Why place-based giving is more than just a buzzword

Logo GeNErosity Festival

Felicity Spencer-Smith | 27 December 2018

Following her attendance at the first ever GeNErosity Festival, Felicity Spencer-Smith says that putting the ‘place’ at the heart of fundraising campaigns can be a powerful tool to engage supporters.

“Anyone can be a philanthropist” – that was the message from the first ever GeNErosity Festival last month. Hosted in the North East of England, the month long festival explored the history of giving; past, present and future, but also exploring how to influence the future of philanthropy by inspiring more people to experience the joy of giving.

I went to Middlesbrough to see a talk by Rhodri Davies, Head of Policy at CAF, who headlined one of the days with his session on philanthropy, its role in our history, and why it’s missing from our policy conversations for the future. The key message was that ‘place’ is absolutely key in connecting people with the causes that matter to them; it defines who we are as individuals and as a society, and we know that people tend to give to the causes that matter to the area they come from or live in.

Personal affinity a key driver

Rhodri made the case for a better understanding of ‘place-based’ giving. Place-based is a term that has sprung up in recent years, but the concept is by no means new. Put simply it defines initiatives that encourage local philanthropy to a common cause, relies on civic identity and harnesses that for good causes. A person’s affinity with an area or particular cause is a key driver for civic philanthropy.

But it’s a lot more than simply appealing to people who live in a particular place. Place-based giving initiatives are founded on the premise that everyone can give. This means bringing together businesses, funders and locals together (and perhaps some unusual suspects, like corporates) – and realising how we all, as a community with many components, can play our part.

Rhodri argues that a stronger and clearer vision for how giving and the local government can work together. He also warned that all parties need to be aware of the differences between giving and public spending priorities and drivers – but when done right, can work magic for a community initiative or cause. Currently, there are plenty of spaces for philanthropy to play a role in wider policy debates in local areas. We need to work on inserting philanthropy and community into these discussions. There are a few challenges that distract these conversations; the North/South divide, civic renewal, post-Brexit division, political devolution and democratically elected Mayors, austerity and the future roles of cities. 

Putting place at the heart of fundraising campaigns

In order to get more people involved in charitable giving in their local areas, we need to have excellent place-based fundraising. Putting the ‘place’ at the heart of fundraising campaigns can be a powerful tool to engage supporters, and create meaningful connections with the cause and individual. Take a look at Community Foundation serving the Tyne & Wear and Northumberland; they were one of the first foundations to adopt this system of assessing local needs in 2013. They used this ‘to start a conversation about how community philanthropy can best help to improve local quality of life’ – a great example of “place-based” at work!

Place is once again a point of focus for the government and in philanthropic circles. This summer the Civil Society Strategy made ‘placed based’ a key initiative in its plan for the next five to seven years. This pulls in all sorts of themes – communities most importantly, as well as corporate, trusts, individuals – all of these creating a concerted drive to protect or improve an area.

The North East has always been a fantastic example of philanthropic activity (they even have an interactive map to show you exactly where and how). And there are encouraging sounds that this will be further harnessed; Middlesbrough Council have been working on their first ever regeneration strategy, one that includes a philanthropic pledge from councils with the local community. The plan in action will be interesting to see and note the uptake from the community and businesses.

It will be interesting to see how the learnings from the GeNErosity Festival will shape giving in the North East, and help other areas answer the question “how can we use place and philanthropy to best serve our community?” I also hope to see many more examples of this kind of local celebration and promotion of place-based giving in other areas of the country over 2019.

Note: The event was hosted by GeNErosity Festival in Teeside University, Middlesbrough. The festival was held in locations across the North East from 7th to 27th November 2018. For more information, see www.generosityfestival.co.uk.

Felicity Spencer-Smith, External Affairs Officer, Institute of Fundraising


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