What do you achieve by funding individuals? – Cripplegate Foundation

While many of the processes of grant-making to individual people are similar to those of funding organisations, there are important differences in what can be expected in terms of applications and monitoring, and aims and outcomes. We talked to a selection of members about how they manage the relationships and what can be achieved.

The third article in this series comes from Kristina Glenn, Director, and Nikki Wimbourne, Programme Manager, Cripplegate Foundation.

This series first appeared in Trust & Foundation News.

Kristina: Founded in 1500, Cripplegate Foundation had been supporting individuals for hundreds of years. Originally the money paid for items such as shoes and underskirts, and latterly for things like washing machines and beds. But it seemed quite random. Only those who knew about Cripplegate could access those funds. About nine years ago we started using organisations we were funding through other programmes to reach individuals. They provided referrals to our £50,000 a year 'grants for individuals' programme. We offered a welfare rights check for those people referred. This generated £250,000-£300,000 in unclaimed benefits.

In 2013 we stopped directly funding individuals altogether. It seems a very Victorian means of benevolence. We now have the welfare state, which for all its faults has a much wider reach and is much fairer, not depending on ‘being in the know’. I would challenge whether funding individuals is the best use of foundation resources. We have now aligned all our funding for individuals with the local authority. We have a Resident Support Scheme of over £1 million and bring in voluntary sector partners who have reach into the community who then refer people they support to the council. That provides a much better reach then we could do with our networks alone.

Our report Invisible Islington, published in 2008, identified very high levels of poverty in the borough. It also evidenced people feeling isolated and locked out of opportunities. All our subsequent research has found the same. People tell us that there are lots of services available, lots of things they can get, but they want a life like anyone else.

That is what the Catalyst programme is about. It focuses on reaching people, through trusted partners, to give them the opportunities they could have/should have, and to give them something that will make a difference to their lives. It is not paper-driven form filling, but more what a person might receive from their family or friends. Each award can be up to £500 and could be for anything – a guitar, a beekeeping course, a trip to the zoo, a fishing rod – it is as individual as the person. And often it can happen quickly, within a few days.

Nikki: Launched 10 years ago, our Catalyst programme now has 20 partner organisations and today Cripplegate cofunds with Cloudesley, Islington Giving and Sir John Cass’s Foundation. Partner relationships are based on trust and the process is very simple. We give each partner £10,000 every two years. They send a one-page report every six months on where the money has gone, any challenges and so on, which is circulated to all the other partners. We occasionally offer a gentle steer or ask a probing question, but we trust the partners to make the right decision. Our intervention is more about getting the right organisations, not controlling their decisions or micro-managing.

We also get together physically twice a year and share experiences. This is a very rich source of learning about what works and what doesn’t but also about current issues, the state of the borough, and how that impacts on what people are asking for. It has really helped inform our bigger grants programme and helped root us in what life is really like in Islington. The requests are so wide and far-reaching that we as a funder would be unable to make decisions on them. Our partners know the individuals; they form relationships with them.

It is impossible to know where the funding might lead. An individual grant may be for one thing initially, but result in something totally unexpected that changes someone’s life for the better. Foundations can focus too much on outcomes. What we measure and what people measure for themselves can be two totally different things.

It is about money, of course, but it is also about a process. Staff in our partner organisations work with someone to find out what gets them out of bed in the morning, to invest in them as a person. It is a great boost to staff morale to enable someone to enjoy something that other people take for granted. The amounts are so small, based on evidence of need, that it is virtually risk-free, and the value of the programme is way above the total sum of the grants. It’s impossible to quantify. We don’t pay partners an administration fee but partners tell us that the value it adds to their work is incentive enough.

It is also the programme that board members can access most easily – we have thousands of case studies highlighting the direct impact a small amount of money can have.

For place-based funders, who have those local relationships with organisations, it is one of the simplest programmes to replicate. It enables funders to give people opportunities and control of their lives, to learn what is important to people now, and to develop trust with partners. We have a basic toolkit and video to promote the programme and encourage others to contact us if they want to know more about how to replicate the scheme.

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