Collaborating for grassroots impact

March 10, 2022


minute read
Simon Travers
Learning Champion, Plymouth Octopus (POP)

In June 2021, Frontier Economics reported an estimate that “a £1 million investment in community-led social infrastructure in a left-behind area could generate approximately £1.2 million of fiscal benefits and £2 million of social and economic benefits over a ten-year period.” Grassroots impact in the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector is real and has power to bring change. Funders are attracted to the kind of impact that investment in community-led social infrastructure can offer, but they struggle to reach it.

That struggle is rooted in entrenched, unfair funding systems that dominate the VCSE sector. The NCVO Almanac states that nationwide, 80% of voluntary organisations are small or micro in size. However, these organisations only get 4-5% of available funding. Only 805 organisations have a turnover of above £1 million, but they receive over 80% of the sector’s income and spending.

In a place like Plymouth, where around 17.5% of the population live in the top 10% most deprived local authority districts in England, that matters. Plymouth is a resilient city, full of creative individuals and organisations working with energy, aspiration, and a desire for meaningful change. However, the New Economics Foundation report that ‘the vast number of grassroots groups and organisations in Plymouth are under £50,000 turnover.’ The voluntary organisations that know our city best are vulnerable to being left isolated and under-resourced. In a world designed for economies of scale, small is beautiful, but never easy.

When dealing with small and micro charities, funders find it challenging to reach out in cost-effective ways.

Simon Travers
Learning Champion, POP

There is a growing national consensus on the direction of travel needed for funding models to become more open, participatory, and, most importantly, capable of sustaining collaborative action. The solutions needed involve risk. When dealing with small and micro charities, funders find it challenging to reach out in cost-effective ways. It feels safer to try to mitigate risk with disproportionately rigid grants or create artificial competition that centralises the power and role of the funder.

Ironically, those approaches mean funders miss out as much as small and micro charities. Real change will look like funders at the forefront of creating significant localised, collaborative impact, challenging systemic inequalities, and nurturing a new generation of innovative voices and approaches from diverse backgrounds.

At POP, we do not want to strike the pose of the teacher who tuts and writes ‘could do better’ on the funding communities’ school report. What we want to say is that in the past five years, as a place-based pilot working with Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, we have trialled and tested new methods of funding to explore what works in our setting. POP is not the finished article, but we offer a living example with practical evidence of the possibilities of collaborating for grassroots impact.

In Plymouth, an estimate of grassroots impact is not a theoretical proposition. It looks like health costs saved through workshops that build confidence in people to overcome lockdown anxiety. It looks like asylum seekers and refugees able to settle and contribute to city life more efficiently because there are organisations working together that can purchase them essential items. It looks like small environmental groups growing a significant voice in the city because they have the time, trust, and training to promote each other. Each of these examples come from collaborations resourced by the POP Collectives Fund.

Working in relationship with the Plymouth VCSE community, we have identified three key conditions that enable funders to collaborate for grassroots impact.

·  VALUES – Shared values are the engine of healthy collaboration and a precious form of capital to small and micro organisations.

·  PLACE – Place based funding means funders coming from the same place, either geographic or social, as those they fund. Funders need to see themselves as collaborators.

·  COLLABORATION – Funders need a wider lens than a single project or a small organisation. Invest in collaborative ecosystems and grassroots will behave like grassroots; clumping, spreading, binding, and proliferating together.

We aim to explore each of these key conditions in more detail to foster the conversations that build relationships and share values with like-minded organisations.

Get involved

If you are interested in collaborative place-based funding, visit POP's collaboration opportunity on the Funders Collaborative Hub to find out how you can get involved

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