Provident Financial Group’s Social Impact Programme has evolved over time to address both the needs of our business and the needs of the communities in which we operate. The programme reflects our purpose of helping to put people on the path to a better everyday life and supports this by addressing key barriers to inclusion and helping people to overcome them.
One of the ways we do this is by working with Community Foundations to fund projects in areas where people are more likely to face social and financial exclusion, and currently we have Provident Social Impact Funds set up with six Community Foundations. This includes one with Leeds Community Foundation which, through the Give Bradford platform, helps us to fund some of the work being carried out by the voluntary sector in Bradford District. Each of the Community Foundations we support manages the Funds on our behalf and we convene a panel of Provident Financial Group colleagues to decide how to distribute the grants.
The impact of COVID-19
We’ve all found ourselves thrown into a time of uncertainty, yet for those who were already vulnerable, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed them to even greater levels of vulnerability. There are many fantastic community organisations who are supporting them, and will continue to do so when we are through the worst of the current challenges. This will stretch the capacity of these organisations for the foreseeable future.
As a business we remain committed to doing the best we can for our communities, and this has meant understanding what communities need in the short term, as well as the longer term. We ensured that we talked to our Community Foundation partners early on to get a sense of what they were hearing from grantees and what urgent issues they were facing as a result of the pandemic. The overwhelming feedback was that they were concerned about simply surviving. For most voluntary organisations, many of their sources of income disappeared overnight; fundraising events were cancelled, charity shops closed, income generated from charities’ activities and room hire dried up and many of the staff from these organisations have been furloughed which means they are finding it even harder to reach those who need their support most.
We recognised that there was an urgent need for us to demonstrate empathy by listening to our partners in order to understand the impact on small voluntary organisations caused by these unprecedented circumstances. As a result, flexibility has been key to our community response to COVID-19. All our grantees have been given the option, where needed, to repurpose our grants to the activities that will enable them to deliver what their communities need. We recognise that these small frontline organisations are the ones who understand their communities the best, and are therefore the best-placed to provide adapted (and new) services for them – they are often the most trusted face of those communities, so it was important that we also put our trust in them to look after those who are the most vulnerable. Equally, we’re offering flexibility around delivery timeframes and obviously, we have said that reporting is not a priority when they are already overwhelmed with additional needs. This has been a simple, but valued response, and one that has been adopted by the majority of funders in some form.
Some organisations are supporting new fundraising campaigns. We considered this approach – for example, Community Foundations are disbursing funding for the National Emergencies Trust and most have also set up their own “resilience funds” to harness local funding support. As a result of the early discussions we had with our Community Foundation partners, we concluded that we would be better placed to maintain our existing Community Foundation funding strategy and timetable, which would ensure we could provide a source of pipeline funding for the activities and services that will still be needed as we move beyond the immediate crisis. We know there will be new and emerging themes and our funds are set up in such a way that the funding criteria we have will pick these up.
Sharon Orr, Community Affairs Manager at Provident, said: “In order to be true to Provident’s purpose of helping to put people on the path to a better everyday life, we have to understand and respond to the challenges our communities face in the most effective way we can. Key to this has been having open and honest conversations with the experts – our community partners.“
If you would like to support the Give Bradford campaign to ensure that yours or your company’s money is allocated to organisations who are best-placed to make a difference in our local communities, you can find out more here.