Incentivising philanthropy: A sustainable approach to supporting the voluntary sector

Fabian French took up the role of CEO at UK Community Foundations (UKCF) in March 2015. A trustee of three charities and an active fundraiser for many local causes near his home in Oxford, he is keenly aware of  the challenges faced by the voluntary sector.

Fabian French UKCF
Fabian French, CEO of UK Community Foundations (UKCF)

In its manifesto, A bigger difference: Realising the potential of voluntary organisations and volunteers, NCVO has recognised the importance of creating a positive culture of giving. In particular, it has called on the government to continue a match-funding programme to encourage local giving via community-focused foundations. NCVO and UKCF know that by maximising the voluntary sector’s contribution we are better positioned to ensure that the work that charities and community groups carry out can be done so as part of a collective effort, where communities are supported by a robust and collaborative third sector.

Back in 2010, shortly after his ascent to power, David Cameron launched the Big Society ­­– a vision in which volunteers, groups and communities would take responsibility for community projects, man library desks, and reclaim public space.

The vision was widely met with disdain, with some claiming the idea was all about saving money. However, Cameron was certainly not wrong about the passion that communities have for co-creating valuable networks and resources for others in their area. Since starting as CEO at UKCF earlier this month, I have heard endless stories of driven individuals across the UK spending their time, and very often their money, to ensure that others who live near them are cared for.

Creativity is key

However, where the Big Society may have suffered over the last ten years is with the assumption that these networks and individuals can flourish independently of the public sector. Community groups don’t thrive in isolation and the cuts in funding over the last five years have certainly taken their toll. A booming voluntary sector benefits everyone and, whoever takes office this May, the political hot potato of ‘cutting the deficit’ isn’t going to go away. The question remains: how do we make sure individuals doing great community work continue to feel empowered and enabled while recognising the need for prudent public spending? The answer is to ensure that government funding is creative. And creative funding for charities often means using resources to encourage meaningful philanthropy.

Incentivising giving

Donors to community foundations want to feel their money is supporting causes they care about over the long term, and with the largest possible impact. They know that by encouraging additional philanthropy, they can create bigger and more sustainable resources for communities. And this philosophy should not just apply to private money.

By encouraging philanthropy through policies that incentivise giving – such as match challenges or seed funding for philanthropic ventures – government can be strategic about their approach to social issues. Such strategic policy-making and funding could, over the long term, leverage millions more from those donors across the UK who are willing and able to play a part in making our country a better place to live and work.

Quiet success

As much as I’d love to claim this is my great idea, the truth is that over the last four years the government has started treading this path already. The coalition government has quietly allocated over £40m to a scheme called Community First, designed, simply, to encourage other people to do the same. And it worked – £70m has been donated by members of the public and businesses, resulting in a fund of £110m available for communities across England over the long term. Needless to say the government are delighted with the result – that’s quite a return on their investment.

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This money has been invested into an endowment fund and a percentage will be granted each year to those small frontline community groups and charities that frequently relieve pressure from key public services. This quiet and unassuming match programme, backed by the UK Government, has been a roaring success.

A shared responsibility

We are delighted that NCVO has recognised the worth of Community First and, in its manifesto A Bigger Difference, has called for government to continue such a match funding programme. In UKCF’s own manifesto for community philanthropy we acknowledge that it is the responsibility of both the sector and the government to make giving easy and impactful, and to demonstrate it as such, in order to capitalise on the strong sense of community, empathy and charity that already exists.

We hope to work with the next government on another successful collaboration on behalf of local communities.

Fabian French


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