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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 report, Stories from the frontline, 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 see the report below:
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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 report, Stories from the frontline, discusses the current context for Black-led organisations and how we’re helping their development post-pandemic.
Please see our report below:
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In times of social distancing and social isolation, the need for community has never been greater. For our Common Call grantees, the value of shared bonds is what makes these organisations so meaningful to the people they serve. We spoke with some of the leaders behind these organisations to find out how they’ve elevated their impact through the power of community.
Around one percent of the UK population is on the autism spectrum. This can make it challenging to find people with the same shared experience, especially if you’re Black and dealing with stigma within your community. It’s why Mariama Kandeh set up Autism Voice to help bring together Black people with autism and their families after her son was diagnosed with autism.
Speaking on the lack of awareness in her community, Mariama says, “Some of us had never heard the word before.” Realising this need for community, she established the organisation as a place where autistic people and their loved ones could get together. “We organise weekly and monthly support group meetings wherein autistic people, parents/carers meet, share experience, gain knowledge from lived experiences, offer advice and support to others.”
The community is a vital component of Autism Voice’s reach. “At the moment, we are learning a lot from them, both as parents/carers, volunteers and through our support work to our service users and they have been instrumental in all our projects.”
A STEM career is a dream for many, but with a lack of visible role models in the industry, BBStem wants to increase the number of Black professionals in STEM and create a sense of belonging for those already in the industry.
Founder Kayisha Payne was inspired to launch the group after connecting with a Black chemical engineer who had forged a successful career with a similar background to her. Through industry workshops and peer networking, Kayisha introduces more opportunities to Black people interested in a STEM career. “I wanted to create a platform where other young black people could see themselves in roles they wanted to fulfil, but also be connected with professionals so that they could ask any sort of questions without feeling intimidated.”
The African French Speaking Community Support (AFSCS) bridges the cultural gap for African immigrants in England and Wales, especially those in the West Midlands. The community underpins the organisation’s growth as it grew from a small English-language study group between friends. The group aims to help French-speaking immigrants from Africa to assimilate into UK life.
AFSCS’ Chair, Jacques Matensi-Kubanza is inspired to help others like him as he can empathise with the challenges they face because of the cultural and language barriers he experienced when moving to the UK. “Our hope is that everyone from the French-speaking community can be equipped with knowledge. We are here to engage young people to make sure they have a bright future and to excel in whatever they are doing.”
How do you build a sense of sisterhood for some of the most disenfranchised girls and women in London? The women behind preventative early intervention organisation Sister System believe the answer lies in giving Black girls the “big sister they never had.” The organisation’s programmes provide girls aged 12 to 18 access to leadership programmes, a “big sister” mentor, and a support group for at-risk youth.
Founder and director Okela Douglas tells us, “‘Sisterhood means support, encouragement, honesty, learning, growing, sharing, and empowerment.” These values underpin the work of her organisation. The sisterly touch comes from the team’s lived experiences navigating their teenage years. “It became clear that the one common denominator that allowed us to not only survive but thrive was our positive peer relationships with other girls and women. The difference was those positive, empowering female relationships.”
It takes time and effort to build a genuine community, something our Common Call grantees know all too well. You cannot manufacture understanding or empathy, which is why these organisations stand out as examples of Black-led organisations leading change through community-centred approaches. They know their work matters and we know systemic change must happen for these organisations to thrive to their fullest potential.
In our report, Stories from the Frontline, we examine the state of Black-led organisations and how Common Call is helping them make a positive impact.
Please see below to access the report:
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A word from Bayo Adelaja, CEO
So much has changed across the world over the past year. As an inequality focused organisation we have seen a significant rise in the need for our services, support and advocacy for the demographic of people we centre in our work, namely Black people.
We continue to be very grateful to our key partners and clients who have financially supported our work and provided access points for our beneficiaries to gain even more support than we are able to provide as a single organisation.In keeping with our belief in open innovation, we are happy to have a network of stakeholders that have seen the need for the deliberate and continued support of the Black community in the UK and across Africa.
2019-20 has been a learning year for our organisation, in terms of what we need to do for our beneficiaries, but in light of COVID, also what we need to do to ensure our organisation’s continued sustainability financially and as a deliverer of impact across under-served communities.