The London Community Foundation (LCF) connects people who need help with those who are willing to give. Last year alone the organisation helped an estimated 100,000 Londoners with 1,041 grants made through over £6 million of funding. Victoria Warne, Deputy CEO and Director of Programmes at LCF shares her views on their experiences working with public bodies and community groups.
The voluntary and charity sectors have always played a crucial role in helping local authorities deliver programmes of work. This has never been truer than today, because they are increasingly being relied upon to fill gaps in services left by reductions to public funding.
Charities have a huge amount to offer public sector bodies and vice-versa. The Third Sector does a great job of staying in touch with the communities they support and they understand people’s needs and aspirations. Community leaders and those who set charities and community groups often have first-hand experience of the challenges involved having themselves been impacted by the issues they are trying to help others deal with or overcome.
At the London Community Foundation, we connect local organisations with social aims to those who wish to support their local communities, including companies, public bodies and individuals.
We have 20 years’ experience in supporting communities in London this way and have facilitated around £50 million in grant funding to date. Our partners include companies such as Land Securities, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan, individual donors, the Cabinet Office, NHS, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and local councils.
Collaboration in action
Most recently, we have been working with NHS Lambeth to help develop a relationship and dialogue with smaller voluntary organisations in Lambeth and demonstrate what they are delivering in terms of health and wellbeing benefits.
At the same time, we are helping these organisations to understand in what ways they are already meeting some of NHS Lambeth’s key objectives; though they may not know they are doing it. Schemes to tackle isolation and loneliness, for example, could in the long-term help reduce A&E visits or repeated calls to GPs. To improve collaboration, KPI and setting ROI monitoring is key. Our experience of working with community organisations has shown that by supporting people to feel part of a community, develop social connections and support networks they can improve their own health and wellbeing.
We have worked with the Mayor’s Office Policing and Crime to deliver programmes for victims of crime, supporting community groups and charities across London to better support victims, for example those affected by hate crime, violent crime and domestic abuse. We’ve also worked in partnership with Lambeth Council over a number of years to develop the Lambeth Community Fund, also attracting support from a range of donors from companies to private individuals. This is an endowed fund for local people and will work in perpetuity to support local projects.
Collaborations like these can be very fruitful for both parties, but there are a few golden rules for success. Everyone needs to come to the table with an open mind and they should be ready for open dialogue. Flexibility is key, so everyone has to be ready to adapt how they work to find the best fit.
It’s important to recognise your organisation’s limitations and where other parties have strengths, and it’s about keeping an open mind and a willingness to engage on an equal footing. We’ve been lucky that all of our partners are willing to engage and develop a dialogue with the voluntary sector – there is so much to be gained from joint working between the voluntary and public sector and this is something we’d like to see and do more of in the future.
Learning from trial and error
With any collaborative project there is an element of trial and error. It’s wrong to expect a partnership to ‘just work’ and the best projects take time to work well, especially when you’re bringing together groups from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Generally speaking, I think it’s important to keep experimenting and taking risks. The loss of Kids Company has caused some people to become more risk averse when working with the voluntary sector, which is a shame. . Focus is important, as is value for money, but mindful experimentation is a critical part of growing.
The key is to keep the needs of the community (shared vision) at the forefront of the process. Where is the impact and how can people and organisations come together to enhance it?
Measurement is another important factor at play. There has been a lot of movement in the sector in the last three-to-four years in terms of demonstrating impact Smaller groups in particular find this a challenge but there are some simple ways to do it.
Success is not just about numbers
It’s important to get the right blend of qualitative and quantitative data, because numbers don’t adequately demonstrate impact on their own.
How to capture the learning will be different in each circumstance. It could be monitoring and reporting, drawing on conversations with stakeholders as well as case studies from the people who have benefitted.
In larger-scale programmes the process of evaluation will be more complex, with internal and external testing and set targets for success. Collating feedback from staff on delivery and learning gained, feedback from beneficiaries on their progress, capturing their position at the start and end of a programme, perhaps using widely available tools such as the Outcomes Stars or Wheel of Wellbeing.
Crucially, when granting to community organisations, funding for monitoring and evaluation should be included in the grant. It’s important to recognise the time it takes for community organisations, many of which are volunteer-led, to collect data and report on their work.
I think the right blend involves setting realistic targets at the beginning, then providing a mixture of numbers and case studies to demonstrate impact. Set unrealistic targets at the start and everyone is left disappointed at the end.
In general, I think there is huge potential for public and voluntary sector partnerships and their numbers will continue to grow. We will see more consortiums develop and more people coordinating services in order to win public sector contracts.
There will be a lot of learning in this area over the next couple of years, but the challenges around the cost of delivering services will provide a big incentive to look for new solutions. Organisations (both public and voluntary) that are open and prepared to cooperate and engage will find themselves in high demand.