£60m distributed through community foundations but UKCF CEO warns of looming funding crisis
Rosemary Macdonald, CEO of UK Community Foundations
The National Emergencies Trust Coronavirus Appeal launched on the 18th of March and within a month community foundations had supported well over 2,500 local charities and community organisations that were at the forefront of the community-led response to the pandemic. The phenomenal fundraising efforts of the NET were matched by our network’s ability to precisely distribute funding, drawing on their experience of emergency grant-making, local insight and relationships that have been built over many years.
Without the contributions of staff members, volunteers and donors, hundreds of thousands of people would have been left without access to hospice care, food distribution, mental health support, legal advice and much more. In this time of unprecedented hardship for many, emergency funding has made a huge difference to people’s lives.
By November, we had made nearly 12,000 emergency grants through the NET Coronavirus Appeal totalling £61.7 million. Whilst we rightly celebrate the ability of the NET to raise this money and the capability of our network to get it to where it needed to go, this also reflects the level of demand facing our sector and communities.
What comes next?
Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. What we are hearing loud and clear from our network of community foundations is that local charities across the UK are teetering on a funding cliff edge. Without urgent intervention before the end of the financial year, we can expect many thousands of local charities to be pushed over the precipice.
The infrastructure that developed at a local level to tackle issues like food poverty and loneliness is by and large holding up well in the face of lockdown two. In the most part, this is thanks to the abundance of emergency funding that was made available to help our sector support communities affected by the immediate issues caused by the pandemic.
The tranche of emergency funding made available through the Government’s package of support and other sources requires money to be spent by 31 March (financial year end). This support was crucial to keeping many charities afloat, but with minimal funding available beyond 31 March for operational costs, many are predicting a “slow death” for local charities. This situation is further compounded by the lack of financial reserves to fall back on and the well documented impact the pandemic has had on public fundraising. Even with a successful vaccination programme, we will be well into 2021 before local charities can resume the fundraising activities that so many rely on.
Throughout this crisis we’ve seen funders across the sector adopt the flexible approach needed. Existing grants have been repurposed, application processes have been streamlined, and deadlines have been extended. If we are to build any kind of medium-term financial resilience for local charities, then this common sense philosophy needs to be the norm moving forward. Alongside that, there needs to be a sector-wide shift towards longer term funding that focusses on building organisational capacity and the ability to respond to similarly unexpected crises in the future.
With a vaccine on the horizon we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But we know that the damage this virus has caused will be with us for many years to come and we will need every last bit of support that local charities give to communities. Let’s step back from the cliff edge and start paving the way for local charities to play the vital role they will have on the long road to recovery.
*You can read more about how community foundations have responded to coronavirus here.