16th Oct 2017
Trust. Impact. Passion. Three words ringing in my ears as I leave Cardiff following the inaugural European Community Foundation Initiative (ECFI) Conference and the UK Community Foundations Conference (UKCF).
After 9 years away, I re-joined Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland (CFTWN) last year and was keen to hear how the European movement had changed. As 100 delegates from 22 countries converged, it was poignant that the first I tracked down was Jan Despiegelare. I met Jan in 2004; he was two weeks in post, tasked with establishing the Community Foundation in West Flanders, and visited us to see a CF in action. Fast forward 13 years, and Jan is now an ‘elder statesman’ at the ECFI conference, and it is now me who is grateful to him for sharing thinking and ideas.
I was blown away by the other people I met: Russians, Romanians, Latvians, Italians, and more, from an unbelievable 670 Community Foundations across 27 countries. Many had taken the ‘traditional’ CF model and adapted it to be fit for their culture, economics and political environment. I suspect we in the UK might not immediately recognise them all as CFs. Many have no endowments (because there is no wealth to tap into). Others are not awarding grants to local charities (because there are no local charities) instead doing work themselves. But it was clear that their approaches were working for them.
Trust is in crisis. I first heard that within hours of arriving at ECFI and it was repeated at both conferences. If the state is trusted less, and communities are less trusting of each other, what role should CFs play? Many at the ECFI conference have felt this earlier and more acutely than we have in the UK (although we are catching up). But they have used their unique position in local communities to gain trust and achieve impact. A key way has been by engaging a far broader group of donors: citizens who come together and give time and money to make things happen. I have struggled in the past to see why we at CFTWN would pursue small gifts when we can get larger donations (our endowment is now £80m). I saw a danger that we would be in competition with the very local charities that we support. However, presentations at ECFI, and later challenges at the UKCF conference from John Nickson and Sir Toms Hughes-Hallett made me rethink, and I see ways that we could and should do more to increase cohesion by engaging a broader audience.
The ECFI conference is over in a flash. Feeling inspired and up to date (and pleased to have practised my rusty Italian) I move straight into the UKCF conference and its 370 delegates.
I wanted answers on from the UKCF conference on ‘how we make more impact?’ and ‘how we more clearly demonstrate it?’ For me the most inspiring speaker was Clothilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, CEO at Greater Buffalo Community Foundation, USA. 10 years ago, they changed their focus fundamentally, shifting from ‘increasing assets’ to ‘increasing impact’. The essence was to become smart and intelligent brokers, not just funders. They recognised that they could use their discretionary assets – time, networks and funding – differently. Clothilde believes that relationships are the most powerful value of CFs. Hers is known as a trusted local convenor that makes things happen. And, importantly, they have brought their donors with them and seen that impact drives growth. She inspired me and many in the audience.
I am passionate about the work I do and I am inspired spending time with other passionate people. So, thank you to conference colleagues and presenters who shared their passion. As a ‘glass half full’ person, I have skipped over many of the challenges we were presented with. But I believe that with its passion and commitment, our movement will address these and grow stronger from them.