Communities Can was a 2-year pilot to test how best to provide organisational development support for small community groups, set out to demonstrate how they can be supported, and what they can achieve as a result. The Big Lottery Fund and the Young Foundation partnered with Barking and Dagenham CVS, Blackpool and Fylde CVS, Peterborough CVS, Voluntary and Community Action Sunderland and Torbay Community Development Trust to deliver the pilot. This evaluation was carried out by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC).
Opening for applications in July 2015, Communities Can matched 355 small and diverse groups to a range of experienced providers, who provided a wide range of development packages. These included business planning, fundraising governance, understanding organisational needs and measuring impact.
Groups receiving development support included Blackpool Buddies, providing peer support to people with mental health problems and Milan, which brings together women over 50 from the Indian diaspora who were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin for social activities, friendship and self-help.
- 95% of the groups found the support they received useful and just under 50% found it extremely useful.
- The groups were highly satisfied with the quality of support, with many highly praising providers. 90% awarded their `provider a 4 star rating or higher during feedback; 71% awarded the maximum 5 stars.
- After receiving the support many of the groups improved their impact and effectiveness, with a number attracting more funding and expanding their reach.
- The way groups engaged varied. Some were more ‘instrumental’, seeking help to get some tangible things done – such as registering their charity or improving a website and communications reach. Others used it ‘developmentally’ – to think about what they really want to do and how they can do it.
Key learnings about capacity building small community organisations:
- ‘Assertive’ models of outreach are needed to locate harder to reach grassroots organisations in order to offer support.
- A segmented approach – by stage of development and ambition – could lead to further improvements in the tailoring and marketing of support.
- It takes time to build a relationship and adequately assess community groups’ support requirements.
- Some community groups would value more time over which to access support – being able to check in with advisors or take further counsel over several months.
- Communities Can piloted a voucher system and encouraged a market of providers but a tailored group of providers could provide a similarly effective but less complex and costly model for delivering support.
The Communities Can pilot has provided many insights for the Big Lottery Fund. As it establishes its new small grants programme, the Fund will consider ways to incorporate learning from Communities Can in pursuit of its ambition to reach smaller and more informal community groups and put people in the lead.