20 Jan 2023
25 Jan 2023
Our first insight meeting of 2023 focused on how funders can support charities and social movements to campaign for change. We were delighted to be joined by a stellar panel of experts to help us explore this further, including Alex Farrow (Director of Influencing and Engagement, NCVO), Esther Foreman (CEO, The Social Change Agency), and Martha Mackenzie (Executive Director, Civic Power Fund). For those who missed it, we’ve captured some of the key learning emerging from January’s insight meeting below.
Firstly, we heard loud and clear from Alex Farrow that charities do have a legal right to campaign. But in a environment where some politicians report charities to the Charity Commission for campaigning or call for these charities to be defunded if they receive funding from the Government, it does have a “chilling effect” on charities’ ability to speak out. And while charities face a very challenging environment, they, alongside movements and community groups, do win. As Alex said, “campaigning works and we have to celebrate those victories and see the solidarity that exists across our sector”. Here is a handy Twitter thread on recent campaigning wins for some uplifting examples.
At the heart of campaigning is the fight for fundamental rights and freedoms and now has never been a more important time to resource the fight for change. But, as Alex stressed, “don’t allow your bureaucracy to become an oppressor” - take risks, make your funding processes accessible, and support charities when they are under attack.
Martha McKenzie, Director of the newly established Civic Power Fund, highlighted that there is so much energy and ambition to build lasting power among communities. But as little as 2.3% of funding is targeted at community organising. And the funding that does exist is often short-term, restricted, and encourages competition, rather than collaboration among communities. What they need is flexible, long-term funding that recognises the “messiness” of campaigning, celebrates small wins, and understands that creating change takes time. As funders, we also need to “think really deeply about whose power we’re building” as “we don’t win systemic change without people power”.
Esther Foreman, who leads the Social Change Agency, highlighted that what some funders perceive as a movement might be different than reality. Movements are often decentralised – rather than asking them to come to you, funders need to “come to them” and understand what the ecosystem of movement building looks like and their own positions of power in relation to it. And it’s not always about money – other things, like a meeting room, can be a huge help for movements’ ability to bring people together and organise (read more about how the Social Change is supporting collaboration between funders and movements here).
We also heard from all the speakers that instead of focusing on short-term victories and measuring impact, we need to “recast evaluation as learning” and understand whether funders are helping to build power in local communities (the Civic Power Fund has some useful reports report on evaluating community organising here and the culture shift required to back organising here).