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CEO interview: the work of RAFT

09 June 2020

As the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic started to impact society, we chose to support the Rapid Action by The Fore and Trusts (RAFT) emergency fund. The RAFT was launched in early April to help small charities and social enterprises remain viable throughout the pandemic.

LGT Vestra Chairman, David Scott, says, "We realised that swift action was essential to help many smaller organisations survive. We do not have the resource to be able to identify and screen the most deserving charities and, having previously worked with The Fore, it was an obvious decision to work with them to help support small charities in this time of need."

We have supported RAFT in numerous ways, by fundraising and encouraging our people to get personally involved, for example by participating in RAFT funding panels and volunteering their time to charities. Mark Livesey, Partner, shares his experience: "I would absolutely encourage people to get involved in any way they can. Being a panelist really opened my eyes to the important work that so many small charities are doing, and their reliance on both volunteers and fundraising to allow them to continue to deliver these vital services, especially in the current climate. Lots of these charities live fairly hand-to-mouth and the reduction in fundraising activities has left many with large funding gaps."

RAFT has been operating for three months and has been inundated with funding applications. We had the opportunity to interview The Fore CEO, Mary Rose Gunn, on her experience over the past few months.

What made you decide to launch the RAFT fund?

We recognised early on in the COVID-19 crisis that, with all the uncertainty, organisations would not be in a position to develop plans that looked out over a long time horizon. We knew they needed money quickly so they could adapt their programmes to meet the suddenly changing ways in which they had to reach their beneficiaries. We also wanted them to have the support to plan ahead for a post-lockdown period.

How has your workload changed since the onset of the pandemic?

In a normal year, we make about 30 grants. Now, through the RAFT programme, we will be making 300 grants in three months! We have also made huge capacity increases to our volunteering function; normally we send out one or two support requests a week, but, since RAFT launched, we have posted over 150 requests and built out a whole new opportunity search function on our website. So, as you can see, the workload has increased considerably!

What was the reason for setting the maximum grant to £5,000, and how are charities typically using these funds?

The funding is intended to be for a short period only and we thought £5,000 would be enough to help small organisations adapt their models, principally by going remotely, and also begin to plan for the period ahead. We knew there were programmes some organisations could tap into (e.g. the Government's furlough scheme and grants from the National Emergencies Trust) so we didn’t want to duplicate those efforts. Finally, we wanted to make the grants as quickly as we could—otherwise, help may have arrived too late.

Is fundraising likely to go back to how it was pre-crisis, or do you expect a delay or increase in charitable giving post Covid-19?

That’s hard to say. Many funders have deferred decision-making on their core programmes, but at some point they will move into a non-crisis mode of grant-making. At The Fore, we are developing ideas for a transition round of funding, probably for the autumn, with the hope of moving back to a fully normal approach thereafter. However, that does not necessarily mean an exact return to how things were done before—I think every funder has done things differently during this period in the way they fund (both programmatically and operationally) and it is likely that some of those changes will become permanent.

I expect that charities raising money through events will have to make contingency plans in case some aspects of lockdown remain in place or return. Similarly, organisations delivering contracts to earn income may have to change their models quite substantially. That is exactly the sort of work we like to support.

Have you noticed any significant patterns in the funding applications received from charities?

In recent years, charities have worked hard to diversify their funding streams and reduce dependency on grants. Social enterprises have always had an earned income model at the core of what they do. Government and funders have encouraged this diversification into income-generating activities to increase financial sustainability.

A cruel irony of the pandemic is that grant-reliant charities have fared better, as funders have by and large been flexible and allowed organisations to use their previously-approved grants to weather the crisis. By contrast, organisations that had diversified their income have suffered, as contracts and service delivery have been delayed or cancelled. 

Other organisations might not have lost income, but the dramatic surge in demand for their services can be overwhelming.

After you provide charities with funding, do you continue to maintain a relationship with them?

Absolutely! In our normal programme, we have annual monitoring and evaluation discussions with active grantees. We also offer training and workshops (now virtual) and charities can request pro bono support or help finding a trustee anytime. For RAFT, we will be following up with all grantees to see how they have fared and check whether they need some pro bono help. They will also be invited to sign up for the workshops and training.

We have seen many charities turn their services to online delivery, do you think this will continue post covid-19?

We think that a lot of charities will keep online delivery as an element of their model. In some cases, they’ve seen that they can reach a greater number of people over a wider area than they previously thought possible—and all very efficiently. But it is likely most will also want to restart their face-to-face activities—for many people, especially the most vulnerable, there is no substitute for personal interaction. Below is a chart showing which sectors RAFT grants have gone to since April 2020:

RAFT grantees by sector

                                      (Source: The Fore)

To note: this understates the needs of some sectors—e.g. arts organisations—who have simply had to temporarily shut and furlough their staff. We are worried that some of those will be lost permanently.

We are proud to support the RAFT emergency fund. David Scott gives high praise: "The RAFT has done an amazing job at allocating the monies to many charities in a very short space of time with a high level of professionalism."

To find out more, please visit the RAFT emergency fund.

To donate click here.