The values that shape who we are

Our values set us apart from other sectors, but we seem to have lost our way, writes our Chief Executive Paul Streets. This blog first appeared on Third Sector on 13th March 2017.

I recently delivered a lecture at the Directory of Social Change Awards and my comments on the subject of values clearly resonated, generating plenty of twittersphere traffic.

Our values set the voluntary sector apart from others – but somewhere along the way we appear to have lost our way. Our hard-won model of local action and national advocacy is slowly being eroded.

With so much political and economic upheaval, there’s never been a more important time for us to re-focus our efforts on our values. But what does that mean in practice? For me, it’s about mirroring our own behaviour on the relationships we build with those we serve. Relationships that start by building trust with those that society has largely disenfranchised or forgotten.

There’s never been a more important time for us to re-focus our efforts on our values.

Take the relationship between large and small charities.

Our shared goal should be to ensure that services and support are provided to everyone who needs them. It shouldn’t be about who can accommodate the upfront costs and risks associated with commissioners and contracts. And that means making tough choices.

Charities – large and small – considering if they might displace a better placed local provider before they decide simply to step in and compete. Charities exploring collaboration or offering support to local players. It could even be as simple as pointing the local provider out to commissioners – who should surely look local first – but often don’t seem to.

By competing to displace other providers, we’re effectively reducing the sum total of support available to those that desperately need it.

It means we get what commissioners can afford, rather than what is needed. Evidence from NCVO shows that in most cases capacity does not map acute need. It’s what we at the Foundation call ‘Triple Jeopardy’. The areas of the highest need often have the smallest voluntary sector infrastructure and are those places that are most acutely affected by public sector cuts.

The areas of the highest need often have the smallest voluntary sector infrastructure

If our sector is focused on national advocacy and local action, we would actively work together to expose this and lobby for change.

This means robustly challenging policy makers and commissioners. But if they are our sole source of income, our ability and credibility to make those challenges is compromised.

National charities are far better placed to campaign against this, as are our trade bodies – especially where they have largely independent income. There are sectors not far from this model. Health is a good example. Many of the large health charities have always seen their role as complementary to public provision – often through local groups – and yet have also worked hard to hold the quality of that public provision to account. Its national advocacy and local action at play.

We need to replicate this model to the benefit of the most disadvantaged in Society. Charities like  MIND, The Refugee Council and  Women’s Aid do.

Paymasters generally like to call or hear their own tunes. And sometimes the carrot of contracting has displaced the stick of campaigning.

The impact we as a sector have isn’t dictated by the size of our balance sheets. In fact, some of those charities putting issues on the map are the smallest, like Unseen UK and the profile its generated around modern slavery.

unseen uk

The impact we as a sector have isn’t dictated by the size of our balance sheets.

Real social change starts from the bottom up. With real people at the heart of the thousands of small local organisations and groups who work tirelessly day in, day out.  Building on their local action should be our default option and might just help us return to the ‘values that differentiate us’.

You can reach Paul on Twitter @PaulStreets_ or read a full transcript of his speech here.

Social change has the power to make a difference to real lives

On 23 February 2017, Our Chief Executive Paul Streets delivered the keynote speech at DSC’s Social Change Awards. You can read a full transcript of his speech below.

It’s an honour to be here. And it’s a privilege to be asked. But I cannot tell you how hard it is to prepare! To be given a subject like Social Change. And to know that Debra (Allcock, DSC Chief Executive) has asked you and told you that you can talk about anything to do with social change!

As most of you here know Debra – you’ll know that means plenty of scope for lateral thinking!And yet I have been engaged in social change in one way or another for more than 30 years.So I thought I’d share with you some insights and reflections on Social Change from those years!

Let me start in the present.

For the last 4 years I’ve been running the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England & Wales. It’s been a Road to Damascus experience. We fund about 1,000 small local charities working with people who experience a range of multiple disadvantage. In the last 4 years

I’ve visited and spoken with hundreds of them. And I have been amazed by what I’ve seen. They deal with the most difficult social issues we face. Domestic Violence, Homelessness, Offending, Gangs, Sex working, modern slavery. They reach places and people that most of us would seek to avoid.

It’s easy to be rose tinted as a bleeding heart liberal – and they’re not all perfect – but, for the most part, they do a truly remarkable job. Often with the most limited of resources.
They achieve transformations in people lives that most of would regard as impossible and few of us would ever attempt. And I have been wondering how and why?

Whilst they tackle different issues I have come to the conclusion that,

  • at the heart of what they do,
  • and at the start of what they all do

They establish trust. Trust with people who neither trusted by, not trusting off, Society – and a State – which has largely either failed them, targeted them or censured them. Whether its Prison, the Police, Social Services, the DWP or Housing.
So I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what that means and reflecting back on my past lives. To make sense of it I want to share five stories with you which may at first seem disconnected but that might help get us to some sense of what social change is.

I’ll start in Africa almost 30 years ago with the Malawi Council for the Handicapped (MACOHA) supported by Sight Savers They describe themselves as – ‘torch bearers in disability mainstreaming’. One of the programmes they support works with blind farmers. The concept might seem a bit odd, but Macoha provides seeds and training. And they are pretty good at farming. One reason they’re pretty good is because they farm at night when it’s dark. It’s their choice. Pretty logical decision really. It’s hellishly hot during the day and cool at night.

My second story is about DAFNE. Now Dafne isn’t your aunt or a beautifully pungent bush.
It stands for Dose Adjusted for Normal Eating. Snappy title really dreamed up by a few clinicians. DAFNE was stolen from Germany by Diabetes UK. She started with an understanding that most people with diabetes lived in fear of their insulin. It controlled their lives – and especially when and where they ate.

DAFNE turned all that on its head with her strapline ‘eat what you like, like what you eat’.
She brought groups of people with diabetes together as peers to do just that with clinical support and advice. So they went for curries. They ate ice cream and cakes. They ate whenever they wanted. And they learnt that insulin could help them lead the lives they wanted – rather than the other way round.

I remember speaking to a women who had lived with diabetes for years after she had been through the first programme. Let me call her Moira. I asked her what she thought and whether it had worked and she told me: “amazing, last night for the first time in 23 years I went to the cinema with my kids and ate a pizza with them”.


The metric we normally used for diabetes control was HBa1C – blood sugar. Not pizzas.
So – we developed metrics to measure success with people with diabetes. And two of the key ones were ‘it enables me to eat what I like, when I like’ and ‘it enables me to have sex when I want’. So – these were two of our key outcomes. Since then – largely through Diabetes UK and its members – DAFNE, or similar peer/clinician led diabetes programmes, have been offered to tens of thousands of people with diabetes. And the clinical data tells it all. It might start with sex and food but it ends with improves blood sugar control. It reduces complications. It saves costs. But most of all it improves quality of life. Dramatically. And lets Moira eat her pizza with her kids.

My third story is as significant as DAFNE and again its health. But it doesn’t have a clinical ending. It’s the story of all the ‘ectomies’ that are performed in modern medicine.
Prostatectomy, hysterectomy…even Coronary bypass.. There are heaps of them.
We have legions of surgeons trained to intervene and remove and fix bits of our bodies.
Over the last decade there has been increasing interest in what’s called ‘Shared Decision Making’.  In some ways, that’s a bit of a misnomer.

The guru is Professor Al Mulley in New Hampshire. Al talks about moving from clinical preference to patient preference. And the evidence is remarkable. When people have a proper conversation about risk and benefit they often chose not to have the operation at all. It’s especially effective if that involves conversations with ‘peers’ – people who have been there and done it themselves.

Lived experience matters.

The best example I know comes from Arthritis Care. It’s a lovely story. Of an elderly lady with mobility problems. Let’s call her Doris. She was referred by her GP to an orthopaedic surgeon who wanted to do a knee operation. With all the difficult path towards rehabilitation and the cost that would have entailed. But when Arthritis Care asked Gladys what it she was unable to do it was the gardening. So – they scrapped the surgery and built her raised flower beds so she didn’t have to kneel or bend.
My fourth story comes from one of my first visits at the Foundation to a homeless programme we fund in Redbridge called the Healthy Living Project linked to the Baptist Church. I was amazed when I arrived to find that they were offering young homeless men massage. When I asked I was humbled to be told: “They love it and it enormously therapeutic, remember these men are only ever touched violently”.

I’m sure the Daily Mail would have loved it, but it works because it starts to engage them on a different level. They know they are somewhere that cares.

My final story is again one of the charities we’ve supported at the Foundation – Unseen UK. Unseen is only about 10 years old. It started as a local response to the problem of people trafficking in Bristol – providing safe houses and support to women trafficked into the country largely for Prostitution.

Since then its provided over 10,000 safe nights to 125 women from 37 countries. And it’s now started to provide services to men. Their individual stories are moving and they’re horrifying. Powerful individually – Unseen has used the power of their voices collectively to get the issue of modern slavery on the map in the UK. Through its work with the Centre for Social Justice it was at the heart of the Modern Slavery Act championed by Teresa May.

So – what do these stories tell me?

They tell me too that too often our thinking on Social Change starts from the wrong end.
A debate about rights, equity and justice. And we move directly from that to engage with the political process. Of course rights, equality, justice, politics and power are crucial to social change. But if we start there we lose sight of what we – as the voluntary sector – do best. At our best, we start with individuals facing problems and challenges and we listen, we listen hard and by listening we see things that others don’t.

So we end up with very different outcomes and very different services.

  • Blind Farmers that farm at night;
  • Moira and her Pizza;
  • Gladys and her raised beds;
  • Massage for homeless men and an awareness and response to the unseen horror of modern slavery.

And when we really listen what we hear challenges current orthodoxy and thinking from the ground up. That’s where the power to create real changes lies.

It gets Society to think again – because instead of numbers and statistics – it’s about people – people who could be anyone of us. Of course, sometimes that means we need to engage with the Political process – as with Modern Slavery. But sometimes what’s needed to create social change is much simpler and it’s much more local, immediate and potentially achievable if only others followed our lead, and listened too.

Can you ever imagine a commissioner purchasing outcomes that triggers payments when:
people are able to eat a pizza with their kids, improve their sex lives or help them garden, or funding interventions like massages, or god forbid insisting that poor blind people farm at night.

So let’s look at how we actually design and deliver services. And who they are designed for.

1948 and the creation of the Welfare State was amazing. Imagine what it was like before – you only need to cross the Atlantic to see what healthcare was like. Although born out of a deep sense of injustice following WWII. In essence the mentality was one of vertical hierarchy – top down paternalism.The state knew best, services needed to reach certain standards and these would be managed, purchased or commissioned from the top down…
and regulated to ensure compliance. And at the coalface – Professionals knew best with a very clear pecking order. Doctors/Police/Social Workers in the lead and at the top. The service recipient at the bottom as a supplicant.

We industrialised provision. Services were organised in much the same way as production lines. The hospital is the example par excellence. Its designed in and around professionals and their disciplines. Patients we pass, like vehicles on a production line, from one team to the next. And as with most public services people are done too, not with. Largely speaking the aim of the welfare state is equity and conformity.

One size fits all.

And it works for most of us. Since 1948 we have achieved amazing advances in health, education, housing, social and pension provision. But it fails in two ways:

First in our approach to services for the minority who are the most marginalised, vulnerable, largely disenfranchised and powerless – where our approach seems to be unremittingly top down – with the voices of those on the receiving end neither seen nor heard.

It’s the approach which led us to label families as ‘Troubled’ and have it delivered by the State in the guise of Local Authorities and DWP and then expect it to work. It’s what has led us to Universal Credit.

Second it places an over-reliance on professionals to set up the right service on in the first place.

I remember when I was at The Department of Health a mental health service user responding to our request for comment on a service by saying he ‘didn’t want to help design your service, he wanted to design his own’. Like Moira and her wish for a service which helped her to eat a pizza with the kids. Or Doris and her raised beds.

Let’s reflect on these stories and the insights I gain from the small local organisations we fund at the Foundation.

What they do and how they work shows us a new way of thinking about services and how to reach people. They don’t start with the service and try and design that through the eyes of professionals, experts or Government officials in Town Halls and Whitehall. They start with the person – and build a relationship to establish trust. Only then do they layer on the service.

A man at one the homeless charities I spoke with recently said it better than I ever could:
“What I need isn’t just to come off drugs, quit alcohol and get a job. I need to know that I’m worth something – then I might want to do those other things”.

That’s why they need to start with Trust.

And because Trust is about relationships it needs to start with something that is intimate, immediate and familiar. In the current local Government parlance these small local organisations really do Think Local and Act Personal. And it works.

For services founded on a bedrock of trust like the work we fund with people who have experienced Domestic Abuse, homelessness, entrenched unemployment, mental health or prostitution. At their best, they put the person who comes through the door back in control over – at least a part of – their lives. This itself can often be the beginning of transformation in people’s lives. People whom the state and society has ignored, side-lined, sanctioned, patronised or pitied get back some means to influence their futures.

Some control. And – counter to the prevailing mantra that local organisations will all collapse or die – they are likely to be more sustainable – even in a tough financial climate – because they’re there because they responded to a need they saw, not a contract they pitched for. They’ve come from the community, designing and delivering a response to a local need – often, precisely because the state – centrally or locally – wasn’t meeting that need. They’ve made a Commitment to Serve – rather than won a Contract to deliver.
So whilst the grant or contract income may be critical to their work – they’ll be there, and they will do something with or without it. Unlike the commercial provider or national charity who will simply pull out if the contract is lost.
The problem with the current approach of Government and Statutory bodies to these organisations is that it transfers a set of logic that works for dustbins, roads, hospitals and schools – provided to everyone – where standards can be set, metrics agreed and performance managed to these small local committed providers.

If small local organisations need to put trust at the heart of their own service – we need also to trust them to know what’s best.

That means accepting that defining a contract with outcomes – and determining what activities to fund at the centre – simply won’t work. We need what Locality has called funding for ‘purpose’. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go through proper due diligence to ensure organisations are viable or ensure they are connected to the people they wish to serve, but, having done that, it does mean we should assume they know better than us how to meet need.

And for organisations where trust lies at their heart it should mean a presumption that local is critical and that small is probably best. So, if it means public services need to adopt a different approach what about us? The Voluntary Sector.

Our role as Social Changers has never been more crucial. Those we should champion are at their most vulnerable – as the impact of public sector cuts hits them the hardest.

And they live in a Society that shows all the signs of compassion fatigue.  And yet in the headlong rush for growth some of us have bought into a state vision of what social change means that is articulated in the contracts it would have us take. Swapping the voices of those we reach – for the voices of those who commission us to reach them
and determining need on the basis of what they are prepared to pay.

In so doing we have effectively become co-opted – as delivery agents of the state – rather than agents of social change. It feels like dangerous territory.

Just how far do we go to win the contract? How much are we prepared to compromise?
If the last couple of years has taught us anything it’s that we need to return to the values and ethos that differentiate us from the private and public sectors. And that means not aping their top down or market driven approaches – either with respect to those we wish to serve – or with respect to our fellow charities.

The greatest anguish from many of the small charities we support comes when they are on the sharp end of competitive and pricing practices from larger charities. Who sometimes seem happy to use their economic muscle and bid writing prowess to pitch against a long-established local charity – or squeeze them as a sub-contractor if they win. Yet at the same time proclaim their ethos and values in direct mail and PR.

OK times are tough. But if we in this voluntary sector don’t mirror in our own relationships, the value we place in building relationships with those we serve, we only have ourselves to blame if the commissioner decides they might as well go with a private provider. Or the public grow ever more sceptical of our requests for their money.

We need to redress the balance. As a sector we need to reconnect with our campaigning roots – focused on the lives of people who need us to be their champion. And that means connecting local action with national advocacy.

There are great examples of organisations that do this brilliantly.

They make a connection between those who have voice and influence at the centre through their size, scale, brand and reach and the 1000’s of local organisations, groups and people who respond to that need from the bottom up.

In them we reach a recognition of what has probably always been true. Politics & Power matter. But real Social Change happens bottom up and it happens to real people. It’s about power at a personal and human level. The power to make a difference to real lives. The power to make a difference to my own life, my family, my neighbourhood, my community or those like me.

So, as we celebrate Social Change Winners today, we should also celebrate the tens of thousands of small local organisations that know what Social Change means to people from the ground up.

They understand that relationships are what counts. They listen, they build trust and they act. And by doing that they create real Social Change. Day in/day out. In the lives they touch.


Ten-point checklist for ensuring that your charity is fit for the future

For many small charities, income from grants is essential. But how can you improve your chance of being successful when it comes to applying for grants? Harriet Stranks, Director of Grant Making (North and Wales), offers a ten-point health checklist to ensure that your charity stands out.


At Lloyds Bank Foundation we know just how challenging it is for small and medium-sized charities at the moment. Income is in decline whilst demand for services grows every day. We’ve identified ten areas for charities to focus on in building capacity, which will pay dividends in the long run and increase your ‘fundabilty’.

1. Finance

Many charities sleepwalk into financial trouble because they do not have a solid understanding of their finances, and worry about the future when it’s too late. Having a robust understanding of finances helps charities spot and mitigate risks, and importantly. Reporting and discussing finances regularly means the charity can work together to address any risks and create contingencies. CFG’s training for small charities is a good place to start!

2. Funding

Thinking about new ways of diversifying income and introducing new assets is very important. This might be through fundraising, having a mixed economy where some people are charged for services, regular giving schemes or trading for example.  There can be risks involved and this comes with a health warning as it needs careful planning, but charities that do not embrace new ways of raising funds will be left behind as more enterprising local charities fill the void.

3. Digital Skills

Embracing digital fundraising and social media will be crucial to survive and thrive. Millennials see the world through a screen and if your charity doesn’t have a strong internet presence, optimised for mobile, you will deter a whole generation of potential support. Digital fundraising is increasingly important, and essential if you’re going to stay ahead. Lloyds Bank Foundation has links to free tools for charities on our website


4. Competition and branding

Charities are in competition with each other, for funding, clients, reputation and employees. Whilst it is important to collaborate, charities also need to build competitive advantage. Everyone in the organisation should know the ‘elevator pitch’ and understand the unique selling point (USP) of the charity to create a unified brand with a clear direction.  Mapping competitors’ strengths will also help to spot your own charity’s weaknesses and identify areas for growth.

5. Investing in staff

Many charities simply focus on training which complies with legislation or the basic competencies of a role. However, identifying and addressing skills gaps will help staff develop within their roles, provide stretch and motivation, support delegation and build credibility and trust. Training also helps with succession planning and transferable skills across roles. Training should be viewed as an investment, not a cost.


6. Understanding your impact

Charities should not measure impact to report back to funders, it should be to understand the user experience and to improve services. Investing in a database will transform a charity from one that thinks that they do well to one that knows it does well – and can prove it. Reflective learning from results is critical.

7. Networking and leadership

Charity leaders need external sources of support and like-minded people to talk to. This might be through formal networks, mentoring or action learning sets. The external validation of ideas builds confidence to act, reduces isolation, raises ambition and promotes strategic thinking. Without active leadership a charity cannot become stronger.

8. Building trust locally

Building trust within the community brings its own rewards in referrals, reputation and funding. Being consistent and building relationships with clients creates longer lasting impact and transition to lasting change. Using local volunteers builds a skilled future workforce and enhances social capital in the local community.

9. Strategic thinking

Investing in awaydays, agreeing your mission, values and annual operational plan helps staff and trustees align in one clear direction. It also affirms confidence in the leadership and motivation in the team. Recognising and celebrating successes makes people feel valued and looking ahead supports aspiration to grow and become stronger.

10. Support trustees

Appreciate trustees by providing training and opportunities for engagement. Prepare well for board meetings and give assurance that the organisation is being well-run by providing transparent management information and regular reports.  Appoint trustees for a fixed term and induct new trustees well. Good trustees will act as ambassadors and champions of the charity, thus enhancing the reputation and brand.

This blog was written as part of Charity Finance Group’s Small Charities Programme launch, published in Finance Focus on 8 December 2016. The programme provides practical finance training and resources for charities with an income of £1m or less across England and Wales.

Follow Harriet on twitter 

How Enhance helped one charity with Investing in Volunteers

Grant Manager Michele Lester reveals how Lloyds Bank Foundation’s Enhance programme was instrumental in helping one charity gain the Investing in Volunteers accreditation.

As well as funding, Lloyds Bank Foundation helps support our grant recipients by providing non-financial, tailored support through the Enhance programme. This extra support helps to strengthen the effectiveness of these small charities in reaching disadvantaged people.

As a grant manager, I was able to support Home-Start Wirral with cementing its commitment to supporting volunteers by gaining the Investing in Volunteers accreditation (the UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management) through our Enhance programme.


Home-Start Wirral was first funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation in 2011 and awarded another £58,360 grant in June 2015. Soon after, it enrolled in our Enhance programme. We discussed where the charity wanted to be in 2-3 years and CEO Bev Morgan identified two clear areas to improve: diversifying the charity’s funding streams and gaining the Investing in Volunteers accreditation.

Whilst Home-Start Wirral has a strong track record of securing funding from a range of sources, diversifying its income is vital for future sustainability. Like many charities, Home-Start Wirral was dependent on local authority grants and contracts, which due to widespread cuts, is getting harder to secure. Through Enhance, we were able to involve an experienced facilitator who helped identify ways to improve income diversity. The charity is now in a much stronger position financially.

Home-Start Wirral also wanted to gain the Investing in Volunteering accreditation. iivVolunteers are indispensable to Home-Start Wirral’s service delivery: it recruits, trains and supports volunteers to visit vulnerable families and offer friendly and confidential help. Gaining the accreditation shows that the charity is working to a high standard with its volunteers and publicly demonstrates its commitment to supporting them. Volunteers benefit from being part of an organisation that has volunteer best practices at its heart.

Bev Morgan, CEO of Home-Start Wirral, said: “Investing in Volunteers is something we have wanted to do for many years but other priorities always came first. We were delighted to be able to go for it, thanks to the Enhance programme, and started the process in 2015. It has been a lot of work but well worth it.”

Bev added: “Volunteers are essential and integral to Home-Start Wirral. The quality of support for volunteers is incredibly important to us and Investing in Volunteers has given us a really good structure to ensure our volunteers have a positive experience during their time here.”

Mayor of Wirral Cllr Pat Hackett presents Home-Start Wirral staff and volunteers with the Investing in Volunteers award

I was thrilled to hear that the charity recently achieved their accreditation. They are the first of the Foundation’s charities to gain this via our Enhance programme.

I’m incredibly proud of our Enhance programme, particularly as capacity development and infrastructure support can be hard to come by for many small charities. Enhance bridges this gap and provides external expertise and support. Yes, it’s often challenging and a lot of work but incredibly valuable to the charities we work with. I have seen so many of our charities strengthened through Enhance in a way that wouldn’t be possible through grants alone.

Michele works with many local charities in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and South Yorkshire. Follow Michele on Twitter

From sharing to caring – collaborating our way through 2017

This blog first appeared on Third Sector on 24th January 2017.

If we are to meet the prime minister’s ambitions of a sharing society, then charities of all shapes and sizes must learn to collaborate more, writes our Chief Executive Paul Streets.

Last year I highlighted how charitable foundations need to up our game in calling government out about how our country isn’t working for all. With politicians setting out their vision for a Trump, post Brexit world, what does this mean for the wider voluntary sector?

Walking past the statue of Oscar Wilde in London reminding those who pass “we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars” got me thinking.

His words seem an appropriate reflection for the sector. Last year charities spent a lot of time looking at our reflections in the metaphorical gutter as we came to terms with a changing fundraising landscape. It’s now more important than ever that we mobilise behind the plight of those we exist to support, who are literally, in the gutter.

It’s no secret that charities have been bearing the brunt of austerity for some time, particularly small, local charities. Rising and more complex demand for their specialist services comes at a time when grants have disappeared and as research we published showed public sector contracts become almost impossible to win.

It’s no secret that charities have been bearing the brunt of austerity for some time, particularly small, local charities.

Theresa May’s call for a “sharing society” should in some way be applauded. Even within our values driven voluntary sector, there are lessons for us to learn. Small charities have been telling us for some time that their experience of working with national charities, particularly around the delivery of public sector contracts, can be fraught with challenges.

While the small local charity brings a solid footprint, history of specialist support and working knowledge of the area that adds significant weight to the consortium bid, the reality can change once the contract has been awarded. Small charities report being sidelined when it comes to delivery or referrals leaving their finances decimated and testing their ability to survive.

We need better and meaningful collaboration between charities of different sizes that respect and value the varying skills and experience different organisations bring to the table. The reality is the people we’re trying to support lead complex and chaotic lives and they require joined up solutions.

We need better and meaningful collaboration between charities of different sizes

That means better collaboration amongst charities of all sizes that enable us to look at people’s lives holistically, not in isolation. Because when charities are given the space to collaborate they can be truly transformational.

One of our most popular offers of support for the charities we fund has been learning sets which bring like-minded local voluntary sector leaders together to share problems and solutions. They fizz.

I recently visited Co-Lab in Exeter which is a brilliant attempt to do just this. Run by Exeter CVS it brings together 30 different local organisations and projects under one roof, along with probation and health services, to provide joined up services to vulnerable people. The aspiration and ambition behind this is inspiring – tough as it will sometimes be to get it right.

It can be done. There are also good examples of large charities collaborating around common cause on shared issues: the Richmond Group of leading health charities or the New Beginnings Fund of funders supporting refugees. And just the other day, large and small charities in Birmingham came together to voice their concerns about the impact of cuts on vulnerable people.

What if this was the rule, not the exception?

Imagine the difference we could make if large national charities set aside competitive instincts and united with their small but equally important partners in the interests of beneficiaries?

If we don’t work together to set out our vision for a sharing society who will?

I’m interested in your thoughts. Tweet me @PaulStreets_ and tell me what you think.

What next for the voluntary sector in 2017?

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Partnerships and Communications shares his views on how the voluntary sector can mobilise behind a changing political landscape in 2017. 

With Theresa May’s speech finally setting out what she thinks Brexit means and with Trump’s inauguration, this is the week that the 2016 chickens came home to roost and reality dawned as to what these momentous events might start to mean now and for the years to come.

It is difficult for many of us not to be despondent but we are the voluntary sector who have stopped things, built things, changed things, literally saved lives in the face of all kinds of adversity so we need to dust ourselves off and get busy. A few thoughts on how we might respond….

Politics Matters

Not that long ago people were bemoaning how politics was boring and politicians all same old same old, well not anymore!

Politics has prompted water-cooler conversations for months now and about the really fundamental questions of identify, nationalism, sovereignty, immigration, what kind of nation we are and what to be, in turn inspiring debate, people to register, vote or campaign – perhaps for the first time – and dividing families and friends.

The tectonic plates have shuddered, shaken and shifted and we don’t know yet where it will end.

As charities we cannot nor should we be partisan in politics but partisan for politics, for it is politics that will decide the type of Brexit we have and the type of Britain we become – and indeed whether the UK of four nations survives. As the focus for law making becomes solely Westminster and the Devolved Assemblies, we will need to be campaigning effectively and smartly, making the case for the causes and issues, speaking up for and alongside those who otherwise won’t be heard.

But whilst policy and legislative change is the bread and butter of improving lives, perhaps at times as a sector we have been too complacent, thinking that a new law, Directive or regulation alone will get us closer to the line of social justice, failing to make the big picture arguments from first principles and crucially direct to the public.

The current scrutiny of international aid is a clear example – winning the political case for enshrining 0.7% of GDP in law was one thing but, unless we win hearts and minds, demonstrate compelling results, build the narratives and constituencies for that commitment, and more broadly for the kind of country and world we want, then progress will always be limited or vulnerable.

We have to learn from the simplicity but compelling power of the winning slogans of “Take Back Control” and “Make America Great Again”.

And if ever there was an inspiration for the need to stick to your guns, note how the small group of individuals who always wanted to take us out of the EU battled in the margins for decades to eventually win over the mainstream.

Local Matters

Whilst the global great and good are enshrined in Davos trying to understand and structure the new world order, conversely local has perhaps never been more important. For what was happening on people’s high streets was a key determinant of how people voted – from concern at the changing nature of Boston in Lincolnshire driving the highest Leave vote, to the closure of factories in Michigan putting Trump in the White House.

Mind Barrow in Furness
Mental health charity Mind Barrow in Furness

It is the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan’s, challenge to balance leading a global city of many migrants that is also the capital of Brexit Britain, alongside tackling it’s deep seated challenges of poverty and lack of housing. And this year will see the first elections for new Metro Mayors of Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.

But more locally still, it is at neighbourhood level that we as communities will decide how we integrate or divide.

And to help shape and build our new country from the bottom up in every community we are blessed with many fantastic local charities – indeed the vast majority of the voluntary sector in the UK is small and local. But such charities are assets that need to be nurtured and supported too, and sadly – as our recent report highlighted – too often contracting and commissioning does the opposite.

Money, Money, Money

warning-146916_960_720The quiet but ever present reality for 2017 and beyond is going to remain extreme pressures on public spending. The crisis facing the NHS and social care has already rightly hit the headlines but across the board the state is creaking and cracking, particularly at local level.

Take Birmingham, the UK’s largest local authority which has endured years of cuts to with many more to come. But within the aggregate reductions have been disproportionate cuts on those services used most by the vulnerable – homelessness, youth and children’s services have been decimated with direct impacts, such as a quadrupling of street homelessness – yet bin collections and libraries, used by the majority, have not been reduced.

All politics and spending is about winners and losers and typically the most influential get a larger share of the cake. As a regular user and indeed grandson of a librarian I know their vital role but I wish that those who man the barricades  to defend a library, would show a similar concern when services used primarily by the vulnerable are hit.

And Brexit will add new dimensions, with funds lost from leaving the EU and new costs to meet plus any fallout from our changing economic circumstances. As a sector we must ensure we are speaking up for those who will not be at the table or politically powerful but also making sure that our longer term social and economic challenges are not ignored.

Charity Matters

So tough issues confront us internationally, nationally and locally but the voluntary sector, civil society, charities, individually and collectively have never been more needed. And we need to gear up and get on with it. I would suggest five “Cs” should be central to our approach, more Conversations, Co-operation, Coalitions, Campaigns, Creativity.

  • Conversations – we need to get out of our bunkers and comfort zones and be actively generating debate, and crucially with those who we don’t agree.
  • We need better co-operation between charities, particularly between large and small to replace the competition and unfair practices of commissioning.
  • We need new partnerships and coalitions, not just between charities, but between usual and unusual suspects, across the political divides and between voluntary, private and public sectors.
  • We need to be campaigning for the changes we want to see, utilising all the tools of digital as well as plain old people power.
  • And we need creativity at every level, not least in seeking to attract and generate new sources of revenue and engaging new audiences.

2016 gave some great examples of what can be achieved with resolution and effectiveness, from the campaign across Parliament for the Lord Dubs amendment on refugees, to the charities out there in Calais or on the Med helping refugees when no one else would. Years of campaigning by Shelter and others led to the Government banning letting agent’s fees and by grass-root women’s groups to the vote to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Crisis’ No One Turned Away campaign, secured cross party commitment to expanding the homelessness safety net to include single people.


And at the Foundation we were particularly pleased that the Charities Minister, Rob Wilson responded to the concerns raised by ourselves and others that commissioning isn’t working, particularly for small and medium sized charities, and announced new measures.

And this year already, despite every major medical opinion possible having spoken out about the pressures the NHS was under, it was the Red Cross describing it as a “Humanitarian Emergency” which cut through to the public and politicians

Each of these examples demonstrate the five Cs and more, but we need to go above and beyond. With every crisis or challenge there are also opportunities.  Our country needs us – so let’s get busy and keep us posted with what you’re up to @LBFEW

As a Foundation we will be doing our bit in 2017 starting with funding frontline charities across England and Wales plus supporting them to build their capabilities; keeping the spotlight on poor commissioning and helping the sector to develop, particularly around domestic and sexual abuse; launching new research to help small and medium charities understand the landscape and plan ahead; supporting the Independent Inquiry into the future of Civil Society and work to understand how social change happens to inform and embolden a new generation of campaigning.

The future of foundations

This blog first appeared on Third Sector on 22nd December 2016.

Foundations should hold Theresa May to her promise of a ‘country that works for all’, says our Chief Executive Paul Streets.

As we welcome new leadership at the top of the Association of Charitable Foundations, I’ve been reflecting on the wider role of foundations as we move into 2017.

This past year has seen a voluntary sector beset by change and turmoil, yet foundations remain a constant, with a collective annual spend of about £2.5bn. But as the state continues to divest itself of charities at both national and local levels, grants from foundations increasingly form a bigger slice of the cake. Whether we like it or not, funding from foundations is more significant to charities than ever before. The Community Links 10-year funding profile illustrates this vividly.

Whether we like it or not, funding from foundations is more significant to charities than ever before.

For those applying to foundations we might come across as eclectic, often historic organisations that stick to their founding objectives while continuing to respond to need as perceived by our founders – sometimes centuries ago. And it’s true that because most foundations are endowed they can afford to take a long-term perspective.

But because our funding is independent from government and relatively secure, we have the freedom to speak without fear or favour and without being viewed as self-serving. Yet how many of us choose to do so? If we care about the people charities reach, surely we can no longer watch from the sidelines as the time bomb of diminishing public funding ticks loudly. With the shift from local government grants to contracts threatening the very survival of small and local charities, how can we continue to sit quietly?

We have the freedom to speak without fear or favour and without being viewed as self-serving.

If anything, we have a duty to speak out, not just because it matters, but also in the selfish sense that our own funding model relies on it. We are not immune. As foundations, our relationship with public funding is symbiotic. No foundation can afford to fund charities or issues lock stock and barrel. We rely on what I call the “fruitcake” model: foundation icing and marzipan on top of what has been a publicly funded cake. Can we stand and stare as the cake collapses in front of us?


The world we fund has changed, because public funding has changed it. Most of us have never known life without the welfare state. The economic consensus after 1948 cared for all, whatever the politics of the day. Austerity has broken the deal. As a society we now seem content to co-exist with levels of inequality, poverty and injustice that Dickens would recognise.

We should welcome Theresa May’s promise of a ‘country that works for all’. Foundations could and should play an important role in joining our voice along with those shouting about why our country isn’t working for all, how it might and holding Government to account for its promise.

The voluntary sector needs a new deal with government, one that learns from the hollow social reformer rhetoric of Cameron’s coalition and the financial enticements of the last Labour governments, which lured us into transitory dependency. With its alternating feast and famine, government has been a fickle friend.

As foundations with a shared interest in a society that works for all, we can play a unique convening role in renegotiating our terms of trade with government. We can support a voluntary sector that has more self-determination and independence from the state and reset the compass to remember the aspirations of 1948.

As foundations with a shared interest in a society that works for all, we can play a unique convening role in renegotiating our terms of trade with government.

Some of us are beginning to move in this direction. There are great examples: the Trust for London using its 125th anniversary to push for widespread change; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Resolution Foundation are increasingly powerful voices speaking out on poverty. But we need to do more. It’s more important than ever that the foundation sector leads by example. Let 2017 be the year that we’re seen as a sector that is brave, which steps into the ring in the interest of those charities we know are working their socks off to make a real difference to people in need, day in and day out.

It’s more important than ever that the foundation sector leads by example.

In 2017, I’ll be writing more on the role of the wider voluntary sector. Watch this space.