Rhodri Davies: How the government's place-based giving fund could boost local charities

19 Feb 2019 Voices

Following last week's announcement about additional government funding, Rhodri Davies from the Charities Aid Foundation explores the potential for growing place-based giving to boost local charities and civic engagement.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last week announced £3m of funding to help people get involved in their local areas across England. Part of this package is a new £770,000 Growing Place-Based Giving Fund, which CAF is to help deliver.

This is exciting for us, as we have been exploring the potential for place-based approaches to giving and the idea of “civic philanthropy” through our policy work for a number of years. This included contributing to the DCMS-commissioned research report in 2018 that led to the establishment of this new grant programme, so it is great to have the chance to “close the loop” and see some of these ideas through to practical action.

We know from our work that there is huge potential in using place as a focus for developing approaches to giving. It makes donations more responsive to the specific needs and priorities of an area. It offers a way of breaking down traditional siloes, and bringing different parties together in collaboration. And it doesn’t just benefit those receiving money or volunteering help: it can also help foster a greater sense of civic engagement and identity among those doing the giving. CAF research from 2017 showed that whilst only 28 per cent of people agreed that there was a strong sense of community in their local area, nearly half (47 per cent) said that they liked to give to local causes and a similar number (46 per cent) said that they thought place-based giving schemes would help people to feel more connected to their local areas.

Enthusiasm

For all these reasons, there’s a great deal of enthusiasm in civil society at the moment for focussing on place. But is there a danger that “place” just becomes something we all agree is good and important, without knowing what that really means in practice? As someone rather wryly observed to me not that long ago: “Of course, place is great. In fact, I like places so much that I chose to live in one…”

One challenge, then, is to turn what might be slightly nebulous ideas about the value of place into real actions happening in real places – which is what CAF is aiming to do as we work with the six successful schemes to develop their plans. We’ll be drawing on our experience working alongside social purpose organisations of all shapes and sizes to develop their governance, strategy and income models and using our own expertise as grant makers.

But this will definitely not be about one-size-fits-all solutions. We know that each area’s approach will be shaped by the particular local context and thus look different. A key part of developing the schemes will be finding ways to ensure that local people and communities are fully involved so that they can help mould the approach to ensure it genuinely reflects the needs and priorities of the area.

However, we also need to make sure that in being responsive to local context, we do not miss the opportunity to gather and share insights from each scheme that might have broader relevance. So another important part of this work over time will be collecting and analysing information and disseminating it so that it can benefit the wider development of place-based giving approaches around the UK and beyond.

To help us in this, we will be assembling an external advisory board. We have seen the power of this approach through our CAF Resilience Fund, where the knowledge and support that the advisory board members bring to the table is helping us to have an impact for small charities far beyond only the direct grant recipients.

Challenges

But we must also not be naïve. We know from our work that there are challenges to developing successful place-based giving approaches. For instance, the backdrop of continuing local authority cuts brings the risk that efforts to encourage giving are seen as attempts to cover gaps left as public funding is withdrawn; which could lead to cynicism and resistance.

Likewise, there is a question about whether the relationship between giving and our sense of civic identity is somewhat chicken-and-egg: do people need an existing sense of connection with a place in order to be convinced to give to it, or can place-based giving be used as a tool to bootstrap engagement where that sense of identity is lacking? If it is the former, then the concern is that areas which have an existing baseline of civic engagement will do well; but those where that sense of identity is already lacking will be in danger of getting left further behind as place-based giving is pursued.

As we support the Growing Place-Based Giving fund, we want to engage with as many people and organisations as possible to ensure that we think through these sorts of challenges and avoid any potential pitfalls. That way, we can hopefully maximise the potential for place-based giving models to be a valuable force for creating greater civic engagement around the country.

So if you share our enthusiasm for this potential, please do get in touch by contacting Steph Taylor, senior advisory manager at the Charities Aid Foundation.

Rhodri Davies is head of policy at the Charities Aid Foundation 

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