The Jenga Tower of Charity Funding

It is a difficult time for many families across Surrey (and indeed beyond). It is also tough for the organisations aiming to support them – both public and third sector.

A headline caught my eye this week: “Chronic underfunding of public services pushing charities to crisis point”.

I have long tried to think of a simple analogy to explain a typical charity’s finances. And I think I’ve finally come up with one: it’s like a Jenga tower. Charities are frequently having funding removed, like a block in the game of Jenga. Unlike the game of Jenga, though, they need to keep finding ways of refilling the spaces left by the blocks. If they don’t do that, they will eventually fall over.

Meanwhile, charities are meeting human need in a way that the public sector does not do. Here’s an example from the Home-Start Surrey Heath 2023 Annual Report, just one of the many charities doing fabulous work across Surrey:

“Sometimes it really is that simple. My daughter left my side for the first time and played. It makes me emotional to think back because although I didn’t know what we needed, it turns out it was kindness and someone to take an interest.”

Building on charities, locations, services, etc. that already exist in communities, that offer that wraparound, holistic support, that are, in short, a lifeline to families, is surely the best way to stretch limited resources? And yet, I see time and again that when money does become available it is spent on the creation of another service or team. This only results in yet more silos, more duplication, and consequently more confusion and complexity to the “I don’t know what’s out there” cry.

So, if you are a public sector commissioner or leader with some funding available, might I be so bold as to challenge you to first consider how you can use that funding to build on the wonderful charity services that are out there, asking them how they can enhance their service to achieve your hopes and ambitions for Surrey’s population. I am a strong believer that co-producing solutions makes sense for a number of reasons:

  1. It serves families in a holistic way, building on community-based services that are already valued.
  2. It strengthens a charity’s Jenga funding tower.
  3. It bolsters existing support rather than simply creating yet more services (which adds complexity and cost to the overall ecosystem of support).

Times are tough, finances are tough. All the more reason for the public sector and third sectors to work together for the benefit of families.

– Cate Newnes-Smith

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