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It’s clear that we’re living through a historic moment, so we wanted to highlight how Black-led organisations have adapted during this time and pinpoint the persistent issues affecting their capacity to thrive in the UK.
Through the creation of Common Call, we’ve had the opportunity to connect with some fantastic, Black-led impact organisations in the UK that deliver transformative services in their communities. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, these organisations have had to pivot and change how they respond to their communities’ urgent needs. It hasn’t always been easy, but they’ve pulled through, continuing to make an impact during this uncertain time.
We’re excited to unveil two reports that give a glimpse into some of the challenges that Black-led impact organisations have to navigate in the UK, and how critical it is for them to access funding.
In Common Call: Stories from the frontline, we get a birds eye view from inside some of the organisations making a real impact in their communities. Our conversations with Common Call grantees leading these organisations reveal how their lived experiences sparked the inspiration to develop targeted services tackling social and economic issues in their communities. We also speak with people who have benefitted from their services and our Director of Investments and Grants, Ugo Ikokwu explains why funding Black-led impact organisations is vital for British civil society.
Our learning report, This is what we know now takes an internal perspective as we share what we’ve discovered as an organisation provisioning funding through our Common Call initiative. We’ve engaged almost 500 organisations through our work, which gives us a unique insight into the challenges they face and the unique strengths each one has. We share an end-to-end examination of our process for developing the fund and highlight the specific things we can do to enhance the initiative in the future.
Each report explores different aspects of the impacts of funding in communities, and both highlight how crucial it is for Black-led organisations to access funding - the services they provide with these funds is critical to the services they are able to provide. The reports analyse the intricate systemic structures that affect Black-led organisations and propose solutions to help them flourish, even in the most unpredictable circumstances.
Our aim is to bring these issues to light and share our findings with the Do it Now Now community to enable tangible change in British civil society. We hope that you are both informed and inspired to push for the change that our society needs by reading these reports.
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Through our work with British, Black-led impact organisations, we’re continually learning more about how they’re growing and benefitting their communities amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As organisations aim to meet the growing demand for their services, we’ve partnered with them to provide funding and resources to grow and succeed in their endeavours. Here are a few of the significant lessons we’ve learned from surveying and speaking with grant applicants.
How to effectively engage potential grantees
Through the Common Call fund, we engaged with almost 500 grant applicants, 80% of which were new to our organisation. The high number of new applicants suggests that our engagement through social media and email is vital in stimulating a relevant flow of applicants. Our commitment to a joined-up communications strategy helped broaden awareness of the fund and continue to be an essential asset as we build relationships with new and existing Black-led organisations in the UK.
Due to our targeted communications, applicants were able to build more awareness of who we are and how we could partner with them thanks to the Common Call fund.
How to measure impact
Given that Common Call is our pilot fund for this initiative, pre-existing equivalent data does not exist to benchmark the results against other programmes. Our fund was borne out of the need to redress the lack of resources and resource allocation for Black-led organisations in the UK, so it is essential we find a way to measure its impact. To make this possible, we’ve developed a model that compares the funding across different areas so we can establish a foundational approach to understanding the unique context of Black-led impact organisations. Due to the rapid turnaround of the fund, we are not in a position to fully determine the impact of the funding just yet. However, our long-term aims include following if and how this funding has helped organisations grow by using income as a proxy to determine the impact.
As we spotlight the need for ringfenced funding aimed at Black-led impact organisations, it’s equally important we have the data and information to support our approach. Not only does it guide our principles and how we evolve as a fund, it also shapes the outlook of civil society towards Black-led organisations - which is needed to bring systemic change to the sector.
Why Common Call is vital
Overall, we learned that the need for a fund like Common Call is valid and instrumental in providing organisations with additional support, especially at the onset of the global pandemic. If anything, Covid-19 highlighted the already present inequalities and barriers Black-led organisations face on a daily basis. We aim to support organisations through the pandemic and look ahead to restructuring the systemic inequalities that affect Black-led charities and social enterprises, so it’s important that we work together with grantees. Our vision for Common Call is about working with Black-led organisations so they can do what they know best and make a positive change in their community. Our learning will inform how our work continues, and we hope it will shape the future of Black-led organisations for the better.
In our upcoming report, we share our learnings from the inaugural Common Call fund to review what has worked and what we can improve. These findings will inform our future approach as we continue to work with Black-led organisations and help them succeed as they stabilise and seek to scale to meet the growing demand for their services.
Please sign up to our newsletter to receive the report in your inbox when it is released.
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Black-led organisations aiming to serve their communities often face the problem of providing impactful services on a very tight budget. In our research, having engaged with over 500 Black-led social enterprises and charities, we found the primary sources of funding are personal savings and personal income from employment with almost 60% of their stated income coming from these places. Including the racial wage disparity, Black-led organisations are doubly burdened by systemic inequities, as they work towards resolving social issues affecting their communities. With minimal resources to operate vital services, Black-led organisations often shut down due to financial pressures.
In advance of our report on the state of Black-led impact organisations, we spoke with 10 founders of who anonymously confided in us as we sought a deeper understanding of how they’re funding their work and what financial strategies they employ to operate their organisations.
The need for funding
Many of the organisations we spoke with expressed a need for funding to hire knowledgeable and experienced staff to perform important functions within the organisation. On average, Black-led impact organisations have an annual income under £33,000 with 60% of that income coming from the personal savings and salaries of the Directors. The interviewees said they relied on volunteer support or freelance staff to fill skill gaps. Some impact organisations had ambitions to fulfil broader service delivery goals, such as digitisation, impact measurement, increased personalisation of their offering, but could not afford to hire the right person for the role.
As most Black-led organisations are self-funded, access to other sources of income would help offset those costs from their personal income.
The challenges of funding
Some of the organisations we spoke with found the process of applying for funding challenging because their internal structures and capacity were not prepared to face the scrutiny of the assessment criteria. One interviewee expressed frustrations about a lack of understanding of the process, meaning funding was a barrier and not a tangible opportunity for them.
Others spoke about the convoluted steps in applying for funding, investing additional time and effort with funders, only to be denied funding at the very end. Positive referrals and the halo effect from past successful funding applications also made the funding process simpler for some organisations further down the line. However, the positive recommendations can be challenging for organisations to attain in the first place if they cannot succeed in the initial application process.
Financial strategy 1: Consulting
In our discussions with Black-led organisations, some explained how they partner with organisations requesting their services and insights through the form of workshops or talks. By providing expertise and valuable services to soliciting firms, these impact organisations can generate revenue to fund their work. Doubly, through those connections they have the opportunity to function as ambassadors and thought leaders in a particular space (whether that’s a social issue, healthcare, education, etc.). This gives the organisation leverage as a renowned voice, and opens the possibility of future engagements with that firm or other similar firms later down the line.
Financial strategy 2: Grant funding
Several organisations we spoke with had attained grant funding in the past or were in the process of applying for grants. In our survey of 500 Black-led organisations we found that only 40% of them had ever received grants to fund their work. The types of grants and reasons for applying all varied, but the common thread was the expressed need for the grant to support vital operations, or core costs, within each organisation. Though grant funding is available, the process can be especially protracted and challenging for Black-led organisations seeking much-needed funding to continue or include basic functions within their organisations.
Financial strategy 3: Branded merchandise
An entrepreneurial route these impact organisations explored is the creation and sale of branded clothes and products to fund their mission. The items sold are tied to the organisation’s values, with the proceeds going towards the organisation’s operational budget. The motivation behind entering into this area was found to be based on the hope of galvanising their community to purchase products to support the work. However the low profit margins and the increasingly at-risk income streams of the immediate community means that the success of this method is much more work than the income it provides would warrant.
Funding for the future
As Black-led organisations grapple with the challenges of running their organisations, funding their work is a persistent concern, with many organisations facing financial pressures to meet their goals and serve their community.
There is a catch 22 when it comes to funding Black-led organisations in the UK; the corporatisation that funders seek from an organisation, or as one interviewee termed it, the “halo effect”, requires a significant amount of core operational funding for investment into strong hires, branding and marketing, website development and much more. However, there are very few opportunities across the social investment sector to gain core funding and those opportunities are typically reserved for organisations that have already achieved “the halo effect” to begin with.
We believe people with lived experience are best suited to deliver the solutions to their community, but they can’t resolve those issues without suitable access to finances. This is one of the key reasons our grant is entire core funding focused. We prioritise the continued activity and future sustainability of Black-led organisations because we recognise the impact their support has on the health, wealth and future of the communities they work in.
In our upcoming report, we discuss the state of Black-led organisations and what civil society can do to help Black-led charities and social enterprises succeed as they stabilise and seek to scale to meet the growing demand for their services.
Please sign up to our newsletter to receive the report in your inbox when it is released.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible mark on the world, and the same is true for many Black-led organisations who seek to bring positive change to their communities. The global pandemic presents both challenges and opportunities in redressing societal inequities for these changemakers. Black-led organisations are doubly affected as they grapple with a preexisting lack of resources and tools and try to serve end-users who are hardest hit by health inequities and economic crisis.
Despite these strains, our Common Call Fund grantees show how Black-led organisations are still making a meaningful impact during these unusual times. Ahead of our upcoming report on the state of Black-led social enterprise and charities, we’ve spoken with some founders to find out how they’ve continued to support beneficiaries in these particularly testing times.
Supporting mental health awareness
The effects of COVID-19 have also exacerbated mental health issues, especially for Black essential workers on the healthcare frontline. A recent study by King’s College London urged for a national strategy to combat the medical staff’s mental trauma, highlighting the severity of the NHS workforce’s mental health crisis.
Launched amid COVID-19 and the recent Black Lives Matter movement, Equality 4 Black Nurses seeks to address the trauma Black nurses experience alongside institutional racism.
Founder Neomi Bennet tells Common Call, “I've never had to look after so many black patients in one time in the whole of my 10-year nursing career, so when I went into ICU, the people that were dying looked like me, intuitively, I knew that my risk was higher. Nobody took that into account.” Equality 4 Black Nurses offers therapy to Black nurses to address the trauma of COVID-19, which is magnified by racial discrimination.
Female empowerment organisation, the Blossom Foundation, is providing young Black and African girls with resources and knowledge about mental wellbeing. Feelings of anxiety, grief, and loneliness are heightened at this time, impacting mental health. Blossom Foundation’s CEO Ruth Ogunji helps girls and young women between the ages of 10 and 20 identify the state of their mental wellbeing. “We educate them on their mental health, their mental state of mind, how to deal with loss and how to deal with issues.” The foundation’s online group sessions offer a forum to discuss pressing concerns in a safe and welcoming space.
Providing essentials for those in need
Some immigrant communities have faced additional strains due to lack of financial resources and cultural barriers that make it hard to maintain vital relationships with others during social isolation. Some people need to shield so they cannot go out and get the essentials they need to survive. Transportation may prove difficult or dangerous to use due to the risk of spread of the COVID-19 virus. Organisations catering to African immigrant communities have launched specialist delivery services to get resources to those most in need.
Walingamina Shomari’s organisation, Care Link West Midlands, delivers essentials to Central African immigrants in the Midlands struggling to afford or access basics. She tells us: “We deliver food supplies, medicine and day-to-day essentials. A lot of stuff has been done during this COVID period because people will not find this support - especially the elderly. They cannot get this particular support elsewhere because of the cultural and language barriers.”
Similarly, Support and Action Women’s Network (SAWN) is striving to meet unmet needs in the African community through the launch of a mobile food bank offering African staple foods. These food items are understandably underrepresented at mainstream food banks, as they aren’t as easy to come by as staple cupboard goods found in supermarkets. Beneficiaries welcome the organisation’s efforts to help them access foods from their country of origin. SAWN delivers food fortnightly to those in need of supplies. Its founder Rose Ssali says, “When you go to a normal food bank, you are expected to appear in person, and to carry your food. However, the size of one and two packs of potatoes and a pack of rice is too heavy if you're an elderly woman. Fortunately, we have a van and we use that to distribute food.”
A common call for uncommon resilience
As Black-led organisations adjust to serve their communities in a new capacity, the persistent lack of parity affects their ability to deliver the necessary support that allows beneficiaries to thrive. While these organisations’ efforts inspire us, we know more can be done to support them.
Our upcoming report discusses the current context for Black-led organisations and how we’re helping their development post-pandemic.
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