Friday, August 13, 2010

Creative thinking required to get through funding crisis

For the last ten years or so there has been a real culture of reliance on grants to fund community based organisations.

When I was a kid we had collection boxes that we rattled on the street, envelopes to push through doors, sponsored discos, cake sales, summer fetes, tombolas, bob-a- job, jumble sales, charity shops... If you needed money for a leaking roof or a new football kit or to hire a minibus, then you set to and raised the money.

Our Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool was built by public subscription, a few pence each week from the congregation - I am not suggesting that they were the glory days, by the way, I know that put some families into difficult financial circumstances, but that is how it always was in the past.

Unfortunately people have become totally dependent upon filling in an application form and waiting for a big cheque to arrive. In fact in Kensington and Fairfield, most groups that have been formed in the last ten years are not aware that there is any other way to raise money. When you sit round a table and say “We need to raise £3000 for new gym equipment for the youth club” or “We need £10k for a welfare benefits advisor”, the first question anyone asks is about any grants we might apply for. Any financial advisor worth their salt will know that you should not put all your eggs in one basket but that is exactly what has been going on.

The New Deal did not help in this regard; it had huge sums of money that it dispensed on a grants basis, so that although groups were well supported at the time, they have no experience of raising any money themselves and no concept of where to start. And with the New Deal gone, so has their source of income. There were lots of promises of exit strategies for community organisations by KNDC, that they would offer help to groups to become sustainable so they could carry on effectively, but I don’t see the evidence that it happened.

It should be obvious to everyone that grants are pretty much finished now. They have paid out their last penny in many cases.

The NWDA (Regional Development Agency) have had their funding slashed, so they won’t be able to support so much, including Liverpool Vision who in turn will have less cash to dispense. Housing Associations are tightening their belts as HMRI funding is slashed and VAT due to rise. Local Government is expecting to make cuts of between 25% and 40% much of which is bound to come from the Area Based Grant, the Working Neighbourhood Fund, etc. So there will be less money for the voluntary sector all round. Local Councillors in Liverpool have already taken a cut in their devolved budgets. We will be lucky to have anything like the same level of funding in future – and in our deprived ward alone we have been paying out about £100k per year to local projects who provide the kind of services we want to see.

Every funding opportunity that still remains – banks giving away community chests for instance, or B&Q giving away free equipment will all be heavily oversubscribed.

We need a radical rethink about fundraising for our local organisations. That’s the fatal flaw in Cameron’s Big Society incidentally – the concept that the voluntary sector will take up all the slack if he slashes public spending. Where will the voluntary sector get the money from to keep going when they have always been given it by the public sector!?

I don’t look forward to the day when we have to hold cake sales to raise money to pay for a Domestic Violence Advisor, but I can see it coming unless we start some creative thinking at a local level very soon.

I believe it is imperative that we provide some in depth and thoughtful training for our local groups about how best to fundraise in difficult times and I am going to talk to my co-councillors about us supporting that. We really need to be on the ball about this and move quickly, the early bird catches the worm, as they say, and when it comes to fundraising that is most definitely true. I don’t know how we are going to pay for the training though, does anyone know if there is any grant funding available?!

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