David Farnsworth: Our sector is at tipping point

When we asked civil society for its views on the health of the charity sector we got a very clear and rather brutal answer.

Responses described an industry ‘in crisis’ and ‘at tipping point’, due to ongoing reductions in state funding, the increased costs of living and the rising levels of need amongst people and communities experiencing disadvantage and marginalisation.

We spoke to Londoners, charities and community groups, the public and private sector, funders and policy makers. And we listened. We wanted to see what we needed to change to make the biggest possible impact – to support the charity sector, reduce inequality and help transform deprived communities.

Right now, we see increased competition for scarcer funding within the charity sector, falling levels of public trust in civil society and an increased scrutiny of the role charities play.

In our research, charities pointed to a surge in demand for services and pressure to deliver more complex support programmes for people in need across London. They said charity funders like us need to recognise that we live in uncertain times.

With Brexit approaching and many charities uncertain about future funding streams, there was a call for a more flexible approach, helping them to adapt to the needs and challenges that they will face in the coming years.

Funding for charities from the EU is currently worth at least £258m a year. Brexit will inevitably put this at risk, putting even greater pressure on everyone in the sector. Right now, the situation is that there is greater need and less money. With around 163,000 charities in the UK the desire to support good causes is there, but most have a very low income.

Nearly 97 per cent of charities have less than £1m annual income and just under 50 per cent have less than £10,000. These small charities are often the lifeblood of our communities. But, the sector clearly needs support and it needs change if it wants to keep up the good work being done, work that is saving lives.

We want to step up and play our part.

City Bridge Trust has £100m to spend in the next five years to reduce inequality in London. Our new target areas respond to our research findings, and include support for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, helping people experiencing food poverty through food banks and backing for environmental projects

We are changing the way we work after consulting on what underrepresented communities really need and what the sector needs to make sure charities are as efficient as they can be. It’s about asking the questions and responding to the need.

We will be more flexible in our funding, making grants of different sizes and duration, and with a greater focus on core funding, social investment and blended finance. We are even inviting organisations to offer up ideas for innovative solutions to change lives and reduce inequality.

New models of giving, like place-based giving campaigns, where businesses, residents and funders join up to make their borough a better place to work and live, are working well in London’s communities and are something we are looking to grow in the future. This is an area we are keen to back and expand.

Money is good, but it’s not always enough. Charities have told us that if we can help them in other areas it would really make a difference.

We have agreed to make available our non-monetary assets to help charities - be it through business development advice, environmental sustainability policies or exit strategy planning, using all our networks and resources to make our vision for London come to life.

Charities can find applying for funding difficult, something not news to us. Funders like us must make sure the funding process is fair, representative and proportionate to help organisations feel empowered and supported.

We will be more effective by working with partners across civil society and public and private sectors to make charity services more joined up and ensure we are being most efficient with our resources.

Yes, we are aware that the money we have won’t solve all of London’s problems overnight. However, we believe that by using our funds wisely, bringing in additional resources and working in collaboration with our communities, we can make a real difference to the lives of thousands of Londoners.

It’s about funders going above and beyond for the people they fund and helping charities in whatever way they can in the current circumstances.

UK funders need to be adaptive to meet the ever-changing needs of charities in these uncertain times characterised by reduced statutory funding, uncertainty of EU investment and slow economic growth.

We are fortunate to be able to offer some consistency to charities for the future.

David Farnsworth is the City of London Corporation’s Director of City Bridge Trust

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