Our Blog

VCSE Strategic Forum: The Inaugural Trustee Gathering

By Liz Simmons, VCSE Strategic Project coordinator, in partnership with Somerset County Council.

28 November, 2017

Every year in Somerset thousands of people volunteer as trustees of local charities and provide vital strategic leadership for the approx. 2,800 charities which are registered in Somerset.

As part of National Trustee Week this November the Somerset Voluntary, Community & Social Enterprise (VCSE) Strategic Forum held a celebration Trustee Gathering at Victoria Park Community Centre in Bridgwater on Tuesday 14th November, 2017.

Thirty-four Somerset trustees and prospective trustees attended to event, which delivered a mix of short training sessions on the key duties, regulatory responsibilities and liabilities of being a trustee and the new Charity Code of Governance.

Justin Sargent (CEO of SCF) gave a funders perspective on the vital role of trustees and Marsha Miles (Spark) and Peter Lennard (We Hear You) gave some personal reflections of the highs and lows of being a trustee. There was also an opportunity for networking and to receive information about national and local support services for trustees.

Feedback from the session stongly suggests that trustees in Somerset would welcome more opportunities to meet, network and receive training. There is also a recognition that more needs to be done to attract new people to become trustees and in particular nationally and locally the challenge will be to recruit more women as trustees and Chairs of charities (70% of charity Chairs are men) and younger people (average age of a charity trustee is 59).

The VCSE Strategic Forum and partners would like to make the Trustee Gathering an annual Somerset event and The Forum and partners will continue to raise awareness of the role of trustees with diffrent communities and plan to develop a new programme of support for Somerset trustees in 2018.


Leading for Local Good: Reporting Back from the 2017 UKCF Conference

By Mary Hancock, Operations Director

27 September, 2017

Earlier this month our team had the pleasure of attending the biennial UK Community Foundations conference, which took place at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. We were joined by our Chairman, Jane Barrie OBE DL, for an inspiring three days of workshops, networking and presentations delivered by thought leaders from around the world.

Workshops held over two days were varied in topic, ranging from ‘Selling Your Brand’ to ‘Collecting Data for Impact Measurement’ to ‘Driving Charitable Mission through Investment.’ Our very own Justin Sargent co-facilitated a workshop with Jan Garrill from Two Ridings Community Foundation on Theory of Change. Implementing our Theory of Change over two years ago, has given us a clearer focus on our mission, purpose and role in the community. Look out for a unique feature of our Theory of Change in the Annual Report that we are publishing next month.

I attended a practical and inspirational session on ‘Digital Innovation’ co-presented by Scott Walker from Devon Community Foundation, who spoke about the digital audit that he and his team have recently completed. His presentation was accompanied by a fascinating talk by Anni Rowland-Campbell of Intersticia Foundation, who gave us a glimpse into the future of technology and its impact on humans, our relationships with technology and how rapid technological “advances” will start to disrupt every facet of civilisation as we know it. If our world will look very different in 2025, the question is: What are community foundations doing to prepare?

Most community foundations are small organisations that don’t have the expertise or manpower to implement a full-blown digital strategy, but Anni challenged us to partner with organisations who could help us make the most of technology and then continue doing what community foundations do best - delivering change in the community by brokering relationships. I came away from the workshop emboldened about the digital innovations that we here at SCF have already implemented in the last year, which includes moving into the cloud for our file storage and introducing an online HR system. We have also adopted the 360 Giving platform to publish our grants data in an open, standardised way and which we plan to launch by the end of the year.

One of the most outstanding presentations was made by Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo in Western New York, USA. She spoke about the strategy that her foundation adopted just over 10 years ago, which started with a listening tour of stakeholders from various sectors to understand the issues the community cared most about. This information was used to set just four impact targets, which would be met using their discretionary assets. By recognising staff time as the most valuable asset, followed by networks and then funding, their entire team structure and operational plan was reset to achieve their funding targets. The outcome of this strategic rethink has been that impact has driven asset growth, instead of the other way around. Listening to Clothilde speak about her experience of bringing together community groups, school governors, civic leaders and donors, her ability to act as a convener and manager of relationships is undeniably a fourth most important asset of the community foundation as well.

Overarching themes of the conference such as trust, impact, sustainability and innovation sit nicely alongside our strategy and are reflected in our mission to be the catalyst for inspirational philanthropy, providing a simpler and more effective way for donors to make a lasting difference in Somerset through community investment and thought leadership. But the theme that resonated most deeply with me was the need to focus our important asset of time on building lasting and meaningful relationships – with donors, with grant applicants, and with members of the community who can help us realise our vision of Somerset as a county of vibrant, inclusive communities where voluntary organisations and social enterprises thrive, transforming and enhancing the lives of the most disadvantaged people.


Interview with Fundholders: Elliot's Touch

Interview with Donna Stevens

30 August, 2017

Elliot’s Touch was a fund set up by Donna and Paul Stevens in memory of their young son Elliot, who tragically died of cardiomyopathy in March 2015. Their aim is to raise awareness of mitochondria disease and cardiomyopathy, and the fund supports organisations that are working on new cures.


SCF: You recently won the Inspiration Award as part of the British Heart Foundation Heart Heroes Award scheme. Can you tell us what it means to you to have won this award?

Donna: We were completely overwhelmed - we felt every emotion, really. To be recognised for Elliot's Touch and all the hard work everyone has put in... That award is for everyone: whether they bought the Elliot's Touch t-shirt; put some pennies in the collection tin; or bought the new 2018 calendar... they've all helped so much.

SCF: Elliot’s Touch has raised over £77,000 in the last two years. How have you done it?

Donna: We've done anything to everything! From tombolas and charity collection tins; to the Three Peaks Challenge and marathons; to cream teas and bake offs. And this year we've launched our 2018 'Elliot's Touch Does The Calendar Girls' calender, which has been amazing so far this year - we've almost sold out of the first delivery already - I need to order more! 

SCF: Tell us about the friends, family and people from local companies who have helped with fundraising events.

Donna: It's been so humbling, the support we've received has been incredible and there are too many to mention really, but The Bell Inn, Watchet, Flowers International in Bridgwater, CRS, Pebbles Tavern, Goldilocks Hair Salon, WatchetLive and EDF have all been tremendous help. The people of Watchet are like a family to us, it's so wonderful to have the whole community's love - it's like a big blanket of support. Everyone's really helped us through.

SCF: Somerset Community Foundation has granted £56,000 from Elliot’s Touch so far to the Great Ormand Street and Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals Charities. Can you tell us how this money will help?

Donna: At Royal Brompton the cardiomyopathy department are putting £36,000 into creating simple pinprick blood tests which can identify heart defects; this will save the NHS millions of pounds! We've been invited to the hospital to see how the money is making a difference. At Great Ormand Street we've teamed up with the Lily Foundation and £20,000 is being spent at the mitochondria unit looking at why these defects happen in the first place.

SCF: What’s next for Elliot’s Touch? Are there any events on the horizon?

Donna: In December we have our 'Chat and Snacks with Santa' which is being held in The Bell, Watchet. It was really popular last year so we've put on an extra session this year. Further details and tickets will be available soon - watch this space - or our website, I should say!

SCF: You set up your fund, Elliot’s Touch, with Somerset Community Foundation just over two years ago. What would you say to someone thinking about using our philanthropy services?

Donna: I can honestly say it's the best thing we could have done. It really takes the pressure off and knowing that Somerset Community Foundation are looking after things means that we can concentrate on raising the money safe in the knowledge that the administration side of things is being run by professionals. 


If you would like to know more about upcoming fundraising events or would like to donate to Elliot’s Touch, please visit www.elliotstouch.org



Guest Blog: My Dementia Awareness Week

By Carol Sweeting

17 July, 2017

My name is Carol Sweeting. I work for Alzheimer’s Society and with the support of Somerset Community Foundation I am able to carry out the amazing role of co-ordinating the Dementia Action Alliances in Somerset for one day per week. A Dementia Action Alliance is created when a group of people get together to try and make changes to their community to make it more supportive for people living with dementia. This means that people with dementia can feel valued and make a contribution to society whilst living well. May 14-21, 2017 was Dementia Awareness Week when a lot of the Action Alliances had planned a huge variety of events to reach out into their community. I wasn’t able to go to all the events, there were too many! Here's my blog for that week:

Monday 15 May, 2017: I attended the conference organised by Bridgwater Dementia Action Alliance. I was really impressed when I entered the large room at the Rugby Club with information stands around the edge with lots of help and advice. During the morning we heard from Dr Avril and Dr Michael Staunton. Avril has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. First we heard from Michael about his experience as Avril’s husband through the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
It was very interesting to hear from Avril about her experience of having Alzheimer’s and the effect that it is having on her life. While she talked very eloquently, she was conscious that she had muddled her notes and sometimes went off at a tangent or repeated herself, which gave us some insight into living with Alzheimer’s. During the day we got the opportunity to hear many interesting speakers and take part in different workshops. What was especially encouraging was seeing lots of young people taking part.

Tuesday 16 May, 2017: 'Singing for the Brain' in Taunton took place at the museum, supported by Taunton DAA. The singing was to have been in the museum courtyard but was moved inside due to inclement weather. Everyone was in good spirits and several guests and members of the public arrived. The singing was beautiful! We sang around the tree in the museum and showed everyone the beautiful sound we can make. It brought a lump to my throat. A great time was had by all and many people have contacted us since paying compliments.

Wednesday 17 May, 2017: The Minster Church, Ilminster. Ilminster has been working to become Dementia Friendly for several years and has a Memory Café set up by the church. As part of this, a day of celebration was held with Dr Jennifer Bute. Jennifer lives in a Dementia Village near Weston-super-Mare and has been diagnosed for twelve years. She gave a talk about living with dementia. She is a Christian and is particularly focused on maintaining relevant worship for people with dementia. The local DAA gave a talk and had a stand and hopefully recruited a few new members inspired by the day.

Thursday 18 May, 2017: I attended a tea dance run by Taunton DAA where I also ran an information stand during the afternoon, with lots of information provided by Alzheimer’s Society. This was well attended and a good time was had by all. Afterwards, a presentation was delivered by a solicitor and a financial adviser for people with dementia and their relatives.

Friday 19 May, 2017: As part of my other role as a Dementia Support Worker I did a home visit to a person with dementia living in the community. In talking to them I found out all the things they are still able to do and how important it is for communities to make it easy for them to continue to part of the community.

Saturday 20th May, 2017: On Saturday morning I went to a consultation for people with dementia and carers in Frome about where to go next with the Dementia Action Alliance. This was a very important meeting as consulting with people with dementia is at the heart of all the work that the dementia action alliances do.

It was a very busy but worthwhile week, both supporting people affected by dementia and raising awareness in the community about dementia and how it is possible to live well with dementia.

For more information about Dementia Action Alliances in Somerset, click here

To find out about local services and for information about dementia, click here.


Going from ‘Nice to Have’ to ‘Must Have’: a philanthropic revolution?

By Justin Sargent, CEO

27 April, 2017

The recent report from CAF on the ‘state of charities and social enterprises going into 2017’ highlighted many of the challenges – now very familiar - that the sector faces: falling incomes, rising demand. These themes run throughout the sector irrespective of size of organisation.

Separately, the Lloyds TSB Foundation has continued its series of reports highlighting issues affecting the small to medium charities in forming programmes commissioned by the public sector.

Over the past twenty-four months there has been an increasingly clear recognition of the valuable role small charities, voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises can play in addressing social and health priorities. It feels to me that this is moving beyond a genuinely held belief that a vibrant local third sector is ‘nice to have’ to one that is a ‘must have’.

However, I have an itch in my brain that I just can’t scratch and it’s this: where is the strategic vision for what we want to see more of, and where we want to see it?

There is, of course, an important role for projects and organisations to emerge organically, building on social capital and other assets within any particular community. Seeing and supporting that entrepreneurial spirit in action is one of the great joys I have in my job and I never cease to be amazed and, I admit, a little jealous of those community leaders’ passion.

We can and should do more to nuture and support those people who can develop such ideas, but is that enough in the face of such pressing needs in our communities? Is there a role for a more planned approach to scaling up and replicating community projects that work really, really well.

Think about this: if you are someone who would benefit greatly from, say, therapeutic gardening, why should it be left up to chance whether you have a suitable project nearby or not? I am sure that there are more communities that, given the right support and encouragement, could find a piece of land and start a new gardening project for their local community. After all, we’re not exactly short of open spaces in Somerset!

People who will benefit from the most effective initiatives live in every community and so we absolutely need more therapeutic gardens (and more Men Sheds, more mentoring schemes in schools, more carer support groups, more local community transport solutions to name but a few). However, we need to make sure that we do not lose the ingredients that makes these projects work – the local design and ownership, the passion and drive.

I believe this is an important area for philanthropy. It’s the kind of vision Andrew Carnegie had when he funded the establishment of 2,500 libraries in the late 19th century. We need that vision in today’s philanthropy; an approach that is flexible and adaptable, able to take risk, that can take a ‘community ventures’ approach, and we need to think, and act, long-term.

Dare we be that bold?


Speaking Out on Mental Health

By Kirsty Campbell, Administrator

29 March, 2017

During Eating Disorder Week earlier this month I attended an event at SWEDA for organisations that have funded the charity. The presentation they gave was very informative – for example I had not appreciated that Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate in mental health – but what had a significant impact for me were the talks by a young woman battling Anorexia, and a mother whose daughter is struggling with this mental health condition. They really brought home just how vital the help SWEDA has given them is: someone there to listen, help through counselling sessions, providing practical advice and information, and offering support groups so they can speak to and share experiences with others, not only for sufferers but also close family members who are supporting them. What also struck me was the courage these women had to speak out about something so personal and emotional, to try to benefit others.

Later this month I also attended a Bath Evening Lecture organised by Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK), a charity which aims to help sufferers of phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and other related anxiety to overcome their fears through self-help therapy groups. The lecture was entitled ‘Overcoming Anxiety’ and had informative talks from a psychologist and psychiatrist. Once again, I found the most impactful talk was that given by a man who has struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder all his life, finally making the decision to seek help on the brink of suicide. To outside onlookers he had a very successful life, a family, his own thriving business, having managed to keep his condition a secret until the effort became too great. He too had chosen to speak out to try to help others, and has established a charity called The Shaw Mind Foundation which is tackling the stigma that can accompany mental health issues and is campaigning to introduce compulsory mental health education in schools.

Often people in need of help don’t seek it, for many and varied reasons, and try to get by, keeping their difficulties hidden. TOP UK has recognised that people with anxiety often delay seeking help for years and is currently working with the University of Bath on research to try to learn more about the factors which can affect people’s decisions to seek support. Whilst progress has been made on raising awareness of mental health and in removing the stigma around this I think there is still a long way to go. No-one knows what is going on inside a person’s mind, and sufferers can go to great lengths to hide the difficulties they have. A more open and understanding society may perhaps make it easier for people to seek the support they need.  Charities like SWEDA and TOPS UK recognise that the earlier someone seeks help the better. Those with the courage to speak out (who in turn inspired me to write this, my first blog!), and the work that charities do, can only encourage those in need to seek help. Charities also offer vital support on the path to recovery, which is so often desperately needed.

Please take a look at The Shaw Mind Foundation’s campaign to introduce compulsory mental health education in schools and consider signing the petition - http://shawmindfoundation.org/



Philanthropy continues to transform the lives of people in Somerset

By Justin Sargent, CEO

26 January, 2016

For too many years I have looked enviously at the major cities in the UK, where great monuments to Victorian philanthropy inspire modern day equivalents. Museums, schools, park, libraries continue to fulfil vitally important functions in our communities, but also serve a reminder to those who generate wealth today they have a responsibility to give back to their communities.

You have to perhaps look a bit harder in Somerset, but we also have a philanthropic heritage to inspire us today.  

One the world’s most famous philanthropists, Andrew Carnegie, funded 2,509 libraries across the globe, including (to the best of my knowledge) two in Somerset.* His approach resonates strongly with the way we approach our support for communities. He funded the building of the libraries but only if the community could demonstrate the demand for a library, and was prepared to contribute as well. In his own words:

an endowed institution is liable to become the prey of a clique. The public ceases to take interest in it, or, rather, never acquires interest in it. The rule has been violated which requires the recipients to help themselves. Everything has been done for the community instead of its being only helped to help itself."

The fate of the two Carnegie Libraries tells us a lot. The Bridgwater library continues to serve as an important traditional community facility, while the Taunton one is now a wine bar.* However the modern Taunton library that replaced it has evolved into very different and dynamic vision of what a library can and should be. 

Kate James from Porter Dodson has been supporting the Huish’s Exhibition Foundation for many years. As we take over responsibility for the running of the trust, she handed me the ‘cash book’ that kept handwritten records from 1917 to 2009. It provides a tangible sense of continuity with the past, and it is a genuine privilege to be both entrusted with this heritage and to be creating a new chapter in Somerset’s philanthropic journey. 

Our Vital Signs report sets out why we need to sustain and grow philanthropy in Somerset today, but the Carnegie Libraries and the Huish’s Exhibition Foundation also remind me that we have a hidden heritage to learn from and build on. I would be delighted to hear from anyone who has a Somerset philanthropic story to share.

*Incidentally, a condition of Carnegie’s gift was that alcohol should not be consumed on the premises!

Volunteering for the Surviving Winter Campaign

By Angharad Jones

29 November, 2016

I have been a volunteer at Somerset Community Foundation for several years, helping out with various administrative and marketing activities. This year, the team asked me to get involved with the Surviving Winter Campaign. Having read the statistics on fuel  poverty in Somerset several times, I felt that I had to find out for myself what impact the campaign made on real people rather than just statistics.

My first port of call was to speak to the Community Council for Somerset’s Village Agents, who are among the ‘front liners’, who help elderly, vulnerable people living in their communities who are struggling to heat their homes adequately and maintain a reasonable quality of life during the winter.

They spoke of an elderly gentleman that had recently lost his wife of 70 years and had struggled to find sufficient money to pay for her funeral.  He was left with only his pension as income and, not being aware of the grants that were available for the funeral, he had lowered his heating and was going without many of the staples of life, so as to save money. His GP was concerned that his health and demeanour were being affected and informed the village agent.  A Surviving Winter Grant was organised to help keep him warm which was the first step towards creating a better environment for him to live. He has just happily celebrated his 90th birthday in good health.

There was also a grandmother who looked after her grandchild at weekends.  The grandchild was in care, so the weekends were precious to them both. Living only on her pension, and to make sure that she could keep seeing her grandchild, she cut down on her heating and food during the week. It would not have been long before her health would suffer.  However a Surviving Winter grant helped her through the colder months and helped her to continue the special weekends they had together.

There were many more examples of people in our county who were being affected by fuel poverty, and this situation often resulted in further complications, such as poor nourishment, ill health and social isolation. It became obvious to me very quickly that the Surviving Winter Campaign was not only extremely important in keeping vulnerable and disadvantaged people warm, but it opened the door to helping them with further issues  that they were struggling with.  I am so grateful to help organise this campaign, and more importantly, to have the opportunity to donate my Winter Fuel Payment to such a worthy cause. 

Raising Aspirations

By Jenny Perez

24 October, 2016

I have worked on Raising Aspirations for about 18months now – my role is to recruit volunteer mentors from the community, interview and then train them. They are then ready to go into schools, in this case Taunton Academy and Court Fields in Wellington, to partner up with a student aged between 11 years and 13 years.

I wanted to share my experience of recruiting these mentors for whom I have a huge amount of admiration. In the first year I was tasked with finding 40 mentors for each school, so 80 in total and now in the second year a further 60 mentors, resulting in an overall total of 140 volunteer mentors from the Taunton and Wellington local community.

I wish I could share the magic formula, or bottle it to share with other organisations looking for volunteers on such a magnitude. The reality is that I have been struck by and fortunate to experience a positive response to my request of helping local students. There has also been a lot of hard work involved too of course! Never more has the phrase ‘if you want something done ask a busy person’ rung more true.

Having worked in the charity sector all my life and often scrabbled around to find one or two good quality volunteers I have now found in Somerset a huge array of willing people to give up an hour or so of their time each month to mentor a local student. In my mind the fact we ask only for one hour helps, it’s manageable and doable especially for professional people who have busy diaries.

Our mentors range in age from late 20’s to 70’s, an almost equal measure of male/female and between them a wealth of work experience, life experience and local, national and international knowledge. The one thing they all have in common no matter how busy they are, is a sense of willingness to give their time, once a month for up to 3 years to invest in a young person and help raise their aspirations.

The evidence we have collected proves that mentoring young people can and does have a positive impact on their lives, it improves confidence and self esteem for example. We also know that it has a positive impact on our mentor’s lives; they often share with me how much they learn from their mentee.

So why do our mentors come on board, what is driving that positive enthusiasm to help and support young people in Somerset?

When I meet mentors, some share stories of not doing well at school and then going on to gain academic qualifications later in life. For others there is a sense of wishing they had a positive mentor type role model in their life at a younger age. In addition a keenness to give something back to their local community.

I was struck by one mentor who put it so simply and eloquently when she said “Jenny, they just need time and space” - this silenced me momentarily, as I reflected on what had been said. She was absolutely right, in a busy world, full of screens the one gift we can give to student mentees is this valuable time and space. A quote I was introduced to at Taunton Academy has also stayed with me:

“Young people grow to fill the space we create for them” Chief Rabbi John Sacks, 2009

As they grow, their aspirations grow with them, this doesn’t happen instantly and nor would we expect it to, the mentors and mentees grow together – learn from one another and yet each at a different place in their lives. Students at Taunton Academy and Court Fields School who have mentors have been given a great opportunity. This opportunity to raise aspirations can only happen because there are inspirational people in Somerset who are willing to give their time and commit to their mentee over a considerable period of time. It has been a privilege to meet all the mentors and I thank them on behalf of everyone involved for their wonderful contribution to young people in Somerset. 


A new year, a new title and new challenges

By Mary Hancock, Somerset Community Foudation Operations Director

23rd September 2016

I’ve always loved the back-to-school season. Perhaps that’s because I associate it with buying new school supplies, refreshing my wardrobe and purchasing new shoes. Or maybe that’s because as a child I truly loved learning and facing all the new social and academic challenges that came with moving up a year. I feel a twinge of jealousy when the back-to-school ads appear on TV each August. So you can imagine that I felt positively giddy about returning to work after maternity leave on the same day that all the neighbourhood children started back to school, the buzz of anticipation and excitement all around us. Lucky them! Lucky me!*

A lot has happened during the months that I was out of the office. Two fantastic team members have come on board, and the Foundation’s portfolio of funds has grown. I expected changes, as we are constantly evolving and seeking to improve the way we deliver grant-making services to local groups and philanthropic services to local donors. To this end, I have taken on a new job title as Operations Director, which means that I am responsible for managing the delivery of our business plan and ensuring that we make the most of our technological and intellectual resources. Gearing up for the launch of the £13million Hinkley Point C Community Fund, I will be project managing the introduction of an SCF office in Bridgwater, from which our team will be working with local communities, local councils and other stakeholders to define the priorities for the fund. This is a new and exciting challenge of which I feel really honoured to be a part.

At the risk of sounding ambitious, I ended my maternity leave a month early so that I could return in time to support the team prior to the launch of our first Vital Signs report on the 4th October. It consists of a combination of existing research and community consultation, and it acts as a guide to local charitable giving by measuring social trends and issues. Somerset Vital Signs particularly highlights the way in which really small charities throughout the county are tackling some of the deepest and most significant social issues. Reading through the final draft of the report, some of the statistics about mental health, loneliness and  poverty in our county make for difficult reading, even for a hardened charity worker like me. In contrast though, the commitment of local people to establish and run these very small charities never ceases to inspire me.

Before I moved to the UK from Texas, I was a social worker supporting homeless single mothers and their children transition from shelters into permanent accommodation. I’ve met with clients in cars, under bridges, at fast food restaurants and, once, in what turned out to be a brothel. I felt their struggles and their pain and their fear. While I carried out my job as a professional, what motivated me to work for small, privately funded charities was actually very personal. And I know that what inspired many local philanthropists to fund our work was the feeling that they could make a very real difference to the lives of real people in Texas.

As Beth Breeze explains in Philanthropy and a Better Society, this level of personal giving is not about rich people supporting charity because they can or because they should, and especially not because a Whitehall committee expects them to. Major philanthropists often feel deeply motivated by certain social issues and take the time to become deeply connected to the organisations working to resolve those issues.

At Somerset Community Foundation we fund a wide range of organisations through our grant-making, and we add value to grant-making by supporting the people who run those organisations with a bit of advice about business planning and where to look for further funding. We also provide philanthropic services for local donors who have a wide variety of interests so that they too can make a very real difference to the lives of real people in Somerset.

This simple model of introducing local philanthropists to local causes is still incredibly exciting to me, and it is clear that I have returned during what is a very exciting time for SCF. I’m happy to be back for the new “school year”, with my new title, facing new challenges.

*My one year old son might not have felt so lucky to be dropped off at nursery that morning, but he settled in right away! 


Taking a little bit of Somerset Communnity Foundation to Northamptonshire

By Victoria Malcolm, Somerset Community Foudation Marketing & Events Executive

21st September 2016

When I arrived at Somerset Community Foundation for my very first day in November 2014 I had no idea how much I would learn, nor did I have any inkling as to how much working here would affect my way of thinking and my attitude to the area I live in.

I’m from an Royal Air Force family with parents who didn’t want to send their children to boarding school, so am lucky to have lived all over the world and had some fantastic adventures – but I wasn’t always sure where ‘home’ really was. I think I first realised I was missing out on something at college, when fellow students would head home for the holidays so excited to catch up with old school friends and planning to meet for Christmas Eve drinks in their local pub, while I beetled off to the train station or airport and travel home to my parents at yet another RAF or NATO base.

I appreciate now that all I was really envious of was the social life I considered myself to be lacking (I was a student at agricultural college, after all!), but my time here at SCF has opened my eyes to  what makes a community and how important it can be to people, perhaps now more than ever with an ageing population and the impact of loneliness on people’s heath better understood.

Before I started at SCF my experience of the third sector was largely as a consumer, exposed to fundraising campaigns on television or in print media, and encountering bucket shakers and ‘chuggers’ in town centres. I spent my first weeks at Somerset Community Foundation getting to grips with how the grant making and fund holding operations work, and quickly became astonished at the number of grassroots groups working in Somerset, and indeed across the UK, who work simply to make their local area a little bit better.

I now know small charities make up 97% of registered charities in the UK, and of course they get just a fraction of the media attention and public’s financial support of large organisations - indeed just 40 charities (and they are big ones, of course!) just 40 charities account for nearly 20% of all voluntary sector income.  However the difference they make to communities around them is truly extraordinary and I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to visit a good number of groups and charities during my time here, in order to be able to share their stories with you.  I never fail to be amazed or humbled by the work of volunteers and staff, and can honestly say my perception of what a society or community needs in order to function well and be a good place for people to live has been altered forever. I’ve even become involved in volunteering for the very first time myself, sitting on a village committee and raising money for a local good cause, and will make sure I continue to ‘give something back’ once I get my feet under the table in a new county, job and social circle.

So, at the end of this working day I am leaving Somerset Community Foundation after just shy of two years here, and sadly I will also be leaving the South West altogether. When I arrived in Somerset and we moved into our beautiful cottage, I thought we might stay forever, but alas we’re off to explore the Northamptonshire countryside next. Perhaps somewhere in that area will become the ‘home’ I really long for and I’ll be able to get to know a community, and, just maybe, help make it a better place to live! I’ve certainly been ‘converted’ by Somerset Community Foundation...

We’ve just sent the proofs of our very first Vital Impact report off to the printer. It will be uploaded onto the website this week and I would definitely recommend taking the time to read it. You might just be converted too. 


Those who live it, know it. An experiment in participatory grant making

By Andy Ridgewell, Somerset Community Foundation Programmes Manager

24th August 2016

Over the last few months I’ve been experimenting with a more open approach to philanthropy. Working closely with the Unstoppables, a group of young people with special educational needs and disabilities, we’re trying to put decision making into the hands of a group of people who often benefit from, but do not decide, our grants.

Prior to joining the community foundation I raised funds for a number of local charities, who I still support in one way or another. Looking in from the outside, my image of philanthropy was quite clear: a small group of people making decisions about large amounts of money. I felt sure that these people had a wide range of skills that they used to make good decisions. But I also felt that in most cases they would have lived very different lives to the people that I was fundraising on behalf of.

So what would happen if we collaborated to make these decisions, rather than asking people their opinions of something that has already been decided upon?

Participation in grant making 

These ideas are not new, but they remain uncommon among philanthropic foundations. Where they do exist they are often referred to as ‘participatory grantmaking’.

Among the various ways that grantmaking is becoming more participatory, there are two established examples of  collaborations between foundations and user-led groups, like the Unstoppables:

The Growing Futures Match Funding Challenge

All of which brings me back to my work with the Unstoppables. You may recall that earlier this year we asked for donors to contribute to a new match fund challenge that could grow their gifts by 80%. Our challenge was quickly met, resulting in a £36,000 fund to support children with disabilities in Somerset.

The Unstoppables will now decide where half of that money will go. The other half is being used to match funds raised by Rachel Goodfellow’s Epic Run, which will support the work of the Blandford, Dorchester, Taunton and Yeovil Opportunity Groups, and to match the fundraising of Francis Clark LLP, which will support the ESCAPE Support Group.

And the Unstoppables have some tough choices to make, with ten applications totalling over £29,000 and only £19,000 in their budget. To support their decision making we’ve tested different ways to make the information that applicants provide more accessible to the group, settling on an Easy Read grant summary. We’ve also decided to break the group’s decision into two parts: first, they will prioritise the applications and, secondly, they will allocate the funds.

There’s still lots to learn, but for the time being I’ll leave the last word to one of the Unstoppable’s young people’s champions:

“Many young people with disabilities learn to please people. They don’t learn to stand up for themselves and their ideas. Making decisions about this money may help them to feel like their voices are valued.”

What is life in Somerset really like? Community leaders share their thoughts

By Tessa Hibbert, Somerset Community Foundation Associate 

26th July 2016

Vital Signs is a unique guide to local philanthropy, produced by Community Foundations up and down the country. The reports pull together existing research and combine this with a community consultation to gain a full picture of the issues in each area.

We will publish our first Vital Signs report in October, and, in order to prepare, over the last two months we have been asking for views on what life here is like. We received 87 responses from community and voluntary sector leaders to our online survey which closed at the end of June. Congratulations to Sharon Spearing whose survey response was drawn at random from the 87 we received. Her nominated charity, South Somerset Mind, will receive a £100 donation.

The results stopped us and made us think. Whilst life in Somerset today is good for most, some in our society are struggling to cope.

The results

Community sector leaders told us that the biggest issue facing vulnerable people in Somerset today is poor transport. “Bus services are being reduced all the time, most taxi companies either don't want to come so far out of town or the cost is restrictive”. Poor or expensive transport means that people can’t access vital local services and end up feeling isolated, with knock on effects on their health and wellbeing.

There was concern expressed, too, about the rise in use of Food Banks in our County and the seeming disparity in life experiences and outcomes for rich and poor. “The facts speak for themselves, a huge increase in the use of food banks …But where there are strong volunteer bodies they supply a friendship network that is supportive and makes people feel positive about the place they live in”.

Respondents cited housing as a critical issue facing particularly younger people in today’s Somerset. One said there was “Not a lot of good quality housing for sale or rent”. A deeply rooted issue, the answers to the housing situation are complex and respondents talked about the need to “balance housing and countryside”.

Respondents told us that they believe priorities for community philanthropy should be strengthening communities through local voluntary sector projects; improving fairness in our society; and addressing transport issues.

We will continue to consider the responses over the coming months and the results will inform our Vital Signs report in the autumn.

For more information about Vital Signs or to contribute, please contact Tessa at tessa.hibbert@somersetcf.org.uk 


Are not-for-profit organisations making the most of scarce resources?

By Justin Sargent, Chief Executive

21st June 2016

Once a month for the past year I have been spending time with over 30 colleagues from across the charity world at Cass Business School in London. I have been learning with and from them, and it has been a real eye opener in many different ways.

Two things have struck me. First, there is an enormous wealth of talent in the charity sector and I am frequently humbled and inspired by my new-found friends. The other, though, is the frequency with which poor management is undermining people’s ability to use their talents to further the cause they are working for. Not only is that damaging on a personal level, it is also creating a much less effective sector overall.

Of course, just because you work for a charity it does not mean that everything is going to run smoothly, but I have really been taken aback by how many are working in teams and organisations that seem to lack the HR skills to not only look after their staff well, but get the most from them.

I wonder whether this is symptomatic of a culture that drives down any kind of overhead, including investment in staff and management skills, when common sense (or at least anyone with experience of the commercial world) will understand that there is a ‘sweet spot’ of investment in the underlying infrastructure of any successful organisation – not too much, certainly, but not too little either.

That includes investing in staff and HR processes. It is broadly accepted (see the NCVO report on Senior Executive pay) that people working in charities will be paid less well than colleagues in the commercial world.  It is perhaps also assumed too often that because it’s a vocational career, then less emphasis needs to be paid to getting the most out of people and giving them a rewarding and fulfilling career in other ways.

There is, of course, always a trade-off facing trustees about how they use their funds and what they invest in, especially in this era of austerity (covered very well by the Coalition for Efficiency in the ‘Trustee Dilemma’), but I am convinced that relatively small investments in creating more effective organisations can pay back many times over in terms of increased impact and sustainability.

Charities need to get better at understanding and then explaining their impact to donors and funders, but donors and funders need to also think in terms of impact instead of cost too.  At Somerset Community Foundation we are increasingly looking at whether our funding should be as heavily weighted towards project costs as it is, or whether we can actually get more impact by investing in organisation’s core capacity to run more efficiently, smarter and become more effective.

None of this is easy so, whether you are working in a charity, you are a trustee, or a donor, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts!

(If you want to hear a radical view on ‘overheads’, take time out to listen to watch this TED talk from  Dan Pollata: “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.”

Retirement isn’t the end – it’s just the beginning!

By Jocelyn Blacker, Programmes Manger

25th May 2016

Volunteering and the transition from paid work to retirement 

As I begin to approach the next major step in my life (I hope to retire fully in 2 years time) I have started to think about what life will be like after I no longer have to get up in the morning for work. Although I already look after my two gorgeous grandchildren (aged 4 and 11 months) one day a week,  my feeling is that life will be much more rewarding if I can also find a positive challenge outside the home environment. The key is having a balance of activities. You can volunteer for as much time as you want. That’s the great thing about being retired and volunteering – you make your own rules.

A lot of people are defined by their jobs and when this stops they have to re-visit who they are and what they represent. I have started to think about this now so I will be well prepared when retirement catches up with me.

But why volunteer?  I guess the grander thoughts would say it is time to give something back, but in truth I will also do it because I know there are many benefits to both mental and physical health. 

Research carried out by Dr. Suzanne Richards and colleagues at the University of Exeter Medical School reviewed 40 studies from the past 20 years on the link between volunteering and health and found that volunteering is associated with lower depression, increased wellbeing, and a staggering 22 percent reduction in the risk of dying early. What's more, research on brain health tells us that adults who problem solve and learn new skills are engaging in behaviours shown to protect against dementia and memory loss.  If you have read my blog  ‘Supporting people affected by dementia in Somerset’ (please scroll down to read it) you will understand that this is a subject very close to my heart.

The contribution of older volunteers to the sector is critical—both in supporting and delivering services and in governance as trustees.   Age UK reports that two-fifths of older people are engaging in voluntary work, and a poll by the Royal Voluntary Service found that one in five - around 2.2 million - people over the age of 60 help out with at least two different charities​

As retirement ages have continued to rise, the body of volunteers—for so long reliant on older people— has diminished as this group either needs or wants to remain in paid work for longer. 

With people routinely working past 65 for the first time, volunteers and charities alike are especially worried about any available time being spent to help cash-strapped relatives with childcare.  With childcare costs now at £212 a week on average many older people find themselves caring for their grandchildren -  as indeed I am currently doing, one day a week.  And alongside helping to care for their grandchildren, many will also find themselves caring for other older relatives or neighbours.  Either way, these pressing demands are likely to affect the availability of a voluntary workforce and given the sheer number of older people giving time to charities, even a small percentage drop in the volunteer hours they give could dramatically affect charities’ resources.

Over the next 20 years society will change dramatically and the voluntary sector will need to change with it.  The big demographic shifts implicit in an ageing population will affect all charities, whatever their mission. The voluntary sector and many small organisations will need additional skills more than ever to meet the challenges of the tough economic climate. A recent CSV (Community Service Volunteers) survey revealed that nearly half of organisations questioned had a need for skilled volunteers, particularly in the fields of business development, marketing, accounting and finance.  Many retirees possess knowledge and experience in these areas.

If organisations are serious about involving older volunteers, they should think about whether they can be more flexible about the activities and time commitment they require, to enable retired people to fit volunteering into their increasingly busy lives.  I feel they need to offer interesting work where volunteers can make a real contribution and not feel they are ‘cheap labour’.  And they should not make assumptions about the wishes and interests of older people and should take time to show that their contribution is valued and not taken for granted.

Sometimes people feel a bit overwhelmed once they retire; after all, if you've stuck to a schedule every day for years, suddenly having total freedom can be a bit much. Others can feel a bit negative, as though they've been put out to pasture after working hard for so long.  But retirement doesn’t have to be like that – it should be looked at as a new opportunity.  There are dozens of opportunities everywhere – all you need to do is look around for the causes you care most about and identify where your help is needed.  

Helping good causes share great work

By Victoria Malcolm, Marketing & Events Executive

28th April 2016

I have been sitting at a desk in the corner of Somerset Community Foundation’s office three days a week for just over 18 months, sharing our funding opportunities, donor services and general good news stories with Somerset. Having previously worked in a busy private-sector PR & marketing agency I am still astonished every single day at the number of people who put so much energy and time into the voluntary sector here in Somerset. I was certainly unaware of the size and reach of the voluntary sector, and find it rather humbling. I’ve been inspired to volunteer some of my spare time to help a committee in my village put on a fundraising event, and when I became involved last June was dismayed to find that they had prepared a brilliant music festival but their PR and marketing was so dismal that they were selling no tickets at all.

In this blog I wanted share some of the knowledge I have developed during my career to date, with the aim of steering very small charities and community groups towards making the very best out of their non-existent marketing budgets and precious time. A quick ‘Google’ can certainly help you with the basics of communications and marketing, but there is advice out there that I think is a poor fit for small businesses and charities.

Who do you want to talk to? Is that different to who you are talking to now?

Even the smallest community group would be investing their time well by spending just an hour thinking about their audiences, if they want to be sustainable and effective. Who do you want to hear about what you are doing? If you are already reaching them, how can you find more people just like them to share your story? Thinking about where and how you connect with people should shape and drive your marketing, so bear that in mind as you read on.

Social media – can you make it work for you?

While carrying out agency work I was forever responding to my client’s desires to become digital, everyone wanted a Facebook page, a Twitter profile – the ‘party line’ was that you had to be seen to be have a presence on social media, and the consequences of getting left behind would be catastrophic (think of Kodak missing the digital photography boat and sinking without a trace). I held reservations then, and still do, about the need for small to medium-sized businesses to spend heaps of time on social media. A Facebook page can act as a very basic webpage if your budget or expertise don’t allow for a full website and along with Twitter can allow you to post news and events for free, so don’t write it off as pointless. But spending hours a week immersed in posting, particularly if you see limited responses from the same small pool of people or groups, can be timewasting and there are other tools where your time may be better spent.   

In addition, and while I have been getting to grips with marketing in the third sector, we have also witnessed significant changes to the way that information is delivered on many popular social media sites that limits the true reach of posts. Put simply, the business of turning social networks into effective advertising platforms has rendered it a far less effective free marketing tool for groups, charities and businesses – plummeting reach and engagement levels force people into using the advertising options on Facebook if they want to maintain the effectiveness of the page.

 Please don’t think you should delete your Facebook page and no longer Tweet – it is still worth posting good news and opportunities on there if you are reaching clients, beneficiaries and possible sources of funding. At SCF I ensure we post grant funding streams, case studies, details of events and application deadlines – there is reasonable interaction with our posts, but not a chance that we are reaching everyone we need to or can.  

Fall back in love with emailing people

Email is still a vitally important way to communicate with anyone connected to and interested in your organisation. The average person checks their email 15 times a day (I know I check mine far more!), and not many companies can say that about their websites or social media feeds, can they? The dependency people have on their emails should not be underestimated, particularly now that so many aspects of life are online - even applying for a grant from SCF!

Building up a mailing list doesn’t have to be labour intensive and can be an on-going process – just make sure you capture that data when you collect personal information from supporters and beneficiaries. Use email to share your messages, whether it is just from your regular email account or from free mass-email platforms such as Mailchimp. Think about creating a newsletter, perhaps re-using content from social media- and send out a concise monthly update that can reach so many more people than a Tweet.  

Explore every avenue and play to your strengths!

Print press may have a limited life, but people are more likely to read their local press than national newspapers, so it is worth building a relationship with yours. Writing a press release isn’t hard – just make sure you are clear and put the newsworthy information in the title and the first sentence. Cut the waffle and a time-starved journalist will be far more likely to understand what you have done and why it’s important to local readers. A clear, strong and high res image never hurts either! 

Forums and digital message boards have lost out to social media in terms of profile and numbers, but they are still there and can provide a great way to spread the word about what you are doing. They could be invaluable to share event information and find  

Finally, very small local charities do have an advantage over larger charities – they are often run by people embedded in the local communities they are trying to serve. This ‘on the ground’ intelligence is something that larger charities cannot hope to nurture, and can be used to your advantage. Use local networking to reach your target audience – meetings, forums and community discussion groups are all fantastic ways to share your message and reach more people. This level of marketing is far more personal and credible than a mass mailout dropped through a person’s letterbox could ever be and you cannot fail to convey your passion and commitment to your audience.   


Growing Well

By Andy Ridgewell, Programmes Manager

21st March 2016

Many of us retreat to the garden to find peace and quiet amongst the flowerbeds. But as well as being an activity that you can enjoy on your own, gardening is now seen as having a much wider range of health benefits.

Since I joined the Community Foundation at the beginning of the year I’ve been impressed with the range of applicatio

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