Rosemary Macdonald, CEO at UK Community Foundations
The charity sector has served society as a loyal friend for centuries, even, millennia. However, as any long-term friend might experience at one time or another, there is concern throughout the sector that this unwavering provision of support has become overlooked and neglected.
Right now, many households will be preparing for a winter of deeper financial severity. The support of a local charity or group – be it a befriending café, a youth club, a financial advice service, a bereavement group or a warm hub that serves hot meals – can be a much-valued lifeline to those who need it.
Like all good friends, these community-led organisations spread throughout the UK, are as dedicated to their communities as their ancestral counterparts were centuries ago. The reliability and commitment that volunteers and charity staff provide towards the areas they work in are seen by community foundations every day. It is this ‘power of community’ that often inspires people of all backgrounds, who are able, to make a financial contribution during the ’season of giving’.
Yet, while the need for such vital services continues to grow at levels not seen before in living history, a vacuum of sustainable funding – as NCVO pointed out in their recent survey – is causing around one in five charities to consider closing their services this winter.
Charity closures have already been seen at national levels this year, with large establishments such as Children England, the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) and the Cares Family being forced to close. Financial constraints are also forcing many smaller, local charities to either close completely or halt important provisions such as homeless shelters, charity shops and social isolation projects.
Here is the issue
Fluctuating donations throughout the year mean that local charities are constantly having to reassess their ability to stay open and meet immediate needs, unable to plan ahead and put in place longer-term initiatives to tackle the root causes of social inequalities.
Without the financial and practical foundations in place, many of the crucial services that society has depended on for so long risk ceasing to exist, unable to bounce back again. And like all friends lost throughout history, we won’t know what we’ve missed until they’re gone.
What’s the solution?
We must all take meaningful action now to invest in communities for the long term. This means sharing the power between those who are able to give and those who have the ability to create lasting solutions. It means communities supporting community organisations and national networks collaborating with grassroots networks.
At our recent ‘Together 23: Philanthropy Forward’ online conference, we heard from people around the UK about how they took steps to become part of local action.
Mike and Wendy, who donate regularly through Community Foundation serving Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, talked about giving small amounts now to make a bigger difference in the future: ‘There were a number of us who were retired professionals, who were not wealthy but were comfortable. Many of us were aware of the needs across the North. People like us could pay into [our own fund] on a regular basis with a view that in 15 years it could make a real difference. Our community foundation links donors to particular projects so we can jointly fund a project with other donors. We feel very supported and have gained lots of friends.’
Carolyn, another conference guest, spoke on behalf of her business that donates through Community Foundation for Surrey. The business wanted to support what was needed in the region but wasn’t sure how to go about doing it in a flexible, sustainable way: ‘Our criteria is nice and broad, which brings in lots of different applications. The community foundation brings the expertise to advise on where we can make the biggest impact, which really brings life to our panels. I wonder if local businesses know that community foundations are there to help them with their giving.’
Getting involved in philanthropy might feel daunting for anyone who hasn’t been involved before, but it can be a really simple process. It might start with a phone call to a local group about volunteering opportunities, finding out about becoming a charity trustee, talking with your financial adviser, or visiting the website of your nearest community foundation to learn more about local giving.
Let’s not wait for more charities to be gone before valuing their worth. Instead, let’s transform the season of giving into the start of meaningful action.