COVID Relief Fund 2021: What did we do?

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In this blog Cameron, our Learning & Participation Manager, will take you through the process of our recent COVID Relief Fund – the what and how.

Next week you will be able to read about what we’ve learned and what comes next.

Network of people

Back in March, we released £30,000 in the form of 10 grants to be given to small organisations in the community that had experienced financial difficulties due to the ongoing pandemic. This money came from our Renew Fund, which comes from income generated by local affordable housing owned by Barking & Dagenham Giving.

Currently, the decision to release funding rests solely in the hands of the trustees. They used their experience and knowledge of the borough over the last year to set a rough guideline for this fund – namely the size of each grant, which would hopefully target smaller organisations in the borough.

I wanted to be part of a process that contributed something and that someone in the community would be better off because of my input. It’s rare to be given an opportunity to make decisions like this in deciding community funding, to be able to contribute to the local economy without being involved physically

Relief Fund Decision-maker

How did we do it?

Geraud and I used this guidance to set the threshold at a pre-pandemic income of less than £75,000. As the board wanted this money to be released quickly, we decided to keep the structure similar to the Rapid Response Fund and incorporate the lessons learned from that project, especially on the decision-making side.

With the RRF, the most common bit of feedback was that the decision-makers didn’t really feel like a group so one of the questions we set out to ask was ‘how can we create a sense of community among decision-makers?’

We settled on testing out two things:

1. Running an induction session with the decision-makers so that they got to meet one another and find out more about what they were being asked to do. We also invited decision-makers from the RRF to speak about their experience – in this way we hoped to cascade knowledge and experience about participation.

An example of Consider.it being used as part of the Engage Seattle Project
An example of Consider.it being used as part of the Engage Seattle Project

2. Using the online tool Consider.It to log decisions – this allows you to put your decision on a sliding scale of -100 to 100, as well as the ability to add a comment explaining your choice and reply to other people’s comments.

Once we’d decided these details, we set up a simple application form. We framed the questions around the losses organisations had endured and how this funding would support them.

At the same time, we used our network to put out a call for decision-makers, who would be paid for their time.

I felt involved and felt a sense of responsibility to the community developing throughout the process – it’s one thing caring about the community, it’s another thing to make decisions that impact on it.

Relief Fund Decision-maker

We offered to pay £10.85ph and estimated the work would take 7-10 hours to complete.

We asked people to keep a record of their own time and we trusted what they reported.

We had 24 applications, with over half of them being people who were new to us. We prioritised the new people as we want to build our network.

We ended up with 8 people who were able to commit to the full process – this was also about the number of people we could manage with our resources at the time.

We ran an online induction in the evening to ensure that people could fit it around other commitments.

This consisted of a short introduction to BD Giving and participatory grant making, showing them the tools they would be using and answering any questions.

In the end, we had 30 funding applications which was more than we had anticipated for a fund of this size. We made the decision to randomly split the decision-makers in half and randomly allocate applications to each group.

We did this as the decision-makers had signed up to a process that would take them about 10-12 hours – it would probably double that time if we then asked them to assess 30 applications each.

They read through the applications in their own time and logged into Consider.it to make decisions.

We also asked them to complete a reflection sheet for each application, where they could explain their decisions and offer feedback.

After a week of decision-making, Geraud and I suggested that we would fund 7 organisations that achieved a clear positive consensus among decision-makers.

The group had a few days to make a decision and the suggestion was accepted by the group.

We then went back to the group with 4 applications that had fallen slightly short of the mark and asked all decision-makers to assess them – of these, 3 got a positive consensus.

At every stage of the process we stressed to decision-makers that it was an acceptable outcome if not all the grants were allocated this time.

It was good for morale.

Relief Fund Decision-maker

After this, we offered the funding to the ten successful candidates. In the weeks since, I have had a conversation with each of the decision-makers to collect feedback about the process from their perspective.

You will have seen some of the things they said throughout this blog – next time, I will go a bit deeper and set out what we’ve learned from this feedback and what we want to do going forward.

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