When people donate to charity, or when trusts and foundations choose how to award grants, it is perhaps understandable that they are keen to see their money being spent directly on service provision rather than back office functions. It is true that service provision is what charities like Body & Soul are fundamentally about, but it is no less true that back office necessities like IT equipment and systems are vital to the work we do. So who should foot the bill for these more mundane aspects of what we do?
For some years now, we have been supplementing the funding we get from traditional sources such as trusts, foundations and statutory agencies with money raised through our social enterprise, which involves hiring out the spaces in our building. This revenue stream has been growing steadily and now provides us with a sizeable proportion of our overall funding. What makes this type of funding particularly valuable is the fact that it is unrestricted – in other words, we can spend it how we see fit. In practice much of it goes on the aspects of our work that are not so attractive to funders – keeping the lights on, the building heated, and people like me in employment!
A recent report from City Bridge Trust highlighted the challenge faced by providers like Body & Soul to make the most of new digital technologies and incorporate them into the way we deliver services. We fully agree that technology provides opportunities to interact with our members in exciting new ways. For example, we want to invest in visual technologies so that in future our members can access interactive workshops and seminars remotely. This is part of our plan to expand our Beyond Boundaries service, allowing us to reach people who are not able to access Body & Soul’s services in person (whether because of geographical distance, mobility issues or other such barriers). However, this expansion costs money, and the funding we currently receive for Beyond Boundaries is restricted – it cannot be used for core funding, e.g. capital investment in IT hardware or ongoing costs like mobile phone contracts. Given the money generated by our social enterprise cannot pay for everything, who should bridge the gap?
City Bridge Trust has been an invaluable supporter of Body & Soul’s work for a long time. In the past they have funded our Head of Teen Programmes and contributed to the refurbishment of our Ofsted-approved children’s centre. Currently they are fully funding our Head of Casework and Advocacy for three years, which gives us much needed stability when it comes to planning what support we can offer to our members in this area.
However much of the funding available to medium-sized charities like Body & Soul is short-term, project-based funding that must be measured narrowly against impact on individual service users. This cultivates a hand-to-mouth approach, and doesn’t allow us to invest in areas like IT or mobile phone contracts, where the benefit to our members is not so easily measured. We hope that City Bridge Trust and funders like them will continue to adopt a flexible and responsive approach to the needs of charities like Body & Soul, even if that requires them to think outside the box when measuring impact.