Zoë Keens, director of Birmingham and Black Country Community Foundation, looks at philanthropy
Charity is not the same as philanthropy – and it is time for change. Simply argued, philanthropy moves donors from transactional giving to a greater engagement with the causes they are funding.
In the UK charitable giving is high on the agenda. We see it locally, and recently through the amazing response to this year’s Red Nose Day – more than £74 million raised so far for Comic Relief. This money will make a real impact on people right here in the UK, for example the Community Foundation is working with the Birmingham Mail to help Comic Relief deliver highly valuable small grants to our communities in Birmingham and the Black Country.
But alongside this vital support what our local community and voluntary groups need is long-term sustainable funding and practical help. How can we benefit people now and into the future? How can we become philanthropists?
We have a rich history of local philanthropists in our region, men and women who had, and continue to have, an impact on our area like the Cadbury family. However, you may have heard of:
* John Feeney (1839-1907), a prominent Birmingham citizen, best known as the founder of the Birmingham Daily Mail. In his will he directed the creation of a dedicated grant making charitable trust, the Feeney Trust, which has a long history of assisting worthwhile local causes especially in the arts, heritage and open spaces.
* Sir Josiah Mason (1795-1881), a pen manufacturer from Erdington, had a disadvantaged start to life and was passionate about the alleviation of poverty through housing, education and training. He gave an endowment of £250,000 to benefit the people of Birmingham City and Solihull. His charitable trusts are still making grants to the tune of £1.9 million each year. That is sustainable giving!
A new wave of philanthropists are emerging and engaging with the Community Foundation. We are working with the 21st century philanthropists who require advice, strategic thinking, education and tailor-made strategies for their giving. Like philanthropists of the past they want to engage with the communities, be pro-active, see the impact, build relationships and take advantage of opportunities.
It is not only the wealthy who are taking up this challenge. Corporates and small businesses wanting to further develop their corporate social responsibility are also leading the way. They are interested in getting their staff involved and aligning their local financial giving and voluntary activities to their business strategies.
All are conscious of spending cuts and understand that through efficient and effective support, the root causes of social issues can be tackled locally, sustainability in the voluntary and community sector can be secured and new ways explored to fund social enterprise development.
Our job is about being able to bridge the gap between local people and companies who care about local issues and those people on the ground who have developed local solutions for their community.
At the Community Foundation we know of and have supported thousands of groups doing great work. Just two examples are:
* Balsall Heath CATS (Children Action Team Support) set up by Saeeda in her front room, a vital lifeline to children and young people with specific needs and disabilities who can access play and leisure in their community with their siblings. And a lifeline to their parents too.
* Seeds of Hope – a community centre in North Solihull that runs many activities which are attended by more than 500 people a week. They serve the community from 0 to 96 years old. One lady I met was struggling with isolation after her husband died, joined the dancing class and now has a buzzing social life and new friends who provide security and support.
We all need to consider what we would change? I met someone recently who spoke passionately about what he would like to do; he would set up a group to work in the most challenged communities to help build community and tackle issues that draw young people into gang and knife crime. I told him about the people already working in this way and asked him, a senior partner in a city firm, how he could help? This has stimulated the firm’s involvement and in-kind support to help make change happen.
All our lives are affected directly or indirectly by grief, crime, disability, injustice, isolation, mental illness, homelessness, poverty, redundancy, injustice, fear… if we all worked to meet our individual passion, in any way we can then I believe the whole of our community would be supported.
It’s our time. Our turn to pick up the baton to make a difference now and for the future.