Place, collaboration, flexibility – our thoughts for Danny Kruger’s review of civil society

The Prime Minister asked Danny Kruger MP to develop some thinking around the future of civil society, learning from the response to the covid-19 pandemic. We were invited to share our thoughts at roundtable discussions last week, and have summarised below the three areas we focused on – all based on how we have seen funders from across sectors working collaboratively through the covid-19 pandemic.

1. Expand investment in place-based giving

This recommendation links to: Local social infrastructure such as libraries, youth clubs and services for older people, and the role of local communities in supporting this infrastructure

We knew the power of people, partnerships and place before the crisis, but reliance on local ecosystems of support for communities has never been more evident than during this time of crisis.  Our work in place through the London’s Giving movement over the last six years (summarised in a report launched last month) has seen examples from 20 local areas in London that bring together councils, businesses, charities and communities to tackle the issues they face together.  This vital local infrastructure has shown its worth in terms of funding and in volunteering, with the two years before the crisis seeing £4.8m in grants given out and over £1.1m in volunteering and in-kind giving enabled.  Stepping up as soon as the crisis hit, these local schemes were able to mobilise local supporters to generate an immediate £1.8m of new funding for covid-19 response, and use established local networks to ensure this was used effectively.

The model of place-based giving is built on core principles:

  • Everyone has something to give – time, talent and resources;
  • Shared understanding of local aspirations and needs;
  • Listening to local people and involving them in decision-making;
  • Collaborating with cross-sector partners to find better ways to improve places; and
  • Independence – where all partners have an equal voice.

The government, through DCMS, has recently supported pilot projects across the UK based on these approaches, and we could encourage continued investment in these areas and beyond to create the opportunity for cross-sector partnerships to flourish, and for local communities to be centred as part of this key local infrastructure, supporting the social and cultural fabric of our places.

2. Work with regional and local funder collaborations to distribute government funding

This recommendation links to: The role of philanthropy, social investment and business, and what new forms of finance can be used to support communities

We believe funding is most effective when funders collaborate across sectors, working strategically across systems to target resources.  Enabling funder collaboration, including through aligning government funding with regional or local partnerships, would create the opportunity for resources to shift to communities who are best-placed to understand how to use them.  During the pandemic we have seen this approach in action through the London Community Response, and share below how this cross-sector, collaborative and strategic approach can be scalable beyond London.

Cross-sector: Four days after lockdown started we opened the London Community Response for applications – an unprecedented collaboration of over 60 funders and investors from across the philanthropic, public and business sectors, who are working in partnership to deliver a joined-up funding package for London’s civil society (www.londoncommunityresponse.org.uk).

Collaborative: In the first months of operation, over £22m was distributed by these funders to over 1,800 groups, using shared application forms, due diligence, insight and process to focus on the communities most in need of resourcing.  We have recently launched the third wave of funding, an additional £18m across the partnership to act as the bridge from crisis to renewal.  Together we are working to explore opportunities to build on this collaborative vehicle for longer-term joint funding initiatives, utilising the data and insight gained from managing this innovative programme.

Strategic: A collaborative approach has enabled funders to target resources effectively together, reaching funding “cold spots” across London through shared intelligence and data, address inequalities in funding through partnership with civil society leaders, and reducing duplication of effort for both civil society and funders – creating a more effective and efficient process for all.

Scalable: We have already shared the platform and process developed through this collaboration to enable national and thematic funder collaborations; and will share our learning widely and openly from this approach, building on the experience of delivering funder collaboration after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 (learning report, “The Possible Not The Perfect”, has further information).  We are open to sharing this experience with other areas and groupings to help shape opportunities for government and local/specialist funding partners to work together to better support communities.

3. Adopt greater flexibility in government’s approach to funding to communities

This recommendation links to: Public procurement, and how better commissioning of services can strengthen local civil society and improve outcomes

We have seen the most effective responses from civil society and communities where power has been placed in their hands, trusting them to do what is needed at the time, using resources effectively to meet needs and to enable people to thrive.  Much of the approach funders have taken during this time could be replicated outside of the crisis, and we encourage greater flexibility in the government’s approach to funding to enable this to happen.  Building on the recommendation in the Civil Society Strategy around Grants 2.0, a shift away from procurement and commissioning to grants and relationships would enable a less transactional, and more human, approach to develop.

Our “We Stand With The Sector” funder commitment, launched in March, has grown to over 400 funders from across sectors and from across the UK signing up to say they will adopt more flexible approaches.  We believe these principles align with the ambitions of the Civil Society Strategy and could be explored further through your review.  The statement commits funders to:

  • Adapting activities (varying outputs/outcomes in response to changing circumstances);
  • Discussing dates (aligning reporting requirements to reduce pressure on groups);
  • Financial flexibility (moving money between budget headings to sustain vital work); and
  • Listening (taking the lead from the people and communities closest to the situation).

Funders have used these principles to remove restrictions on grants, to target more resources where they are most needed, and provide the freedom to adapt activities in response to the current situation.  This has created opportunities for community power, innovation and genuine impact (the kind that is felt and understood, not just that which can be measured and reported on).  Similar flexibility in the future could enable communities to withstand further shocks, as well as create the environment where more trusting and effective grant-making leads to better results for people.

 

Alongside our own response, we are also collecting responses from our members and civil society to help identify themes for London (and are very supportive of those sent in by members, or collaborations such as the Community Wealth Fund Alliance) – if you have contributed to the review directly please do send your response to James and we’ll aim to share some headlines from across the submissions in the coming weeks.