Louise Mitchell: Lessons from a fundraising challenge

Raising money in these cash-strapped times requires determination, co-operation and a willingness to face the skeletons in your closet.

How do you raise more than £43m in less than three years to transform a tired concert hall outside London against a backdrop of a cash-strapped local authority and government spending cuts?

The answer is with difficulty and determination. The doors of Colston Hall, Bristol’s central  music venue, have just closed and performances are going ‘outside’ until 2020 so the people in hard hats can move in. The past three years have taught us a huge amount about local and national politics, the power of history and the labyrinth of government funding. We have emerged not unscathed, but definitely wiser.

The first lesson was to make sure you have the full and undivided support of your trustees – this isn’t always a given. We got off to a poor start when our first bids to the Arts Council and Heritage Lottery Fund were turned down.  At that point our trustees could have wobbled at the thought of a long hard battle ahead. But they didn’t, and that first board meeting after the depressing news was one of the most energized and focused we have ever had.

We live in austere times but I say this by way of encouragement. Actually, everyone is feeling the pressure and I’ve had fantastic personal support from peers, even when we’re competing for the same pot of money.

You also have to gain support from across the political spectrum if the project is to span a number of years. As the figures at the head of local government and national departments change, you have to re-tell your story so many times it is easy to fall in to the trap of sounding like a parrot asking for money. So keep your message fresh and relevant.

Be prepared for skeletons not just to fall out the closet but come back to life. The hall’s name became a much more highly charged issue than we could ever have imagined. We are named after (but never funded by) the 17th century Bristolian businessman and philanthropist Edward Colston whose business, basically, was the slave trade.

It’s not that we did not know the name was controversial. It had long been on the agenda to examine its appropriateness for the new venue. But we weren’t prepared for the media interest that put us at the heart of the whole debate around the legacy of Colston and the slave trade.

In hindsight, we could have been more proactive in dealing with the issue head on and engaging more with the communities and local leaders about our desire to change.

It’s also important not to lean too hard on your team on the ground. My team were not just running a major fundraising campaign, they had a “business as usual” day job to manage. Keeping the team motivated is one of the key challenges, even if that means being economical with the truth for fear of demotivating them – difficult as that may be.

Sometimes the best option is to get external help and objective advice from people who aren’t bogged down in the weeds of the issues. Despite some reservations, we engaged experts who knew a lot more than us about how to persuade government departments to part with their cash. You only have 24 hours in a day, use them on what you do best.

Finally, always say thank you. You never know who your friends could be so it’s important to make every conversation count, and to remember how they’ve helped once you have their support. The pledges we’ve had, large and small, are a commitment to us over a lengthy project. On that point, special thanks to my team and our good friend and former politician Simon Cook for the way he kept the flame alight even when it felt like the lights had gone out.

Now the next exciting challenge lies ahead – delivering what we’ve promised.

Louise Mitchell is chief executive of the Bristol Music Trust, which runs Colston Hall

The Human Rights Act- Share your views

To mark twenty years since the signing of the Human Rights Act, the Joint Committee on Human Rights wants to hear your views on the effectiveness of the Act.

The big issue

On 9 November 1998 the Human Rights Act was made an official law by Parliament. The aim of the Act was to ‘bring rights home’, making it easier for individuals to assert their rights through the UK legal system, rather than through the European Court of Human Rights. Since the Act was passed, society has seen rapid changes including global migration, increased security concerns and the rise of the internet.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights want to find out how effective the Humans Right Act has been at bringing ‘rights home’ and whether the Act has been able to adapt to rapid changes in society.

How can you help?
Send a written submission on the inquiry webpage.

Your answers don’t have to be long and they don’t have to cover all of the questions – even if you only feel able to answer one question, we want to hear from you.
Questions include:
Has the Human Rights Act improved individual rights in the UK, rather than requiring individuals to go to the European Court of Human Rights for justice? If so, has this improved citizen’s lives?
Has the Human Rights Act been capable of adapting to changing times?
Has there been a shift of power from Parliament to the judiciary? If so, has this had a meaningful impact?
Are there any improvements that could be made to the Human Rights Act?
What future challenges need to be addressed through the framework of the Human Rights Act?
The full call for evidence is on the Committee’s webpage

Send us your views by Friday 14 September 2018.

Large charities must choose not to compete with smaller ones

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said that it is down to large organisations to “rewrite the story” and choose not to compete for service delivery contracts.

In an article published by Civil Exchange in its new book Insights for A Better Way: improving services and building strong communities, the former chief executive of Women’s Aid wrote that large charities have a role play in rebalancing the awarding of public service contracts.

She wrote that due to the “twin axioms of the current government – austerity and localism”, national lobbying will not “achieve protection for local, independent organisations”.

She said that national lobbying can produce a short-term injection of funds which, Neate acknowledged, is “a massive success in this day and age”, but it “won’t lower the playing field”.

Neate said: “So it’s up to the large organisations themselves to rewrite this story: to choose not to compete. To choose not to win, even though they can.”

About ‘something more’

Writing about public service contracts, and the impact they have had on women’s refuges, which have historically lost contracts to larger charities or housing associations – between 2010 and 2015, “one in six independent refuges were lost” – she said that there is a question at the heart of this principle of “is the charity sector about service delivery at the most competitive price? Or is it something more?”

She said that large organisations who have won refuge contracts “probably didn’t see the future of the charity sector as a factor in their decision to bid, or indeed as their responsibility. But they should.”

Neate added: “Quite apart from the question of whether the new ‘provider’ is as good as the old (which of course depends what you measure), there’s another question which all of civil society must consider: what sort of sector do we want to be part of, and whose responsibility is it to create it?

“We had better be happy with the demise of small, local, activist-led organisations, because that’s where we are headed.”

– See more at: https://www.civilsociety.co.uk/news/national-lobbying-will-not-achieve-protection-for-local-independent-organisations.html#sthash.f0ErvlvJ.dpuf

Charity Commission reform vital for civil society strategy to work

The government’s plan could have a massive, positive impact on the sector, but we must be honest about what’s needed.

The government has just closed consultation on its plan to help create a stronger civil society in the UK. It’s an opportunity for the social and charitable sector to make demands of legislators while looking at itself and being honest about what it can do better for the causes, people and places it serves.

By Nathan Yeowell

We at New Philanthropy Capital have made 21recommendations on the civil society strategy across a wide range of topics, but there are a couple of key things the government could do to make a massive, positive impact on the sector.

First, reform the Charity Commission. It is an organisation full of dedicated people, but is straining under the weight of limited resources and an increasingly conflicted remit. It should be the regulator the sector needs, not its cheerleader. The sector should investigate whether the support it offers charities should be spun out into a new, independent organisation dedicated to sector-led improvement.

We also think what the commission regulates should change. It is too focused on financial stability and organisational survival at the expense of whether charities are having an impact for beneficiaries. We want to see a toughening up of annual impact reporting as part of the commission’s processes. Many charities already do this, but many don’t – if we can get them seriously thinking about their impact, the people they serve stand to benefit.

Second, start thinking about place. Austerity means the shape and scope of local public services need to be radically re-thought. Success will depend on a new partnership between the public, private and social sectors. We believe this is best done locally – so devolving budgets to those who know where to spend them is necessary for a more impactful civil society.

It’s not enough to change where services are commissioned – how they are commissioned must change too. Our research shows that 64% of charities involved in government contracting need to subsidise the contracts with income from other work. The Social Value Act should allow commissioners to accept more expensive bids from organisations offering added value over the long-term, but this is not happening. Government needs to strengthen the act to make it useful to commissioners who are concerned to demonstrate their decisions have created value for money.

While it is important that Whitehall is a supportive friend, it is also important that the sector leads through its own initiatives. In a difficult world, we must up our game.

In answer to pressured services, philanthropic bodies need to be strategic and impact-focused about the donations they make, coordinating their grant-making to tackle difficult social problems. Making this happen will require greater transparency around where grants are going, and we strongly support initiatives from within the sector, such as 360 Giving.

Will we see action out of this strategy? As is clear from our recommendations, many issues will need to be addressed by the whole government, not just the Office for Civil Society or Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The question is, do Tracey Crouch, the minister for sport and civil society, and Matt Hancock, the digital, culture, media and sport secretary, have the clout to bring them to the top table of a government at war over Brexit? Stranger things have happened.

Whatever the case, relying on government is a risk. Charities should be thinking about how they can make their submissions to the strategy a reality themselves.

  • Nathan Yeowell is head of policy at New Philanthropy Capital

Source: Guardian Voluntary Sector Online

Stand Out From The Crowd For Funding Success

When it comes to grant funding, we’re all guilty of ploughing the same furrow, especially if it has reaped dividends in the past. It’s a tough funding environment, there are still £billions in grant funding available but there are over 165,000 other organisations in the voluntary sector vying for that same funding. To be successful you need to think about how to stand out from the crowd.

Understand the landscape your project operates in

We can all be a bit insular at times. We know why our organisation and the projects we work on are needed; after all we speak to our beneficiaries all the time, and we care about our work.

But do we regularly stop and give ourselves space to think about how our work fits into the wider external environment?

To make the most of funding opportunities we need to know the motivation behind them. Do your stakeholder analysis. Get to know:

  • funders who fund your type of projects. What are their aims and priorities right now?
  • what’s going on in your area – from your location to your part of the sector?
  • what are the needs of other local and/or similar organisations?
  • what are the hot topics that politicians and the media are talking about?

The environment around us is constantly changing. We need to know and understand the latest trends so we’re best placed to take advantage of them.

Visit the support and advice section on Funding Central for more information.

Match funding opportunities to your priorities – rather than the other way around

If we are honest, when times are tight we’ve all chased funding that probably wasn’t right. But let’s say it again and then again louder: don’t get distracted by funding that’s not right for your project. It’s going to waste a lot of your time and not really deliver on what’s important to your organisation (therefore your beneficiaries).

Your organisation has a vision, a mission and strategy for what you want to deliver, stick to that.

Of course you’ll want to explore new areas and projects but if they start falling outside your organisation’s scope then you need to have a fresh look at your strategy and see if it needs to change to help bring some focus.

Look for different types of funding opportunities

If you rely on one funder or one income stream, the effect of any changes to that income can be disastrous for your organisation and your beneficiaries. We know only too well that it’s hard work to replace funding for a project completely funded by one income stream.

Diversification is key to a sustainable future, so mix it up when it comes to income streams and to funders.

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