andy Frain 120

Andy Frain

Former Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager

Charities Aid Foundation

Levelling Up - CAF's View 

29 July 2021

The Government’s push to “Level Up” the country presents an historic opportunity for charities and civil society. A key tenet of the Government’s election campaign in 2019, levelling up could loosely be defined as a drive to empower local communities and decentralise decision-making.

 Government has promised a White Paper on the topic and the potential ramifications of it are such that it will be of importance for civil society to engage on the issue.

To truly empower communities, levelling up has to engage with the full spectrum of local stakeholders - local businesses and local Government are routinely involved in large-scale projects, but civil society helps form the backbone of communities around the county.

The Charities Aid Foundation put together key priorities for the sector to help inform thinking around levelling up and to ensure that charities are best represented in the changes to come.


  • Raising greater levels of income and resources which will enable civil society organisations to deliver more services and public benefit across the country
  • Stimulating partnerships and collaboration across and between sectors to encourage local networks and initiatives focused on improving communities and addressing inequalities
  • Embedding a feeling of shared place, ownership and participation to support projects and initiatives through philanthropic giving – enhancing their feelings of civic pride and connection with the places that they live and are from
  • Establish a new role of Philanthropy Commissioner to can act as a focal point for engagement with philanthropy across government and can help ensure that efforts to develop a culture of giving bring benefits across the country, as recommended by the Beacon Collaborative.

Raising greater levels of income and resources

We hope that opportunities are taken to ensure that the wider public policy environment is able to best support new ideas and programmes.

In particular, as technology brings new opportunities for innovation in giving and fundraising, we hope that the tax system is able to keep pace with this changing world: both in ensuring the continued effectiveness of the valued incentives we already have (such as Gift Aid), and in exploring how we can harness the power of technology to make giving go even further as the tax system become increasingly digitised. This would both maximise the value of philanthropy, and potentially allow for the creation of incentives for new giving (for example, removing VAT on the cost of writing a will).

Any move towards levelling up has to include a focus on addressing long term inequalities and efforts should be made to support charitable groups who have been disadvantaged by existing structures.

In particular, charities focused on people with disabilities or people from BAME backgrounds have found themselves disproportionately excluded from a number of grantmaking programmes, Government funding opportunities and local Government services. These charities are often smaller and more localised, supporting complex needs and providing leadership at a community level. Levelling up offers an historic opportunity to empower these organisations and the communities and individuals they support.

An Emphasis on Partnerships and Collaboration

Match-funding has been shown as an organic way to share the expertise of businesses, charities and private philanthropists, as well as an opportunity to maximise levels of financial support for charities.

This could take a wide variety of forms. One possibility would be to use match-funding to stimulate investment in digital transformation through infrastructure and training, which would be beneficial in “future-proofing” the sector and those working in it. Another possibility would be focussing on place and using locally-focussed match-funding to stimulate civic philanthropy, which could be an important element in delivering the levelling up policy agenda.

The Government has announced a series of different funding opportunities for charities that fit under the Levelling Up umbrella.

Of these, the most prominent are the Levelling Up Fund and the forthcoming UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), for which NCVO has issued a set of key principles to ensure a collaborative process.

The UKSPF should take a holistic approach by promoting service integration, preventative action, and community cohesion. By bringing together charities, statutory partners, LEPs, voluntary sector infrastructure organisations, skills, training, employment support providers and other partners with specific areas of expertise and knowledge of local and regional needs, the UKSPF could deliver more effective and better value services than the EU schemes that came before. At its heart, UKSPF services should be designed around people, rather than people being expected to fit into existing service silos.

Embedding a feeling of shared place, ownership and participation

CAF has spoken before about the value of Place Based Giving and the role it can play in the post-industrial areas on which so much of the levelling up agenda is focused.

Government should develop a clear narrative about civic philanthropy, in particular stressing that local giving is not in competition with nationwide or international giving – removing that false tension will go some way to making local giving more appealing.

There are a number of ways to embed philanthropy in policy and the reshaping of communities and civil society is ideally placed to work with Government and other partners in order to do so.

  • Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) have been used successfully in many local areas to bring public and private sector players together, linking business with education and governmental voices. They have helped to determine local economic priorities and lead economic growth and job creation within local areas and something similar to LEP’s could be mirrored with Local Philanthropy Partnerships, bringing together parties with similar philanthropic aims and acting as a conduit between them and policymakers.

  • So-called “metro mayors” and other high-profile elected representatives can wield considerable influence and are ideally-placed to play a convening role between charities, local businesses and other organisations. When given the platform to do so, these bodies will be able to identify shared goals and consolidate resources and skills with one another.

  • Place-based giving schemes (PBGS) are a means of fostering local philanthropy, increasing investment in local communities, and supporting the development of local places. They bring together residents, philanthropists, corporate donors, public sector organisations, and civil society organisations to raise money and address local priorities. In ‘normal times’ place-based giving by design is already targeted at supporting local communities and the civil society organisations that serve them. But we also have examples of how place-based giving schemes have pivoted during the crisis, enabling local citizens and the voluntary sector to build a more effective local response.

Establish a new role of Philanthropy Commissioner

A key role of government when it comes to giving is creating positive narratives and using its convening power to create connections and help coordinated existing activity. To this end, we would support the recent recommendation of the Beacon Collaborative for the creation of a new post of Philanthropy Commissioner, with a remit to act as a focal point for engagement with philanthropy across government.

A Philanthropy Commissioner could play a key role in driving a governmental agenda on giving, but in order to ensure that also bring benefits in terms of Levelling Up it is crucial that we retain a focus on how to empower communities and individuals to take ownership and control of their lives and local areas. We believe that fundraising and philanthropy is a fundamental part of that and would therefore urge the Government to consider how it can contribute to increasing levels of giving by championing the role and value of philanthropy and fundraising at a local level across the country. A clear commitment to nurturing philanthropy, through a narrative and actions that recognise and celebrate giving, and promote the value of people being part of change through donating to causes they care about would be a strong and important marker from Government which we hope to see reflected in this agenda.