Re-Imagining Finance for Community Projects & Businesses

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Need funding to start your community business but not sure where to start? Our event Re-Imagining Finance for Community Businesses and Projects, held last week at the Impact HUB Brixton, generated quite a few ideas that are worth exploring.

The event was part of our How to successfully lead a community project course, which includes a rich variety of online and offline leadership training. Our amazing guest speakers for this event were: Deborah Smart from Social Investment Business, Sarah Henderson from Echo, Jes Bailey from Crowdfund 360, Georgina Wilson from BUD and Reetu Sood. With great opportunities for networking, nibbles and even balloons we had a great evening, reflected in the comments we received, such as “really useful info, really inspired and great vibe, I feel like I can keep going.”

There were plenty of practical tips and ideas for anybody who’s starting up a community project or business and needs to get over the initial hump of lack of resources. Here are a few of them:

  1. If you’re considering applying for grant funding and you have any doubts or questions about eligibility, pick up the phone. Funders love talking to prospective grant applicants and the big grant-makers always have a contact number on their website.
  2. Crowdfunding campaigns are a great route to funding as long as they are designed properly. A campaign should last 30-35 days maximum, and before you start you should have an engaged social media community and mailing list – you need a high proportion of recipients who actually open your newsletter email as well as a good number on the list. Also, don’t forget to give examples of your track record in the communications – successes you’ve had on previous programmes or pilots. If you haven’t done a pilot? Do one!
  3. You might think you need funding to get that shiny website designed, but you could also do it by trading your time and skills. Echo is a community where people trade using time instead of money with a handy exchange rate of 1 hour = 1 Echo. A quick brainstorm around the table showed us that we all do have useful skills to offer, even if you may struggle at first to think what they are.

The workshop was a great opportunity to begin these conversations, and the participants on the How to successfully lead a community project course will be able to tap into vital peer-to-peer support. Click here to find out more about the course.

A Change in Making Change

A change in making change?
Is there a shift in the way funders work? After a meeting with the wonderful Deborah Smart (obviously this name rings true) from Social Investment Business I left feeling both elated and inspired.

I met with no real expectations, more from a place of inquiry I wanted to see how and what was available for the social entrepreneurs and change makers I support. I must admit that I didn’t come from a place of optimism based on my opinion of the sector and the criteria process. But listening to Deborah’s theory and ideas around change and methodology made me realise that actually, there could be a change in making change.

Why do we need to change the way we support those making change?
I have been fighting with the funding industry some time. When I say fighting, what I really mean in having conversations with myself and others whom get the great opportunity to hear me rant. My objective is and has been. How and why do funders expect those whom they are giving funding to be restricted by predetermined outcomes according to their own agenda? And why does is it seem that you can only really get funding approved if you walk the walk and talk the talk that funders want to hear even if you are creating an amazing impact? Having worked with several community groups and initiatives. Creating social change is by no means easy plain sailing, logistical neither does it require sophisticated wording.

It’s like an untamed garden of beautiful flowers, the flowers you expect to grow beautifully sometimes wither and get eaten up and the ones you had no hope for suddenly blossom and decide to magnify themselves in an unassuming way. But hey its life right, but what if you were so determined to see specific flowers be the eye catchers because after all, that’s what you expected when you planted. What do you do then? Condemn the others and put all of your energy into ensuring that the ones you thought should do, spending hours fighting against what isn’t naturally and organically being created before your eyes. Or do you sit back and enjoy what you see appreciating what has become and explore the how’s and why’s things happened this way?
Far too often things in this industry feel forced based on a government agenda of what “they” believe, without the evidence or confirmation of what is really actually needed on the ground. A community cannot be boxed in to an idea. It is a living entity which moves and takes shape the way it want based on any given circumstance or situation.

Anyway enough of my simile…I get lost in these if you haven’t noticed already

What exactly is changing?
Well, this was the moment where a glimmer of hope reignited the flame within for the finance industry. Deborah explained that the industry as a whole was beginning to rethink the way things have been done, they realised that there was a disparity between their expectations and what is really needed on the ground in grass root communities. Deborah went on to describe it as “turning the titanic” understandably it’s a complete shift and take time, but for me a step in the right direction is simply a step towards what is right, and most of all the acknowledgement that something needs to change was more compelling than anything else.

My smile grew as Deborah said “I’m encouraging people to challenge funders based on the outcomes of their evaluations, and to say I know we wanted to focus on this, but out of trying we found that the need is actually here”, just like my analogy of the untamed garden.
Could funders actually start to do with rather than stipulate an outcome based on assumptions? Could there be a change in making change? I for one welcome positive change and support those trying to make change through my “outside the box” organisation BUD through training and coaching. I’m launching “How to Successfully lead a community Project” in September, which will launch in 12 weeks. So wish me luck!

End like something new has begun
The meeting with Deborah far exceeded my expectations and the level of support she offered me in my endeavour to change the world for better was just what I needed! She ended by saying I can do this! How encouraging it was to be on the receiving end of 4 of the most powerful words put together.