Community Foudnations in House of Lords

02 December 2010

Encouraging Philanthropy was the subject the House of Lords debate on December 2. Baroness Prashar, CFN Honorary President, spoke on the role of CFs in promoting community philanthropy.

“My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, for securing this debate and for his masterly introduction. I also declare an interest: I am honorary president of the Community Foundation Network. This afternoon I will be speaking mainly about community philanthropy, which I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, mention, and the importance of harnessing local capacity to increase giving and its effectiveness.

Community philanthropy is planned, strategic giving, made with a specific end goal in mind. It recognises that philanthropists are most likely to be motivated to engage with recipients, and continue to extend their support for them, when they share with them a common interest, may that be geographic, ethnic, social or cultural. That is what community foundations are engaged in. Community foundations connect doers with donors at local level. They offer expertise in a specific locality, identify common interests and develop strategies and ways of bringing philanthropists closer to the work of the recipients. More importantly, they embrace not just charities but all organisations that work to benefit their local community without the motive of profit.


The foundations' work demonstrates that strong local communities provide a framework within which many social problems can be addressed; that small amounts of money applied in the right place can have a disproportionately large effect; that connecting donors with community groups creates social capital as well as financial support; and that communities are strengthened by relationships between rich and poor, the haves and have-nots. The activities of the community foundations include raising new philanthropic funds, identifying the groups that deliver change, investing in organisations through grants and monitoring subsequent progress, and developing endowments to create permanent and independent funding.

The Government want to empower people and communities and develop a culture of responsibility, an objective which I fully support. But to give effect to this vision we need to engage the full range of resources available to us centrally and locally. We need to build on and support existing initiatives which have been successful in encouraging philanthropy. One type of infrastructure of which I have personal knowledge is the Community Foundation Network, a membership body of 50 or so accredited community foundations located across Britain. CFN has been supporting local community foundations to realise their full potential. Over the years community foundations have undertaken a range of grant programmes for government and the lottery which has enabled them to develop a unique capacity to identify and fund local groups based on local knowledge provided by an army of volunteers.

There are not many organisations that have this level of knowledge drawn from the community. While giving has, as we have heard, been declining elsewhere, the community foundations have grown. This movement is supported and led by the CFN, which has managed a range of successful private sector and government grant programmes to unlock the potential of community foundations to deliver. CFN is an enabling body. It is not just another intermediary organisation. Its work is closely aligned with the Government's big society agenda. Community foundations are one of the most valuable tools in our armoury to help the Government realise their aspiration of the big society.

If the Government are to achieve the culture of responsibility and encourage philanthropy they should be supporting not only centralised organisations but organisations that have an extensive local reach. The community foundation movement is an existing infrastructure with a proven track record and a local, decentralised delivery capacity. It was therefore disappointing that when the list of organisations through which the Government might choose to deliver grants-that is, the grants administration framework-was announced, none had a local delivery capacity, a local reach or a track record in developing new giving. Can the Minister assure the House that the forthcoming community first programme will include organisations with local reach and that this dimension will not be overlooked? If this does not happen we are in danger of damaging rather than harnessing the infrastructure that has proved itself capable of developing innovative community philanthropy. It also runs contrary to the Prime Minister's desire to unleash community engagement. I look forward to the Minister's response.”