Getting to the root of giving
The Northern Fells Group is a grassroots organisation serving small and isolated communities across 200 square miles of rugged expanse in north Cumbria.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, it has moved at speed, rapidly mobilising 70 additional volunteers through its Lend a Hand programme to provide shopping and other essential services for an ageing and vulnerable population of about 3,700 people.
The group is one of thousands of small organisations that have received swift funding through UK Community Foundations (UKCF), a national network of community foundations that provides a vital link between large-scale donations and local communities, channelling funds to where they are needed the most.
Time is essential
Getting aid to those who need it quickly and efficiently is important in any charitable context. But in the midst of a national crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic, it has never been more important.
Research by Nottingham Trent University shows that more than half of charitable organisations are expecting demand for their services to rise significantly because of the twin impact of lockdowns and rising unemployment.
As part of its £100m Covid-19 Community Aid Package to support the communities hardest hit by the pandemic, Barclays chose to partner with UKCF because of the foundation’s ties with grassroots organisations that understand the needs of their communities, and how best to serve them.
Rosemary Macdonald, its chief executive, says that UKCF has so far distributed £68m, including a donation from Barclays, through its 46 regional foundations to thousands of grassroots charities working to support some of the hardest-hit people in the UK.
Receiving funds, designing and then executing a project can often take months. But during the pandemic, it has typically taken UKCF about 10 days from receiving donor funds to distributing them via its members to the communities most in need.
“The foundations went from holding a grants round once a quarter to twice a week,” Macdonald explains. “They streamlined all the application processes so that they could get the money out the door.”
More than half of charitable organisations are expecting demand for their services to rise significantly
Funds when you need them – where you need them
Speed of delivery often determines how effective funds are. When lockdown began in March, Street League, a charity that uses sport and education to get young people into employment, was forced to move its daily programmes online.
But Dougie Stevenson, Street League’s co-managing director, says that the new reality signalled a race against time given that many of the young people lacked devices to access online material. “Every week is critical,” he explains. “If you don’t work within the first six months of leaving school, it becomes much less likely that you will work in the next two years.”
Using a £100,000 donation from Barclays, one of 100 such donations the bank is making to UK charities delivering support to communities affected by Covid-19, Street League quickly distributed laptops and older-generation iPhones as well as data top-up cards to its participants so that they could be supported online. “That’s transformational for those who don’t have a smartphone or broadband,” Stevenson says.
Narrowing the divide
Some of those disproportionately affected by Covid-19 are communities experiencing racial inequality, and charities have struggled to channel funds to them – partly because they have traditionally been underrepresented in the country’s charitable landscape.
In response, Comic Relief partnered with the National Emergencies Trust (NET) – set up to raise and distribute funds fairly and efficiently during domestic disasters – in July to launch the £3.4m Global Majority Fund dedicated to Covid-19 response work with communities experiencing racial inequality. Barclays’ contribution, via the NET’s Coronavirus Appeal, The Clothworkers’ Foundation and Comic Relief meant additional funding was made available to the fund in October.
Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), a national charity that delivers programmes for young people in these communities, became instrumental in helping to distribute some of the funding to small, local organisations with which it already had contact.
Using its knowledge of grassroots organisations’ constraints, which can include less experience in applying for grants, BTEG designed a two-page application form with just four questions in order to reduce the bureaucratic burden and accelerate the release of funds.
In addition to supporting The Global Majority Fund, the NET’s Coronavirus Appeal has raised nearly £96m and had allocated £94m of this by the end of November. More than half of that amount has gone to grassroots charities supporting local communities’ needs across the UK, with the smallest donation just £35.
Mhairi Sharp, NET’s CEO, says that the strategy has proved an agile model. “Time was of the essence,” she says. “Throughout this pandemic, we have collaborated with partners who can help us, at speed, to get urgent funds to where they’re needed most.”