Foundation CEO, Tina Costello, spoke to Fundraising Magazine’s Val Cipriani about empowering local organisations and upscaling grantmaking during coronavirus.
Heart of England Community Foundation was established over 25 years ago on 14 February 1995.
Our main objective is to support local projects and communities across the West Midlands and Warwickshire region. We believe that grassroots organisations, which are often overlooked by national funders, have the knowledge to make a difference in their communities, and aim to give them the power to do so.
Since 1995 the Foundation has awarded more than £25.3m to 6,626 local projects, benefiting an estimated 2.6 million people.
Our yearly grant totals vary depending on funds availability. We have been lucky enough to build some great partnerships with local businesses in the last few years, which have enabled us to increase our grantmaking year-on-year. We have just celebrated our biggest grant-giving year so far: we have awarded more than £5m in 2019/20, distributed through 740 grants.
We offer different grant sizes depending on the donor’s preference, ranging between £100 and £1m.
Last year, we received a total of 939 grant applications and were able to award over 700. We expect applications to have a maximum turnaround of 16 weeks, but the process is often quicker. Part of what makes our approach so impactful is our flexibility. An adaptable grants scheme is key to offer projects and charities the varying levels of support they require, and we can also be agile in how quickly grants are awarded.
Our advice for organisations looking for funding would be to research funders whose values match your own.
Don’t change your project to fit the requirements of the funders. Plan your activities in advance so that you have enough time to research funding and submit applications. Before applying, read the guidance and make sure your organisation or project meets the criteria. If you are a little unsure, check with the funder. A final tip is to make sure your applications are clear, concise and provide as much information as possible.
When we partner with an organisation, we like seeing that our values align.
We choose organisations that complement the Foundation and can help us achieve our goals in supporting the communities in our region. We like to build and develop relationships with our partners, and find that this is important when achieving impact. We do not like seeing partners not being open and honest; instead, it is better when they accept when something is not going as planned and are willing to change tactics if necessary.
During the application process, we support charities by discussing ideas with them.
We connect them to likeminded organisations and providing them with any advice they may need. Once grants have been approved, we give charities the freedom to implement projects as they see fit, although we do keep in touch and arrange a visit within 12 months. At the end of the project, the charity is asked to complete an end-of-grant monitoring form, providing an update its outcome, including challenges, lessons learnt and finances.
We have reacted quickly to the coronavirus pandemic through our Coronavirus Resilience Fund.
Following an urgent appeal in March, we launched the fund to support local projects responding to the emerging issues caused by Covid-19. After reaching out to individuals, businesses and trusts across the region, we raised more than £360,000. We have also received several donations from the National Emergencies Trust. So far, there has been 336 applications and we have awarded more than £500,000 to over 170 charities and projects across the region. We appreciate that in these circumstances the support is needed sooner rather than later, so in some cases we have been turning around applications in as little as a week. Grants range up to £3,000.
Given that many charities will have to change the way they work, we have also launched the Doing Things Differently fund.
It offers grants of up to £20,000 to organisations that need to adapt their service delivery. This could include digitalising services or redeploying staff to meet the changing needs of the community. We are also continuing to work around the clock to secure more donations and award more grants to those in need. These charities are fundamental to our communities and it is critical that we support them through the pandemic.