There’s no time like the present: changing the funding sector

February 22, 2022

There’s a big problem in the small charity sector.

The Fore has been listening to its grantees and a clear theme emerged: small organisations have struggled to access funding in 2021.

Emergency funding kept the small charity sector afloat during the first wave of the pandemic. Since, then it has dried up, leaving these organisations in a precarious position as they deal with COVID’s ongoing impact. Many of the funding sector’s umbrella bodies – ACF and London Funders amongst them – have hailed significant change in the sector. However, according to organisations on the ground, it seems many funders have returned to business as usual. This means complicated criteria and application processes that give preference to charities they know already. 

Thankfully, some funders are different

There are funders who champion funding small charities with urgency. John Bothamley has long understood the need to give more now.  When John founded the Four Acre Trust he made an unusual decision to spend all the funds he had. “Spending down” or “spending-out”, the practice of giving away funds within a time limited period. It’s quite fashionable now with celebrated examples including the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and the Bill Gates Foundation. But in 1996, it was radical.  But the chances are you’ve never heard of John or Four Acre Trust, and he prefers to keep it that way.  This is a shame because since setting up Four Acre, John has given away the extraordinary sum of £35 million to help children and young people.

In fact, John is reluctant to put his own or even Four Acre’s name to the projects he has supported. It’s clear that his priority is getting money to where it’s needed – his philanthropy is no vanity project.  He has a huge sense of what social good means and the importance of supporting charities now.

John made the decision to spend down with his trustees and is giving away money to intermediaries to ensure his donations are being spent well. Four Acre Trust was one of The Fore’s earliest supporters, and John has backed our mission to get funding to the organisations which need it most.

Four Acre Trust’s core mission is to give children and young people a better start in life. Its current programmes include support for into-work schemes and early intervention projects. John is an advocate for the role of communication skills in social mobility and launched Talk the Talk, which teaches soft skills to school leavers. The programme has been so successful that it has now been established as its own charitable organisation.

Learnings for the funding sector

Perhaps the sector can learn from John’s attitude to philanthropy. There’s no disputing that he really does put his money where his mouth is. In a sector where we hear an awful lot of talking and not so much doing, it’s refreshing to see a philanthropist translating his intentions into action.

Mary Rose Gunn is Founder and Chief Executive of The Fore which is dedicated to supporting visionary grassroots social entrepreneurs.  To date, The Fore has distributed £6.5m in funding and 8000 hours of skills support to over 400 small charities and social enterprises.

Find out more about how you can support visionary organisations with the tools they need to thrive.