Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde

Former Policy and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

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Changing course to weather the storm

How place-based giving schemes have adapted under COVID-19

9 June 2020

There has been in recent years a renewed focus on how civic philanthropy can play a role in empowering local communities, catalysing growth and reinvigorating a sense of civic pride while helping them adapt to future challenges. CAF has explored the potential for place-based approaches to giving and the idea of civic philanthropy through our policy work for a number of years. There is a huge potential in using place as a focus for developing approaches to giving. And there is a wide variety of new and exciting approaches to place-based giving across the country.

What is place based giving?

Place-based giving schemes (PBGS) are partnerships between communities, philanthropists, corporate donors, and local organisations (e.g. businesses, civil society organisations) local authorities and national funders that bring together resources in a collaborative way to benefit the community in a defined geographic location. They are ordinarily led by an anchor organisation, which can vary, ranging from traditional funders such as Community Foundations or local authorities and housing associations.

Government has recognised the potential impact of place based giving, and has invested in further exploring this topic, providing £770,000 to the Growing Place-Based Giving Fund, which CAF delivered. The programme helped enable six (most of them early stage) PBGS to develop their sustainability and resilience. The six pilot schemes that CAF supported were:

Place-based giving and its role in maintaining local resilience during the crisis

COVID-19 has had a massive impact on local communities across the country. Local businesses have shut down, people have had to self-isolate, and vulnerable individuals have needed extra support. This is also affecting many local charities and voluntary organisations, which form the bedrock of social life in the communities in which they work.

In ‘normal times’ place-based giving by design is already targeted at supporting local communities and the civil society organisations that serve them. Having a resilient local civil society ecosystem that can weather the crisis will make a huge difference in how communities are able to respond and recover from the social, economic and health impacts of COVID-19.

From this perspective, place-based giving could play a crucial role. In a time like  this, its function in helping communities to adapt to future challenges comes into the fore.

How have PBGS adapted during the crisis?

We can make some early observations on how place-based giving schemes are adapting to the new situation and enabling local citizens and the voluntary sector to build a more effective local response. These include:

  • Being a vehicle to distribute funding from other sources (e.g. local authorities) in an effective way on the ground. For example, Lankelly Chase Foundation gave £100,000 to help the voluntary sector in Barking and Dagenham. The funding, known as the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, will be held by Barking and Dagenham Renew, a charity launched by the council, and then distributed by Barking and Dagenham Giving.
  • Pivoting activities towards crisis response. For example, LoveBrum in Birmingham engages with local people and businesses around charitable projects in the city. It has paused its funding rounds but is focusing on uniting Birmingham in raising funds to help the charity survive through the crisis and support local causes delivering COVID-related initiatives – under the new #OneBrum Campaign.
  • Helping charities support their beneficiaries in new ways and adapting to their new needs. PBGS direct funds to the very local charities that can put forward beneficiaries’ own ideas and has the community make the decisions – which delivers a built in mechanism to adapt to new local priorities.
  • Generating new giving into the local civil society ecosystem to support it at this time, e.g. by setting up new COVID-19 emergency funds and local giving campaigns. Islington Giving is the first place-based giving vehicle in London; in response to COVID-19, it has launched the ‘Islington Giving Crisis Fund’ to support “known and trusted” groups to deliver essential services. Some money will go directly to residents in need of food or help with fuel bills via the London Borough of Islington’s Residents Support Scheme and other trusted partners.
  • Enhancing their convener function that galvanises giving and activities around core projects and campaigns. The Mayor’s Charity in Manchester - established to tackle homelessness by Mayor Andy Burnham (who has shown philanthropic leadership by taking a 15% salary cut which is being donated to the charity) - has launched an urgent appeal calling on big business and individuals to donate funds to support voluntary, community and social enterprises during the crisis.
  • Championing and spotlighting the work of charities. Camden Giving has also launched an appeal to raise money for charities, social enterprises and community groups who are supporting the most vulnerable in the context of COVID-19. They are also advocating for Camden’s charities, explaining that small ones in particular have moved exceptionally quickly to help people: “Within 48 hours, most had ripped up their operating plans, turned their services into safer emergency-focussed operations.”
  • Sharing information and helping to coordinate the local volunteer response. Barking and Dagenham Giving is running a ‘Giving Week’ which aims to highlight how powerful it is for local people to give time, skills and space for their community and to support local causes.

Much of this could be seen as an extension of what the schemes were already doing.  However, many activities are quickly being adapted to the new reality, and others are brand new – and schemes were able to pivot because other elements, such as such as local connections and pockets of funding, were already in place. It is this type of flexibility and adaptability which may be inherent to the place-based model.

Building future resilience – lessons for local and national decision-makers

One could make the wider case that this ability to pivot, coalesce local actors and galvanise new or different types of support, while still providing a more ‘business-as-usual’ bedrock for local civil society, will make a huge difference in how local communities are able to survive the impact of the crisis and recover going forward. This may signal that a proliferation of the model, not as a replacement for other mechanisms supporting civil society and service provision, but as an additional element in building future resilience of local communities, is an appealing idea. One could argue that many theories around the wider benefits of the model are being put under a stress test – often garnering very positive results.

At this time when we are more confined to our homes and thus local area, the value of place-based charitable giving and services is coming into sharp relief. We are witnessing the benefits of giving which brings people together to benefit from a local service, with mutual aid and solidarity emerging as the most immediate and capable instruments to get communities through these difficult times. This all provides for interesting lessons about the value of a decentralised approach in galvanising philanthropic resources and the value this can bring to local civil societies.

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