£1 million raised for Plymouth groups but what have we learned? By Gareth Hart
Here at Iridescent Ideas CIC we’re co-delivering (with the Zebra Collective) a funding advice and business planning contract for Plymouth City Council.
The scheme - called Pop Ideas - runs until March 2017. So far the partnership has achieved some great successes. For instance, we have:
1. Helped bring in over £1 million of funding to 50 community groups
2. Delivered workshops on issues such as legal structures, social impact, funding bid writing, project management, project development and financial management
3. Run the quarterly Plymouth Fund-Raisers Network which has seen over 60 people gain knowledge about Lottery funding and fund-raising best practice
4. Supported around 150 organizations across the city with business planning, funding searches, starting up and more
5. Sent a weekly newsletter and kept an active social media presence sharing funding and other opportunities.
So what have we learnt over the last year and what do we need to do next?
What has struck me is the tremendous diversity of the organizations we have supported. There are community groups and social enterprises working in all corners (and the middle!) of the city and they are engaged in all areas of the social and economic fabric of life. From hairdressers tackling alopecia to gyms to theatres to marketing companies to beach schools to play groups and many, many more, the reach of the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector is astonishing.
The reach is far-ranging but these organizations need to engage more publicly about the impact they have on people, families and the communities they work in. It is likely that these groups make a deeply profound contribution to their communities, however, there is a need to evidence and talk about this more effectively. A common issue is a shortage of marketing and PR capacity and a lack of experience in this area.
I think this is a result of at least two key factors. There is an inherent paradox whereby many people (not all) in the voluntary and community sector have an ingrained humility that gets in the way of self-promotion. Also, the reticence seems to come from a struggle to evidence the social impact they create and then to build powerful marketing messages from this.
Many people we work with know the value of what they do in their hearts but find it harder to put this on paper or provide the robust evidence to prove it. Also, proving social impact is one thing, marketing it effectively is another.
So what about all the organizations who have applied and been turned down for funding? The feedback we’ve seen from funders suggests that there were two main reasons for this:
1. Lack of evidence of need for the project
2. A need for better linking of proposed activities of the project to the expected outcomes.
These are inter-related and go back to the fundamentals of understanding your community needs - be that geographic or of interest. It is also about putting these needs down on paper in a way distant funders - no doubt sat in plush offices in London far from the pressing issues you face - can understand.
So where next for Pop Ideas?
We need to continue to deliver solid funding advice. This brings cash into Plymouth, creates jobs and helps good things happen. We also need to support groups to plan effectively, to start-up with the appropriate governance structures and to plan to thrive. We need to help groups work more in partnership and develop brilliant solutions to community needs. We need to reach out to a wider range of stakeholders.
We also need to help social purpose organizations develop solid theories of change. It’s about proving impact; it’s about evidence. More than anything it is then about marketing this impact so more people grasp the issues and support good causes. It’s about backing public engagement for social good.