Interest, uncertainty, and opportunity: initial reflections on the endowment workshop

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On 1st and 3rd March, BD Giving held two online workshops about Barking & Dagenham’s exciting new community endowment fund. In this blog Geraud de Ville de Goyet shares the workshop participants’ opinions and what we learnt from them.

Following the decision by LBBD Council to transfer a significant endowment fund to the community in December, we planned online workshops to achieve three things.

  • Give participants a brief introduction to charitable endowments and options for investors.
  • Begin a discussion about the principles, governance mechanism, and communication plans for the endowment.
  • Tell participants how they can stay involved as the work progresses.

To ensure that more people would be able to attend, the same workshop was run twice – once in the evening and once in the morning. The workshops were attended by around 40 participants, all of whom had a connection to Barking & Dagenham because they live or work here or nearby.

What happened at the endowment workshop?

After I gave a brief introduction, Kate Rogers, Head of Charities & Sustainability at Cazenove Capital and a former board member of the Cripplegate Foundation, shared some of her expertise on charitable endowments, their purpose and characteristics.

What is an endowment? An endowment is a gift of money that is made to an institution or community in order to provide it with an annual income - either by spending it across a number of years, or by investing it in order to generate interests.

After Kate’s speech, participants broke into small groups to discuss the approach to investing the fund, the governance of the fund, and how the community should be involved.  

What the community told us

I was uncertain about how the workshop would unfold; ours is a novel approach and there aren’t many examples out there for us to emulate. Plus people have a lot on so I didn’t know whether there would be much interest in the more technical bits of the endowment, such as the investment approach, as opposed to the grants that will be made available with the income it generates. At times, we did jump from the topic of investment to questions about grants, but I interpreted this as a need for clearer communication about the endowment – as opposed to a lack of interest. 

In fact, I was struck by the interest shown in involving the community in discussions about the investment. One participant even suggested enabling community groups to co-invest their own funds alongside the main endowment.

There is no better learning than when you see what happens with your own money

There was also a high level of expectation, and an invitation for us to carry out additional research with and on behalf of the community, with one participant saying:

Yes, we want to be involved and understand the structure but we need you to bring us the options too

There was a clear sense of responsibility towards the community, which translated to a prudent approach to investment and a desire not to be rushed into decisions:

I feel there is a general need to educate ourselves. We feel we’re given a big responsibility and that’s the price for participation and active citizenship

Being more inclusive

While ‘inclusivity’ had been presented as a core goal of the endowment fund in my introduction, and indeed of BD Giving generally, there was a strong response from participants and several practical suggestions about how we could be more inclusive.

There were also some pushbacks. Some participants questioned the timing and ambition of the workshop, saying that we had set unrealistic expectations from a two-hour event, and that more work should have been done ahead of the workshop to narrow down the ‘ask’:

I would like to be part of your project going forward, but I remain baffled, how I can

It is great we’re invited to the party but it feels like we’ve eaten and drunk too much

This feeling wasn’t shared by everyone, but there appeared to be a consensus that people wanted more tools to make sense of it all.

I care about ensuring we make the most of people’s precious time to make decisions and I want to stress the importance of people’s own expertise and experience. As an organisation, we see ourselves as creating a space for learning and growing together, this includes questioning and hesitation. For us it was important to start with a broad set of questions, and then work with the community to determine the way forward together.

What we’ll do now

The feedback from this workshop highlighted the responsibility of BD Giving in facilitating this process. We need to focus on education, communication, and even more inclusion.

We had set ourselves an ambitious timeframe to design the endowment fund and get it going but given what we have learnt, we know we need to slow down.

In the coming weeks and months, we will create opportunities for people to develop their knowledge and get involved. We’ll do this by providing educational material in accessible formats, communicating often in multiple places and times, and allowing people to step in and out of the process according to their interest and availability.

We have a unique opportunity to do something amazing here, something which conveys the community’s power now and provides for future generations … Let’s do this!

If you’d like to be involved in the design and delivery of the Community Endowment Fund contact us.

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