Shpetim Alimeta from the Basis Project reports on the East of England Regional Seminar that took place on 24th March 2010
Although ‘sustainability’ has become a buzzword among Voluntary and Community Organisations (VCOs) in recent years, many people have little real understanding of what it entails.
‘Sustainable fundraising’ is perhaps even less-well understood, which is why I chose it as the main theme for this year’s regional seminar for Refugee Community Organisations (RCOs) based in the East of England.
For me it helps to realise that the Latin origin of sustainability is ‘sustinere’: where ‘tenere’ = to hold + ‘sus’ = up. Therefore to sustain is ‘to hold up’. Thus sustainability can be seen as something linked to the ideas of ‘endurance’ in life, the ‘maintenance of endeavours’ and even the ‘diversity’ of species.
On 24th March 2010 we gathered at The Cass Centre in Cambridge to deal with this important area of the organisational development for RCOs and challenge was in front of us. We called some of the best specialist in the field of the Sustainable Fundraising in order to make it clearer and help us develop practical tools and understanding.
After introducing the first keynote speaker for the day, Laura Smith from Sustainable Funding Project (SFP), I started to notice that delegates around the conference room were eager to find answers to questions that might have preoccupied their thinking for some time.
Laura talked about the ever-changing funding environment and income diversification. She told participants that income can come from investments, voluntary income such as grants and donation, earned income such as trading and contracts.
She then gave examples of how the public have been giving to charities during recession and how currently voluntary sector organisations are increasingly getting their incomes from delivering contracts rather than from grants. Laura then emphasised that the government is increasing drive at local level to do more for less money.
Laura appealed to participants to look at collaboration with other organisations and try to make the most of the volunteers and volunteering. She referred to 3S’s as ‘Stable’ (a diverse mix of funding sources), ‘Suitable’ (appropriate for the organisation) and ‘Sufficient’ (costs are understood and covered).
Then Andy Brady, from Ruskin University and Social Enterprise East of England (SEEE), described social enterprise as activity having primarily social objectives, with any profits spent on social aims of the organisation. His historical example of 1844 Rochdale Cooperative was followed with real interest by the audience.
Andy cautioned the participants that they should not rush or jump to rebrand their organisations, though it is an option. He advised them to explore the skills available in the organisations and do something at arms length with their organisations.
This presentation was followed by two more practical and successful workshops sessions facilitated by Laura Smith and Olof Williamson, both from the National Council for Voluntary Organisation’s Sustainable Funding Project. It was so encouraging for me to see the evaluation forms later where participants appreciated so much this interactive sessions, giving the highest marks to both facilitators.
Later the participants got an opportunity to meet different regional funders and had a chance to met on one-to-one level with representatives from The Big Lottery- The Regional Office, Lloyd TSB, Heritage Lottery Fund, County Council Funding Bodies and from Suffolk Community Foundations & Grassroots Funds to talk about their next project proposal or new project ideas.
All funders gave constructive advice and feedbacks to the RCO representative after hearing their project idea(s) and RCOs were content with the open and direct type of feedback. This session was an innovation by the organiser that participants appreciated above all, and their interaction with different funders was highlighted as conference success.
The afternoon provided an opportunity to hear an RCO that has been successful in setting up a social enterprise.
David Ndiwanyu from Africa Nile Development was very inspiring and such a joy to follow as he described his organisation’s successful adventure into developing a social enterprise.. We learned how they have a beauty shop, how they ship products to East Africa and how they even negotiate on behalf of clients to get a good deal with shippers. They have set up a vocational and social enterprise institute in East Africa. With unmistakable passion David told the audience that it all started when they came together and shared the ideas on how thought how they can improve their local community; they all had a passion to make a difference for their community and had commitment to succeed.
After the break we then had a chance to follow an Invester’s perspective’ by Emilie Goodall who is an Investment Manager at Venturesome/Charity Aid Foundation(CAF)’ . Emilie made an elegant presentation about the Social Investment and talked about some different investment opportunities available for RCOs and Social Enterprises. She explained in detail the different types of capital funding and talked about the constant need for every organisation to match the right type of funding.
Then we received a comprehensive Local Authority perspective about commissioning for Voluntary Community Organisations (VCOs) by Stephen Watt who is The Partnerships Manager at Suffolk County Council. His presentation was followed with high interest by participants as he spoke about the commissioning and procurement opportunities for VCOs. Stephen then spoke about barriers that exist at the moment for all VCOs with regard to the commissioning of some of the services.
At the end of the day there was a Q&A opportunity for the seminar’s participants to quiz a panel made up of Emilie Goodall from CAF, Fazil Kawani who is the Director of the Development in Refugee Council, David Ndiwanyu from Africa Nile Development, Stephen Watt from SCC and Shpetim Alimeta from Basis Project.
The whole event was very well received and it achieved its overall aims. We received some very good comments from all RCOs delegates present there and they all rated with the ‘Excellent’ marks the one-to-ones session with key regional funders and most of the above talks, workshops and presentations.
From my latest follow-ups, half of the RCOs that came at the event are now developing further their project ideas that they brought at the seminar’s one-to-ones session with regional funders and are optimist that they stand good chances for ‘holding up’ their project ideas. Some of them are also planning the best way for the diversification of their future funding.
Apart of my strong sense of gratitude for all the contributors at the event, for all the keynote speakers, for all the funder representatives, the workshop facilitators from SFP and the Nile Africa Case Study, what I can think now is that all the intense work, all the difficulties and stressful moments for constructing this regional seminar while pulling together all the elements to make it a successful event was worth while as it is such a inspiration to observe the positive impact slowly taking place on their organisation’s fundraising approaches.