Strong relationships, good fun and an awful lot of cake

How funders can make life easier for charities

Rotherfield St Martin took part in our Duty to Care? research project. We asked them about their recent experience of working with trusts and foundations.

Tell us about Rotherfield St Martin

Rotherfield St Martin is a 14-year old community-led organisation aiming to combat isolation and loneliness.

We’re a club for some 225 older citizens from a rural village in Wealden, that offers a range of activities and support – on anything from ‘Knitting & Nattering’ through to volunteer driver schemes and health therapies. We’re run by 100 volunteers who work hard to foster an open and supportive environment underpinned by strong relationships, good fun and an awful lot of cake.

What has changed about your work over the past five years?

In the past few years, we’ve noticed two key changes in our environment that affect the way we operate.

First, the statutory sector is increasingly turning to the voluntary sector to fill in the gaps left by its model of care. This means that we’ve had to develop our networks and become more deeply rooted in our local area – we’re now partners to the District Council, the NHS and other collaborative stakeholder groups, but we still often find ourselves running upstream to resolve issues quickly.

Second, what’s happening with some of the big charities is causing a ripple effect. We’ve noticed a concerning change in people’s attitudes towards charities in general, and a few very public cases have led to higher expectations of transparency and professionalisation.

Have you changed anything about the way you work – and how you work with trusts and foundations – in response to this?

In this context, and following a change in CEO, we’ve gone through a process of organisational development and formalisation: we’ve changed from an unincorporated organisation to a CIO and put in policies around safeguarding to ensure we protect ourselves against this backdrop of increased transparency and accountability for charities.

Another challenge for us is income generation and fundraising – particularly as we work in a village of 4000 people and there is competition with other community groups. At the moment we very much depend on independent fundraisers, but trusts and foundations also fit well within our culture and long-term approach. They can see we’re growing and strengthening ourselves, which bolsters existing relationships and allows us to pursue those funding avenues. We’re also looking at other ways to generate income – like legacy funding or a regular giving programme – but for now we’re focusing on building strong, long-term relationships.

What could trusts and foundations do differently to make your life easier?

For us, stable, multi-year funding would make the biggest difference, as it would create some space for longer-term thinking and enable us to develop a sustainable funding model.

It would also be helpful to have a closer local-level dialogue between the public sector and the people delivering services on the ground – it’s positive that public agencies are looking to work ever more closely with us, but they need to understand that small charities only have enough in reserves to keep going for 3-6 months.

Finally, independent funders need to realise what a crucial role they play, as this could lead to making the application process quicker and easier, which would make us stronger and more resilient.

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