Ask, and it will be given unto you, says the Bible. But you have to ask. This was the message from almost all of 22 UK trusts and foundations that met at Cardiff’s City Hall earlier this week. Their common experience is that they do not get enough applications from Wales, as a result of which Wales gets about £44m in donations from trusts and foundations, only about 2 per cent of their UK spend.
They were in Cardiff as the result of an initiative by David and Heather Stevens, two of the founding managers of Cardiff-based Admiral Insurance. Their Waterloo Foundation, now probably the largest private foundation in Wales, had teamed up with the Association of Charitable Foundations and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, to bring representatives of UK trusts to Cardiff for a briefing on social and cultural conditions in Wales and to share their experiences.
Briefings were given by Victoria Winkler of the Bevan Foundation, Graham Benfield from the WCVA and myself on behalf of the IWA.
Only two of the 22 trusts represented at the session claimed to have no shortage of Welsh applications: the BBC’s Children in Need and the Lloyds/TSB Foundation. Significantly, both have staff based in Wales, while Children in Need has the added benefit of massive guaranteed exposure on television.
This evidence confirmed my own experience while at the Arts Council of Wales some years ago when a few of the largest trusts in the UK told me of their common experience that, first, they had few applications from Wales, but just as significantly, the applications were often badly researched, failing to meet the trust’s aims and criteria and, more surprisingly, that Welsh organisations often did not ask for enough.
Why should this be? Graham Benfield, told us that that there were 30,000 voluntary organisations in Wales, representing half a million volunteers. This speaks volumes for the community spirit in Wales. Uniquely in the UK, this has been recognised in the devolution statutes that decree a partnership between the Assembly and the sector, complete with a Voluntary Sector Partnership Council and County Volunteer Councils in every county.
The awful thought occurred that Welsh organisations may be passing up the chance of funding from trusts and foundations because, as Professor Kevin Morgan of Cardiff University often argues, Wales has become too Welsh Government-centric.
The thought was buttressed by Graham Benfield’s data which showed that 43 per cent of the income of the voluntary sector in Wales comes from public sources: 22 per cent from the Welsh Government, 17 per cent from local government and health authorities, 4 per cent from Europe, with another 4 per cent from the National Lottery. As for the remaining 53 per cent, the public donates 26 per cent, with another 20 per cent coming from trading and investments, 4 per cent from business and only 3 per cent from trusts and foundations.
There is just the possibility that voluntary organisations in Wales, often with tiny staffs or no staff at all, find it easier to apply for public funding schemes in Wales than to research the thousands of private trusts that exist, most of them outside the coungry.
The Trusts themselves acknowledged that there is often a difficulty in dealing with the small scale of almost everything in Wales. In discussion several started to think in terms of what consortia of private trusts could do to tackle issues in a coordinated way, either on an all-Wales basis or, more likely, across a more limited area.
Equally, there might be a role for the WCVA, by adding to its existing training and support services with more research and brokerage, leading to the aggregation of the needs of organisations with similar issues into larger applications.
It’s not just a question of bringing more money into Wales, although we could certainly do with the extra £66m that would bring us up to the magic 5 per cent share of UK trust giving. It’s also a question of philosophy. The underlying value of the voluntary sector is to keep open that public space that is neither tied to government nor private business. We must be careful not to let our voluntary sector be nationalised.