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Rethinking accountability in philanthropy

How accountable are you to the individuals and groups that you are set up to support? Not very, according to Power and Trust, recently published by Grant Givers’ Movement, which found that ‘foundations are most accountable to their board, and least accountable to end beneficiaries’. And what does it mean to factor accountability into the way in which grants and grant programmes are designed and implemented? These are questions that are frequently asked of funders, and that funders are increasingly asking of themselves.


I spoke to Jo Wells, Director of The Blagrave Trust, to understand more about their approach to remaining responsive and accountable to the needs of those that they are set up to serve – in their case, young people between 14 and 25.  Jo described three key ways in which Blagrave have tried to shift accountability to young people, building on the approach described in Changing the Story, and ‘driven by the strong values we hold: inclusive, collaborative, progressive’. This evolution began with conversations with young people themselves, ‘who are challenging the very notion of charity as paternalistic and deficit based: that’s one reason we started to invest directly in young people themselves’. And, at its core, is a belief that accountability must cut across everything that you do – what you fund, your governance and the way in which you deliver your grant programmes: ‘it cannot be about just one of these things at one point in time. It’s about a different culture, and an intentional shift that acknowledges this is a different way of working and that means we have to be willing to go in new and different directions, with young people involved at every stage, in every process’.


  1. Through reforming Blagrave’s governance and leadership.


Specific reforms have included putting young people with lived experience of the issues Blagrave funds directly on the Board (‘we have four trustees under 25 now, plus a fairly young chair [34] and finance trustee [32]’). This inclusivity has supported a move away from having a more formal Board: ‘formality doesn’t always lend itself to an open and honest conversation’. Board members are not all experts in a given field, and five are first time trustees; rather, ‘they are coming to solve problems and learn together alongside the staff team’. Blagrave also uses its influence to encourage changes to Board composition in the wider sector through the Young Trustees Movement. Other practical steps to reform approaches to decision-making include setting up a new youth-led fund, ‘Challenge and Change’, and continuing to actively grow their own direct network of young people from whom they learn.


  1. Through what Blagrave funds


The Opportunity Fund, and Challenge and Change are both new initiatives to fund young people directly, ‘enabling them to lead change – surely the most direct way to express accountability for our mission’. This work builds on The Listening Fund, which supports the youth sector to listen and act upon what young people have to say about their own needs and ideas for support. And their focus and design ‘establishes a direct line of accountability between young people and ourselves as a funder, removing the role of charities as their gate keepers’. Blagrave’s blog series of provocations on power, voice and listening gives a flavour of some of the myriad of factors that relate to young people’s stake in decision making processes, including the need to really listen to the voices of different groups of young people with varied experiences, needs and interests: ‘young people are not a homogenous group’. In the words of Hot Chocolate Trust, a Listening Fund Scotland partner in Dundee, ‘listening is at the heart of what we do. “Who are you? What are your stories? What are your hopes? fears? needs? ambitions? What do you want to do? What can we build together?”  These questions continue to be the bedrock of the work we do. We firmly believe that the young people are the experts of their own experiences, and that their voices must be at the very heart of both our everyday, and strategic, practice.’


  1. Through how Blagrave works


Since 2015, Blagrave’s application process has been stripped back in order to not consume organisational time demonstrating accountability to Blagrave, but rather to focus on social mission.  Applicants are asked one question relating to how they involve young people in their work, and are accountable to them. Young people themselves are paid as ‘Young Advisors’ to shape the design of Challenge and Change, and are currently shortlisting and making the final funding decisions. The next phase of The Listening Fund will recruit 10-12 further Young Advisors to shape the work over three years and to help hold the funders to account.  Where necessary, Blagrave works with other organisations, like the Centre for Knowledge Equity, ‘to help facilitate our programmes so that we are one step further removed from power and influence and really embedding principles of equity and inclusivity in how we work’. And, at all stages of their process, there is a commitment to feedback – gathering it anonymously then publishing it on their website; as well as providing it to all applicants, including those organisations or individuals that they don’t fund. In the case of the Challenge and Change fund, those young people whose projects are not funded will still be invited to be part of the Challenge and Change network and provided with network development opportunities.


For Blagrave, ‘it’s important to stay humble, acknowledge that you won’t always get it right and that there is always more to do’. Jo and her team see their approach to accountability as akin to movement building – actively seeking out and collaborating with others who support their ethos, while at the same time recognising the scale of the task: ‘it requires an iterative process of trial and error. And you need to continue to sit, listen and learn’.



How can small charities be heard?

We recently hosted a conversation for small charities with those who fund and support them, to explore their social change role over the next 12-18 months. This was partly to build on our recent publication of Small charities and social change, a study which describes the approaches of 11 small charities to advocacy; and partly because through our work in response to Covid-19, we’re hearing a lot about the need to strengthen the sector’s collective voice: ‘We have to have some real conversations. We’re lots of voices, collective voices, but we’re being drowned out with all the noise’.

The pandemic has presented many and varied challenges for small charities – and uncertainty is now part of the new normal. Alongside this, we have all been affected by the events that followed the killing of George Floyd – the protests, the debates, the anger, the pain, the calls to action. Profound questions are being asked about diversity, equality and inclusion – these need to be front of mind as we turn our attention to the process of recovery and renewal out of the crisis that we have been living through.

We were privileged to hear from four people with different experiences of social change: Raheel Mohammad, Director of Maslaha; Christopher Stacey, Co-Director of Unlock; Debbie Pippard, Director of Programmes at Barrow Cadbury Trust; and George Barrow, Civil Servant at The Ministry of Justice.

Seven things stood out from their reflections and the discussions that followed:

  1. ‘Covid-19 has pulled back the curtain and demonstrated the number of people that have been marginalised’ by previously unfair and closed decision-making processes. Small and medium charities undertaking social change work have to look at ways in which they can link up with other groups who are led by and/or represent individuals and groups whose voices and experiences are going unheard.


  1. ‘Majority white-led organisations do not have the specialist knowledge or expertise to understand how certain social issues affect communities of colour.’ Work to unpack and respond to the experiences of communities of colour must be led by or run in partnership with them so that it ‘registers emotion, vulnerability, heritage, culture and religion’. If this social change work is being carried out ‘through partnerships between black and brownled and white-led and organisations’, it is most effective when based around something tangible: ‘it’s in the action that you open up new parameters and new horizons’.


  1. Ensure that you are actively and demonstratively accountable to the individuals, groups and communities you are advocating on behalf of. We must avoid being the creators or perpetuators of ‘artificial examples of good practice’, only putting forward solutions for policy and practice that are based on the genuine experience and voice of those you represent Always ask yourself: ‘Do you know what good looks like?’ for a particular group or community.


  1. Collaboration is essential, particularly between large and small charities. Larger charities are often more likely to have a seat at the table and have their voices heard, and they have the time and capacity to engage in decision making processes. But small charities tend to have the proximity to lived experience and in-depth knowledge of how policy and practice plays out on the ground.


  1. We must continue to work both inside and outside of the system. For example, building relationships with local and national government, but also being willing to mobilise and challenge where necessary. Recognise that it’s about understanding what is the most appropriate and effective strategy for the change you are seeking to influence at a given point in time.


  1. When attempting to influence central government policy or legislation, there are three things it is useful to keep in mind. First, develop personal relationships with key civil servants, or work in partnership with an organisation who can build or has these relationships. Second, work together in loose networks: ‘If you’re all on the same page we do get the message’. Third, understand that government moves slowly, so being able to commit and be in it for the long term is important. Small charities also have a very important role to play in being able to bring the ‘corporate memory’ on certain social policy issues and previously tried and tested solutions.


  1. More funders need to commit to funding social change work and understand what it takes to fund this kind of work. Be willing to fund over an extended period of time, stick with social change processes for the long term, and allow those doing social change work the freedom and opportunism to act in a responsive and adaptive way. More work may need to be done with trustees of trusts and foundations to help them to understand the importance of investing in social change work alongside service delivery.


You can read more about how and why small charities are challenging, shaping and changing policy, practice and attitudes here.

Civic and community action in times of crisis

The outbreak of the coronavirus in the UK presents a shock that is without precedent for most of us. It is disrupting nearly all aspects of social and economic life in poorer nations and across the developed world. This disruption exposes what the philosopher Judith Butler calls the ‘precarity’ of contemporary social and economic life. However, its meaning may now stretch far beyond those who have faced ‘traditional’ discrimination, marginalisation and poverty. In the current context, massive state intervention combined with international co-operation and the actions of civil – and civic – society are all critical to mitigating the precarity we all face.


Community and voluntary action, interwoven with sharing and analysing our learning, has a critical role to play in this situation. For example, within days of the outbreak near to me there were individuals, small community groups and co-operatives that had started initiatives to keep in touch with those isolated or vulnerable: to arrange delivery of essential supplies, to organise support services, to provide language translation for marginal groups and to make links with statutory services. They (or more accurately ‘we’) utilised our pre-existing informal communal structures built up from trust (and sometimes from disagreements!) over many years. And no, we didn’t have a constitution or a board of trustees! So, this rapid response could be understood as a latent community resource, what Adalbert Evers called ‘civicness’ – a sense of our civic role within our social and political culture.


In these emergency settings – where the system is destabilised – some of the traditional institutional ‘machinery’ of grant funding to community groups (outputs, outcomes, indicators, policies, theory of change, value for money, staff profiles, 30 page evaluation reports) gets temporarily put on the back seat. Professor Peter Checkland, the amiable systems guru, once cheerfully pointed out in a seminar that when the system breaks down – whether due to disaster, war or revolution – systems theory and normal rules do not function.


When the system breaks down – whether due to disaster, war or revolution – systems theory and normal rules do not function. 


Arguably, many small and medium-sized community and co-operative organisations throughout the country are continually working with people in distress who are facing multiple disadvantages – where there are no ‘normal’ rules. This might be with vulnerable women asylum seekers, or people without a secure home, or young people facing violence and drug gangs on the streets. In such settings, we might argue that local support systems are sparse or non-existent. The organisations working in these contexts may be doing a tough job, working with poor people with big problems, and they don’t have the cute structures and smooth procedures of the well oiled, three tier charity based in Carlton Square Mews.


Anyone who’s done a short course in voluntary sector management comes across Di Maggio and Powell’s ‘The Iron Cage’ and the stream of analysis since then. It’s an idea, going back to Weber, that organisations working in the same field tend to get more homogenous. If two or three fast food joints have a two-for-one deal, pretty soon every other take away parlour in town will be doing something pretty similar. This doesn’t necessarily make them any better at their job. And local community organisations, in particular, might work better if they adapt to their environment and not chase the herd.


Hence, recent experiments with ‘relational funding’ – where charitable foundations get to know local groups and build up trust and understanding – may provide important precedents in the current crisis. Similarly, some of the fast track funding in disaster situations like the Grenfell Tower fire was critical. In these settings, the point was not to search for ‘isomorphic’ dummies – the organisations that can tick all the boxes and have the professional staff to know the latest jargon and phrases to light up the funders’ eyes. Rather, the aim was to provide quick grants to the odd, awkward or even eccentric organisations that were working close to people in need, in flexible ways, based on a firm understanding of the issues, and what was feasible and safe to do.


The coronavirus outbreak surely presents gigantic challenges to our social structure which are both tangible (the need for medicine, food, wages, heat and light and a home) and emotional (feelings of fear, anxiety, loss and insecurity).


The current crisis reminds us all of the precarity of our inter-dependent lives.  It’s a time for our civicness to shine. And it’s an opportunity for us to show imagination about changing some of the traditional ways we might work together in our community organisations, charitable foundations, and civic life.

Small charities and social change featuring Justlife

Advocacy, lobbying, campaigning and influencing are essential tools in the effort to tackle inequality and injustice. In our latest study, we explored how and why small charities are challenging, shaping and changing policy, practice and attitudes.

This film explores the research through the work of the charity Justlife who were one of eleven case study organisations involved in the study. 

Against Violence and Abuse

Download the two case studies of Against Violence and Abuse (AVA)’s approach to social change.

Small charities and social change

Advocacy, lobbying, campaigning and influencing are essential tools in the effort to tackle inequality and injustice. 


Small charities have a distinctive role to play in promoting and informing social change, with an agility and a direct relationship with the people at the sharp end of poverty, violence and discrimination that can be harder to achieve in larger organisations. 


In this study, we explored how and why small charities are challenging, shaping and changing policy, practice and attitudes. 

Collaborative Credible Catalytic


The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust


Collaborative, credible and catalytic? 

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust had a short time frame in which to make impact at scale. In their closing months, they commissioned us to review their approach to their Avoidable Blindness Programme. They hope that sharing what they learnt over their five years will prove useful to other funders who are looking to make a decisive contribution and help improve lives. 


The Trust’s collaborative and focused approach resonates across a number of contemporary debates about the role and contribution of independent funders. 

Photo credits arrow""


Photo credits

  • Darren James
  • Ashley Gilbertson/VII Photo

The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust (‘the Trust’) was established in 2012 to mark and celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s 60 years as Head of the Commonwealth. Trustees decided to dedicate 20% of available funds to the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme, seeking to empower a new generation of Commonwealth leaders. The balance (nearly £80 million) was pledged to a five-year strategic programme to tackle avoidable blindness. Across the world, 285 million people are visually impaired, of whom 39 million are blind. Yet 80% of blindness and visual impairment is curable or treatable. Good quality eye care is a scarce resource for millions of people across the globe, including in many Commonwealth countries.



80% of blindness and visual impairment is curable or treatable. 

Towards the end of 2017, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC UK) was commissioned to measure the economic benefits of investing in vision and the contribution made by the collective effort of the Trust and its partners. Its analysis shows that for every £1 invested in tackling avoidable blindness across the Commonwealth, £5 is returned. With more selective initiatives and a strong collaborative approach, the Trust and its partners achieved a return of £12 for each £1 invested, with additional financial benefits of more than £300 million to affected individuals.



Trust and its partners achieved a return of £12 for each £1 invested.

The purpose of this report is to share the Trust’s experience of working over a relatively short time frame to achieve strategic focus and deliver impact at scale, and to identify learning that may be of value to other independent funders, both in the UK and further afield. These are the five areas of learning that we drew out:  

1.   Developing a strategic focus


Learning for foundations interested in framing their work around a tightly defined goal:


  • Understanding and agreeing the foundation’s own organisational needs and expectations is a critical first step in identifying an objective that fits its scale, aspirations and appetite for risk.
  • Recognising and accepting the importance of complete organisational alignment behind the agreed strategy – ‘achieving strategic focus involves giving up everything else’.
  • A fresh pair of eyes can make a big difference – provided they come with respect for the efforts of others and an active interest in learning from both practitioners and authoritative experts, as well as offering challenge and concrete assets to support a new sense of new momentum.
  • Building genuine credibility as a contributor ‘beyond the money’ takes time and effort – being present, being interested and being useful all help this process run more smoothly.


2.   Values and attributes


Learning for foundations interested in thinking about how to frame their ways of working to meet the demands of a strategy delivered in close collaboration with others:


  • Understanding and developing behaviours that will enable the foundation to work well with others and best support effective collective effort.
  • Interrogating the skills needed within the team to add value – creating a culture which enables staff to use their expertise well.
  • Welcoming challenge and new ideas, and creating an environment in which these can be most helpfully expressed and acted on.
  • Delegating clearly and focusing oversight on ‘mission critical’ concerns.


3.   A partnership approach


Learning for foundations interested in developing effective, trust-based partnerships with grantees:


  • Choosing partners carefully and being clear about the different assets that they and the foundation bring to the table – trusting their skills, experience and judgement and being mutually accountable for progress and performance.
  • Understanding that much of the funding system drives behaviours that stand in the way of good partnerships and addressing this openly; also understanding that some organisations, and especially government donors, have rules and bottom lines that they do not have the freedom to waive. Working together to find appropriate solutions and compromises.
  • Recognising the importance of words matching deeds – of getting into the detail of due diligence, risk management, communication, problem-solving, formal reporting and (where appropriate) decisions on future funding – and making sure they support a partnership approach.
  • Getting the formal partnership structures right, giving particular attention to areas – such as general communications and brand building – where agendas may diverge both within and between organisations.
  • Thinking carefully about the role that communications can play in supporting successful outcomes and the priority that this will be given. Ensuring that resources and expertise match these aspirations.
  • Investing in relationships – engaging regularly, understanding and sharing opportunities and constraints, chewing over challenges and working together to find solutions; and then building new relationships if key people move on.


4.   Risk and innovation


Learning for foundations considering their risk appetite and their approach to innovation:


  • Achieving real clarity and agreement – both internally and with partners – about what risk looks like and where it lies, and then being realistic about potential risks and taking care not to overreact, while being ready to take quick, and hard, decisions where necessary.
  • Taking a positive approach to risk management and mitigation, actively seeking access to skills, knowledge and expertise to assist in this task, and deploying these resources effectively.
  • Seeking to create relationships with grantees that enable them to contribute their expertise and have the confidence to share ‘real-time’ information on challenges and risks so that timely action can be taken to deal with them together.
  • In balancing questions of risk and benefit, being conscious of the distinctive freedoms that come with being an independent foundation and being willing to take risks where the potential rewards are sufficiently promising.


5.   Advocacy approach


Learning for foundations interested in making best use of their potential to support effective advocacy for change:


  • Rigorously analysing the distinctive skills and assets the foundation is able to bring to bear – and where these may be constrained or curtailed.
  • Understanding what it will take to make best use of these assets and applying sufficient resources to the task. Skilling up where necessary at board level and bringing specialist skills into the staff team.
  • Recognising that collaboration is key to effective advocacy. Considering how best to build credibility with potential partners and how to attract those best able to increase reach and impact.
  • Finding the right style and method to get the message through to those in a position to support sustained change. Talking the cause, not ‘our programmes’. Being visible and present – there is no substitute for face-to-face contact.

The Trust’s approach resonates across a number of contemporary debates about the role and contribution of independent funders. These include ideas about relational grant-making, big bet philanthropy and collective impact – all of which share a preoccupation with shifting the power dynamics, pace and purpose of trusts and foundations. More specifically, through our review of the
responses of funders to a series of emergencies in the UK in 2017 – the Manchester Arena bomb, the attacks in London Bridge and Borough Market, and the Grenfell Tower fire – we observed a real appetite for more agile grant-making.


Setting aside the timescale within which it was operating, we can observe that the learning highlighted in Part Two of our report – for example, lessons about moving swiftly through set-up to delivery, experiences of working with governmental agencies and efforts to influence change at a systemic level – confirms that the Trust has made a distinctive contribution to these debates. In this final part of our report we reflect on six hallmarks of the Trust’s approach, each of which has been fundamental to the successful collaborative effort that it has shaped, and each of which contains important messages for other funders interested in adaptation and innovation.


1. Goal


Trustees had the courage to set ambitious targets for the elimination of blinding trachoma. These were grounded and achievable, but still challenging. Built on proven methodology, expert advice and the experience of effective NGOs and partners across the Commonwealth, the Trust brought focused funding and the momentum of a short time frame, which galvanised the sector. The starkness of their ambition – and their relentless focus on achieving it – paid real dividends.


2. Collaboration 


The Trust studied and assessed the strengths of the sector and sought to build and add to capacity. It recognised the importance of harnessing and empowering ‘brilliant and highly committed’ people to determine and lead the work that had to be done: ‘They did the things they do really well and let others do what they do really well. They pulled things together but didn’t second guess the answers’. And, through the Commonwealth Eye Health Consortium in particular, they supported the creation of interconnecting networks that show great potential to persist as a method of sharing and learning, long after the Trust has gone.


3. Sustainability


With a five-year life for programme delivery, the Trust was thinking about closure right from the start. Whether working with government health systems or helping to create an environment where it is attractive for others to come in to ‘finish the work’ or take on the next big challenge, sustainability was a fundamental concern, built into all initiatives and ways of working: ‘We talked to all partners from the start about the exit strategy – not just what do we want to achieve and how are we going to do it but how are we going to sustain it. This has to be the mindset’.


4. Leverage


The Trust understood the leverage that comes with a large financial contribution to a sector. It had an impact on programme delivery, enabling the collaborative Trachoma Initiative to play a stronger hand in negotiating the terms of engagement with other funders. And it gave the Trust a seat at the table in international donor forums, helping to shape funding practice on a larger scale.


5. Risk


It also understood the importance of using its freedom as an independent foundation to take risks. By creating a level of assurance around the deliverability of its largest initiative, the Trust was able to take risks in a wholehearted way. Where it saw real potential (as it did with Peek Vision), it was ready to invest at a level which was game-changing, enabling a new idea to grow from proof of concept to effective delivery in the field.


6. Relationships


Once funding decisions were made, the Trust’s primary focus was on shared accountability for common goals rather than detailed reporting on activities and outputs. And its primary concern became how best to use its assets and leverage to help advance the collective effort. Value has largely been delivered through deep but focused engagement and the quality of the different kinds of relationship held by the Trust. All needed nurturing and developing to work to their best effect and the Trust is recognised by everyone as bringing great – and unusual – skills to this task.


Final reflections


The Trust was set up to honour Her Majesty The Queen and the respect she enjoys throughout the Commonwealth. This undoubtedly played an important role in attracting support at all levels and encouraging people to give of their best. It also acts as a powerful reminder that striving to achieve a social goal is, in large part, an act of empathy and imagination, as well as reason. Having a powerful emotional resonance can be a strong source of commitment. There is value for foundations in thinking about this when deciding what they want to achieve and how they might go about doing so.


Further reading



Read the report

Learn more about IVAR

Developing instrumental, long-term relationships

Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit 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 Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit

Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit (GMIAU) advises, supports, represents and campaigns with people subject to immigration control.

Representing over 1,000 people at any one time, we are a team of specialist solicitors and case workers for those claiming asylum or in other precarious, immigration-related situations like trafficking or domestic violence.

What has changed about your work – and how you work with trusts and foundations – over the past five years? How have you responded to this?

Since 2012, there’s been a significant surge in cuts for legal aid and public sector funding. It’s an important challenge that caused many charities around us to flounder – like the Asylum Support Housing Advice (ASHA), who helped between one and two hundred people a week. We felt like the only ones left standing, so we knew we had to respond: we took on all the charity’s employees, so we were able to get people onboard by rescuing other services.

Key to our survival and stability is our team of highly skilled, well-established solicitors and support staff. We also have a mixed income stream formed of a legal aid contract, funding from Manchester City Council, trusts and foundations, and some donations.

Added to that, there are more people sleeping on the streets now than ever before so the Mayor has put the issue of homelessness at the top of the agenda. This has provided us with a key platform to get our voices heard and the chance to engage at a new level – now when we suggest a cheap way to resolve an immigration or asylum issue, Manchester City Council can hear us and back our efforts.

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

First and foremost, we need core funding to strengthen our management and finance infrastructures so we can start to invest in ourselves. Fast and flexible processes also help a great deal; when we took on AHSA, one of our funders got us £25,000 to secure the first year, which removed the emergency from the situation and made a huge difference.

We also want to develop more instrumental, long-term relationships with funders. That would enable us to discuss the future of GMIAU, and be able to pilot ideas that might improve our organisational sustainability and service delivery. For example, Legal Education Foundation supported GMIAU to test out a new model for reuniting refugee families – and to run an intense scale-up programme looking at how to replicate the model and generate income. Ultimately, this could lead to a more sustainable organisation, that reunites more families over a longer time period.

5 things that help communities turn ideas into action

Totally Socially is an excellent example of how local infrastructure organisations are supporting voluntary and community groups to thrive.

The programme’s four dedicated outreach workers provide responsive and regular support to communities at different stages of bringing their ideas to life. They help people find solutions to the challenges their communities face, by talking and listening to people and getting to know what makes their communities tick. Most importantly, they always let the communities take the lead. 

I recently had the pleasure of carrying out a mid-term review of Totally Socially, and identified five things that help if you are supporting community groups to turn ideas into action:

      1. Relationships
      2. Starting where people are
      3. Supporting adaptation
      4. Spreading the word and sharing ideas
      5. Practical support

1. Relationships

Build strong relationships by being reliable, nimble, flexible and approachable. Nurture strengths without overstepping.

‘We could have done it on our own but it would have taken forever, we trusted [our Totally Socially worker].’

The relationship with the Totally Socially workers is central to the support provided. They have an ‘open door’ approach, they move quickly to find a way to speed things up or unblock a problem, and show how to do things without doing those things for the group or person. People were not put under pressure, but encouraged to draw on their strengths. The workers’ ability to be nimble and reliable has meant a lot to people and has built strong and lasting relationships. This dual approach of drawing out what is already there in a person or group, and complementing that with some quick wins to move things along has been very effective.


2. Starting where people are

Build on what is already happening. Take a mentoring role to reassure and build confidence.

‘It’s about helping people to help themselves – not doing it for them. So valuing their ideas with local people driving the agenda so the ideas are more likely to last’.

The support approach used by Totally Socially Workers is in itself unusual for participants. Words used to describe the worker’s approach were: ‘mentoring’, ‘coproduction’, ‘working alongside’, ‘reassuring’ and ‘building confidence’. There was a marked lack of hierarchy in the way workers thought of themselves, describing it as a peer relationship, with a two-way flow of knowledge.

3. Supporting adaptation

Remain adaptable to need and level of support.

‘They believed the ideas would work, I have the skill base to do it but not the business knowledge – having these people around with their honesty and ambition [is] very positive… They support you to fail positively through the process.’

Fundamental to the support is adaptation. This runs through everything, workers gauge the type and level of support needed, and tailor it, deciding whether to take a light-touch or hands-on approach. Three features of this support to adapt emerged, i) there will be a way, ii) keeping an eye on things, iii) failing forward.

4. Spreading the word and sharing ideas

Get out into the community and use networks to get the message out for the community groups.


‘I didn’t realise how much help they could give us and contacts to make a good event – they even helped me with a printing company for a poster to promote an event’

Totally Socially place themselves in community spaces, i.e. libraries and cafes, they talk to people on the street, in family spaces and where people live. They supported with publicity – via social media, getting groups connected and providing advertising and media coverage for organisations and groups. All have noticeably increased numbers of those interested and taking part in community activities.


5. Practical support

Don’t underestimate the value of being hands on and offering practical support.

‘Initially Totally Socially were providing refreshments and now I have the confidence to approach local cafes directly and ask them to support us’

Practical support was invaluable – helping with event refreshments, recruiting volunteers, offering advice on how to attract funding. The organisations valued how locally connected and available/on hand the workers were.

Totally Socially is run by Coast and Vale Community Action (CAVCA) and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.  You can read the full mid-term review of the programme here.

Totally Socially Mid-term Review

Coast and Vale Community Action (CAVCA) appointed IVAR as its independent reviewer of the Totally Socially programme.

Totally Socially, a three-year programme funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, has been established to build on CAVCA’s work in local communities, getting to know them better and what makes them ‘tick’. The programme aims to help people to turn ideas for their community into action, from finding solutions to challenges to keeping good things going. The underlying ethos is about putting communities in the lead, working with what is already there and not predicting the outcomes. 

For this mid-term review, we were appointed to look at how Totally Socially has supported people in communities so far and what has been the most important learning along the way, approximately eighteen months into the three-year funding period.