‘They’re not starting with a keynote speech?’ This is the realisation I gladly came to terms with as the 2019 UK Community Foundation conference kicked off this week in Glasgow. Contrary to nearly every conference I have previously attended, the proceedings launched with lunch and a ‘Big Conversation’, facilitated by colleagues from our generous hosts at Foundation Scotland, which sought insights and views from all colleagues across our network of Community Foundations, in the UK and beyond.
The theme of this years conference is Empowering Communities Together, and as the original place based funders Community Foundations are determined to continually reflect on and ensure that we are indeed focusing on empowering and listening to the places and people whom we serve. For anyone not familiar, our movement of Community Foundation is a global philanthropic network, focusing on inspiring local giving in communities around the world to help address local needs. In 2018 we awarded just under £100million in grants to communities covering every part of the UK.
Back to our Big Conversation, over 390 delegates came together in groups of 10-12 people to discuss a series of questions which are pertinent to place-based giving, and here are a few highlights which stood out to me:
- Pondering PACT – If you are not familiar with the Civil Society PACT, then please do take the time to read through Julia Unwin’s important Civil Society Futures strategy in 2018. The PACT – Power, Accountability, Connection and Trust – is a shared set of aspirations for the voluntary sector to agree on in order to shift power to the communities we are part of and working to benefit. How can we as Community Foundations ensure that the design and delivery of our programmes is truly co-produced with shared decision making and with the voices of all backgrounds in our communities taking part? This is a commitment that we must all take seriously.
- What is most important: Grant Making or Convening the sector? These two areas are not mutually exclusive of course, but lively discussions took place about where the true priorities of Community Foundation’s should be. Should we each focus on inspiring philanthropy, reaching high growth targets and continuing to increase our grant making to more than the 10% rise per year we’ve seen for the last 4 years, or should we be pivoting in order to take more seriously our role as conveners, influencers, experts and advocates? This discussion was re-visited later on within the main plenary session, and let’s just say that the conversation has not concluded yet but there were a range of views!
- ‘How can we make risk contagious?’ – I enjoyed how this question was phrased by a colleague, who was teasing our appetite for risk. This could relate to backing ‘risky’ or unorthodox community projects but also considers risk in terms of new partnerships, new models of working and also investments in our infrastructure and staff capacity and development.
The days to follow will allow more in depth workshops and discussion around how we as Community Foundations can be as relevant and forward thinking as possible, whilst always putting people, voluntary groups communities at the heart of our processes and decision making.
Joe Crome is Director of Philanthropy at Community Foundation for Surrey