that the Office for Civil Society has recently commissioned the largest ever study of place based giving, published by Cat Walker of The Researchery

But for community foundations, place-based giving is more than just a buzzword. It’s what we do. And it’s what we have been doing for the past few decades. And after distributing one billion pounds to local communities, we are confident to say that we’re the experts at place based giving. 

I’m pleased that the report acknowledges this and uses a number of examples from community foundations across the UK.

The report rightly states that place-based giving works best when it is genuinely about the local area and tackling specific issues. That is the benefit of a community foundation. We know what the issues are in a local area, which local charities and groups to support and how to encourage donors to support these issues. 

The community foundation can also bring together different partners and funders and use their convening power to make a bigger impact in a place. Look at the Leeds Fund for example, were the community foundation has brought together big business, the public sector and individual donors to tackle the biggest issues in the city together. 

Traditional model leading the way

The report suggests that community foundations are traditional models of grant giving and that we may not be not disruptive enough. I’d like to challenge this firstly by saying that traditional is not always a bad thing. We are seen as a safe pair of hands and that is because we are. 

Donors can trust that their money will make the impact that they’re looking for. Funders know that community foundations are trusted experts at local grant making. 

But, this definitely doesn’t mean that we just stick with the old ways of doing things. Community Foundations are constantly evaluating how they work, who they work with and how they can do things better, particularly as need is growing and public services are cut further. 

Look at Devon Community Foundation. They have joined forces with local health partners to look at patients as people and to think more broadly about their needs in life rather than just their medical needs. Their Wellbeing Exeter partnership brings together Devon Community Foundation, Exeter GPs and Exeter City Council to help people reduce their dependence on medical and other statutory services and to receive support from being more involved in their local community and having better access to social activities that they may not be aware of. 

This type of programme is the first of its kind in the UK and is just one example of a Community Foundation leading the way and responding to changes in society. 

We could do more

We know that we’re the best vehicles to distribute funds to local communities in a strategic way. But we want to do more. We want to respond further to need in local areas and build communities by supporting the small and local charities which are increasingly finding it hard to survive. 

The best way that we’ll be able to do this is by deploying the funds from dormant assets. These funds have been promised by government to fund good causes. I am biased, of course, but I strongly believe that community foundations are by far the best way to distribute these funds. 

We recognise that there are other very valuable organisations that support communities, and we are happy to partner with them. But however these vital funds are to be distributed, I urge the government to speed up the legislative process so that communities can benefit as quickly as possible. 

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