Funding stories: How one grassroots community project got going

Jess Farr was Sustainable Funding Officer at NCVO. She left in September 2012, but we have retained her blog posts for reference.

Following on from last month’s funding story, we’ve put together this video case study on how small charity Bold Vision successfully gained financial and in-kind support to build a community meeting space.

With local services being cut, the argument still rages over whether there is a genuine appetite within communities to start running their own services and spaces. We’ve picked Bold Vision as a case study because it is an excellent example of a community coming together to do precisely this, despite having limited access to grant funding.

Whether by choice or necessity, some communities are already thinking about whether they can provide some of their own services on a voluntary basis. This case study picks up on a few of the possibilities and issues anyone thinking about setting up their own community resource may need to consider.

Cooking up a project from scratch

Bold Vision’s founders say that the project began life as an attitude more than a project – a general call for local residents to get involved and invest their time and energy in their neighbourhood. This sounds simple, but is famously hard to achieve – do you know enough about what makes your community tick? And do you feel confident in your ability to find out? This can be particularly hard to achieve in urban neighbourhoods that can have a high population turnover and fragmented communities of interest.

Bold Vision made sure that they found out what people in the area wanted by getting people to take part in a survey before asking for funding. Their decision to build a community space was driven by survey responses that proved people in the area felt there was a need for it. This helped with their initial application for funding, but also established solid foundations for active community participation in the project once it got the go ahead.

Get creative

Although not yet completed, the Pathways through Participation research project has demonstrated some great participatory exercises that creatively map how people feel about their communities.

The founders of Bold Vision recruited people creatively from the start by setting up social events or inviting locals to participate in public artworks, like the Fabric of Society project. Inviting people to invest creative time and energy into their local area in this way meant that once a suitable property was identified, it was relatively easy to find volunteers willing to help transform it into a functioning community space.

Resource-raising

As a volunteer-led organisation Bold Vision has had to rely on good will and part-time hours to organise and fund its building work. The board estimates that they saved around 50% refurbishment costs in opening up the space by asking local residents to contribute through ‘sweat equity’ or in-kind gifts. A lot of thought has been put into how volunteers are recognised for their contribution, and each volunteer is named on Bold Vision’s thank you page, alongside each of the project’s financial donors.

Often well intentioned in-kind gifts can be viewed with a certain amount of wariness – not every gift is welcome or needed! By asking locals to give very specific things (building expertise, specific pieces of equipment etc), Bold Vision managed to ‘resource-raise’ really well, and save their fundraised income for things they knew they couldn’t get in-kind.

In her report From Fundraising to Resource-Raising, Caroline Beaumont points out that donors increasingly want to get involved with the projects they support financially in other ways. If you can set up mechanisms that source, support, and value non-financial donations, you will be able to use your supporters’ enthusiasm to best effect, in addition to saving your much needed cash.

Fundraising

As well as asking for in-kind donations of time and equipment for the café, Bold Vision’s new space was planned and set up using four ‘planks’ of funding –

  1. Asking local people to invest through the a donor scheme called Bold Backers
  2. Running social fundraising events like pantomimes or quizzes
  3. Applying for grant aid
  4. Generating income through café sales and hiring space out to other community groups

Each of these income streams has its own strengths and weaknesses (explored in our income streams web resource) and demonstrates a mixed model of funding that makes this small initiative less exposed to drops in one form of income – for instance, lack of available grants. It’s still early days for the project, but having a variety of potential income sources to draw on make it more likely to be sustainable in the long run.

Where next?

Having set up this first space, Bold Vision are now concerning themselves with supporting other projects that will benefit the local area, including a community garden and a volunteer run library. The charity is also keeping one eye on the Localism Bill, and is hoping to turn the community space they hire at a peppercorn rate from the council into a full-blown asset transfer.

Perhaps inevitably, one of the main issues the board is facing is its ability to manage the growth of the project. Because the coordination of Bold Vision’s growing number of volunteers is such a demanding task, the charity is considering hiring a staff member to take it on. This issue highlights one of the tensions evident in the Big Society vision of entirely volunteer run services, as even with a willing and able community of part-time volunteers, managing those volunteers can often be a full time job in itself.

Bold Vision has built a successful grassroots project through thoughtful community participation, and continued involvement of those people and resources they have nurtured from the start will be vital to their long term sustainability.

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