Interview with Carlos Chávez, Leeds Community Foundation - Refugee Council
January 30, 2009

Interview with Carlos Chávez, Leeds Community Foundation

By Penny McLean and Tom Green

Having first been set up in America almost 100 years ago, Community Foundations have been active in communities across the UK since the 1980s. We spoke to Carlos Chávez (pictured below), the Grants and Community Manager of the Leeds Community Foundation, to find out more.

What’s the idea behind Leeds Community Foundation?

We’re an independent charity, affiliated to the Community Foundation Network and we aim to provide a link between funders and community groups. We work with local groups and networks to find out community needs and manage various funds for grant-giving. These can come from a variety of sources, including national funds like Sport Relief  and Grassroots Grants, and  local donations from individuals and companies.

What sort of difficulties do you see refugee community organisations (RCOs) experience when they are seeking funding?

Often the biggest challenge is getting a good management committee. Groups find it hard to find good people or retain those they have and, with RCOs, there can be additional problems of language differences even if people come from the same country. Political problems carried over from their home country can also cause problems. And, without good governance, it’s very hard to attract funding or to manage money if you do get grants.

Are you able to help RCOs overcome these problems?

We don’t have the resources to do capacity building ourselves (although some Community Foundations do) but we signpost groups to appropriate help, such as the Basis Project, Voluntary Action Leeds and Leeds Connecting Communities.  We also point people towards training courses and the many bursaries available to pay for them.

What advice would you give to RCOs thinking of making an application to you?

Sometimes people seem to complete applications without reading the supporting material. If there’s something you’re not clear about, it’s always a good idea to contact us for help. Or you can complete an expression of interest form on our website. For example, we won’t fund religious activities, but we can fund community activities by religious groups. It’s also a good idea to think how your activity can reach out to other communities. We will fund activities for a particular group of people where appropriate, but, on the whole, we’re looking for evidence or reaching out to others. It doesn’t have to be complicated – for example, simply setting up a football team can lead to meeting with other communities.

Do you advocate full cost recovery?

Yes, we advise groups to apply for the full funding required to carry out the work. But we like the estimated costs to be itemised, rather than a percentage ‘management fee’ added on to the bid. It’s important, too, that costs reflect good value. That doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the cheapest option, but we need to see that sensible choices have been made.

How are the Leeds Community Foundation priorities set?

The money we distribute from other funds, such as the Grassroots Grants, comes with its own priorities. For our own funds, we are constantly talking to local people to find out what they think the needs are. We have representation on various local networks, too, and make sure we study the data about the city for information that can help us set priorities.

As far as making actual awards of money goes, we have panels of local people who make the final decisions. We try hard to make them diverse and representative of the local community, in terms of age, ethnicity and background.

Could you tell us more about Grassroots Grants?

It’s a funding programme from the Office of the Third Sector and delivered by the Community Development Foundation that runs for three years until March 2011. The programme aims to support small voluntary and community groups to enable them to continue or expand their work supporting local community activity including advocacy, community voice and service provision for local people. Organisations must have an annual income under £20,000, been active in the community for at least 12 months, and have a governing document including things like aims and objectives.

Full details can be found on the Leeds Community Foundation website. Or, for information about the programme across the country, visit the Community Development Foundation website.

What advice would you give to RCOs that have had some funding but want to take the next step and expand?

First of all, organisations need to be clear that they do want to expand – it’s not a priority for everyone. Then it’s a case of developing a fundraising strategy. Sometimes the key step is registering as a charity so that applications can be made to trusts and foundations.

Is there any other advice you’d give to RCOs making funding applications?

Make applications as clear as possible – sometimes groups add in lots of jargon but that can obscure what it is they actually want to do. Be realistic about beneficiaries – don’t overstate the potential impact. And mention any connections with other agencies and networks – it can help show the kind of work the group has done. It can also help if the organisation has a website, so that we can find out more about them and their work.

Are there any regional issues affecting RCOs?

The main problem I find is getting information about RCOs in Leeds. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious source of statistics about numbers and locations – information that I think can be really useful.

Do you think the current economic downturn will make funding harder to come by?

There’s plenty of money around at the moment, but the impact of the credit crunch will certainly be felt. We’re already seeing some of the private sector companies scaling down the community activity they support and that’s bound to happen more and more.