Chief executive's blog: February

Rosemary Macdonald on preparing for the future and funding where no one else will.

THE ETERNAL optimist in me always welcomes February because the mornings and evenings become  a little lighter and it feels like spring is on its way as I go out with the dog for her 6am constitutional.

She had to forego that one day this week I set off early with finance director Vicky Hickey to speak at a Civil Society tech breakfast about our digital transformation project. We were sharing the journey we have been on with Ojo Solutions, a Wiltshire digital consultancy.

We are trying to improve our IT and tech because we know if we can utilise up-to-date technology to work smarter, we can increase our capacity and provide even better value for our donors. The thing is, when you start investigating a subject you come to realise that there are an awful lot of options out there and you can’t possibly understand which is the best for you without some hand-holding, which is where Ojo have come in.

We have been looking at how we want to work in the future, and it has been and exciting and inspiring. For instance, we are now piloting a scheme where two or three people can work on one document while talking to one another on a video conference via Microsoft Teams, a platform that allows collaborative working without sending emails back and forth, or having to journey halfway across the county to sit in the same room.

At the breakfast Vicky and I talked about where we have come from and the journey we are embarking on. It was while preparing for the talk I looked back to 2009 and was struck by the fact we then had five full-time staff. Now we have 7.8 but our endowment is five times the size it was then, the number of grant programmes we run has tripled and the amount of grants we make has doubled.

We can’t work any harder, so we have to work smarter.

In addition to getting some laughter out of 50 hard-bitten IT and tech experts (no mean feat) we were also asked to write an article for the Civil Society Magazine on community foundations and the challenges they face.

 

OTHER REASONS for being cheerful: We have been busy these last few weeks doing what we are really here for, namely handing out much-needed money to groups and individuals who need it most. We have awarded almost £12,000 in education support grants, £35,000 in Tampon Tax funding and more than £100,000 in foundation grants.

All of that money will make a huge difference (although of course, if we’d had more, we could have made an even greater impact).

One of the fascinating things about sifting through the many applications we receive is learning about new areas of need and being able to meet them. One example is the Swindon Family Contact Centre, which I was pleased to see was awarded £10,000 over two years by our foundation grants panel.

The centre is the only point of contact for estranged parents, mostly dads, and is the subject of referrals of broken, bitter and angry families from family courts, social services and solicitors.

But despite the brilliant work they do they rely on volunteers and have to fundraise the majority of their costs themselves.

It strikes me as very wrong that a service that is a fundamental part of the family law cycle receives just a fraction of its costs from the government and has to rely on the generosity of volunteers who give up every Saturday to help it run. More than contact centres have closed in the last ten years and countless more have been forced to reduce their opening hours.

Yet if one family is able to move forward without tying up court time thanks to the contact centre, then the associated savings amount to more than a year of its running costs. It is shameful the state doesn’t fund the service entirely

But this is why community foundations are so important, we step in with finding and support when there is no one else to answer the call.

 

YOU MAY have been lucky enough to see us on BBC Points West last month when their cameras focused on the success of our tenth anniversary Surviving Winter appeal. I am so proud to announce we have hit our £90,000 target, a third as much again as last year.

That means we have been able to give £300 grants to 300 households living in fuel poverty to help with their heating bills. We have spoken to many of these recipients and it is still shocking to me that in a county as generally affluent as Wiltshire there are people who can only heat one room of their house or have to choose between being warm or being hungry.

I’m extremely grateful for the support of our partners, Age UK and Warm and Safe Wiltshire. Thanks also to all of the wonderful people who donated money and to corporate partners like Wadworth and Sprout Café in Devizes who supported us.

We are also so lucky to have the support of our wonderful local media, Ben Prater, Karen Gardner and Will Glennon at the BBC, Shirley Ludford at Swindon 105.5, Spire FM, Wiltshire Life Salisbury Journal, Gazette & Herald, Swindon Advertiser, Swindon Link and Wiltshire Times. Their help in publicising the appeal has been invaluable.

Pictured: Rosemary Macdonald and Vicky Hickey at the Civil Society technology breakfast