What is a Community Foundation’s USP? This question, and many offered answers, came up several times over the course of the UKCF conference. The strongest contender, it would seem, is our claim to be ‘experts in place’, to know in detail the twists and turns of our local geography and communities. Indeed, our very variable structures and focus demonstrate that the foundations themselves have evolved to suit their environments most effectively. CFs can advise donors on how they can best achieve their philanthropic aims locally, and, dare we say it, encourage them to become more courageous with their grantmaking, based on our in-depth knowledge of local political and organisational landscapes.
So far so good. But many of the discussions held over the three days of the conference suggested we could, even should (and in some cases already are) taking this further, being more ambitious for our communities, and for ourselves.
CFs are the natural home of a localist agenda which can counterbalance the increasingly centralised nature of power, decision-making and initiative-taking in the UK. We have the potential to be active champions of under-represented voices in a public arena, with an authority derived from our experience of grantmaking at the grassroots.
We can practice what we preach, in being mindful of power imbalances in our own interactions. We can invest time and energy in building long-term relationships with local people and partners of all sectors that are collaborative rather than transactional, and that are as a result greater than the sum of their parts.
We can be more generous with our knowledge and experience, finding new ways to share our insights, link them with those of others, and make our expertise work harder for the cause of social justice. Our national network can help with this – our ‘collective local voice’ combines the best of both worlds.
These are thrilling possibilities, and ones I believe CFs are uniquely well-placed to explore. We are certainly experts in place, but we need to work harder to encourage others to value this as highly as we do.
What a stimulating three days in Glasgow. Inspiring? Certainly. Challenging? Of course. Utterly exhausting? Absolutely. Now for the real work, once I’ve had a little snooze!
Nicola Frost, Devon Community Foundation