CorporatesDonorsFinancialGroupsImpactNewsOCF2017 top ten words with fireworks graphic

Happy New Year to all of our donors, supporters and grant applicants! As we look towards 2018, we reflect on what we have learnt in 2017, which will form the basis of our work going forward.

Our top ten highlights from 2017 are as follows:

1. We launched a more focused grants strategy

In June we announced that we were organising our grant programmes into four distinct streams, with the amount of information required from applicants varying according to the amounts of funding on offer. This was a key development, as it made it easier for groups to apply for simple projects, but also broadened the scope of the support available, encompassing core costs, larger grant sizes and additional help beyond the purely financial. It has also allowed us to be more specific about the causes we aim to fund, with rounds focusing on loneliness, youth social action, cross-community integration, poverty and crime prevention. As well as helping applicants know when best to apply, it has enabled us to bring in more funds from donors interested in the themes, and we will continue to provide this focus in the coming year.

2. We collaborated proactively with other funders

During 2017 OCF has started to make it easier for charities and community groups to access funding from different sources. Consultation with our applicants showed that they were spending disproportionate amounts of time applying to multiple funders for small grants. Other trusts and foundations told us that they wanted to better understand the sector and innovate to provide more support. Through a series of funders’ forums, OCF has brought together some of the key funders in Oxfordshire, showcasing digital possibilities and sharing knowledge about homelessness. We are now encouraging as many funders as possible to join The Good Exchange, an online platform that auto-matches grant applications to relevant funders. From 2018, grant applications to OCF will also be shared on The Good Exchange.

3. We brought more money to the sector

When we published our audited accounts for 2016-17, we revealed that we had increased our donations by 24% since the previous year, bringing in over £1.3 million from our generous donors and partners. This allowed us to make around £850k in grants to 122 different charitable organisations – a 32% increase on the previous year – which forms just one small part of the £1 billion in grants given out by community foundations across the UK. Our 2017 impact report gives a full run-down of progress on all five of our strategic objectives, and includes eight new case studies on the impact of the funding for the people in most need. The current financial year, ending March 2018, looks set to keep up with this progress.

4. We started a wonderful relationship with John Lewis

In February, outgoing Managing Director of John Lewis Andy Street spoke to an audience of OCF supporters and Reciprocate members about the company’s approach to ethical business, citing staff happiness as the key to the retailer’s success. Following in this ethical vein, OCF was delighted to announce later in the year that John Lewis had started working with us, donating £125,000 to found a new Westgate Fund for Oxford. The fund coincides with the opening of the new shopping centre in the city and will be used to alleviate city centre problems such as homelessness and joblessness, with the first grants to be made in early 2018.

5. We shared more impact stories

In our 2017 impact report, we committed to bringing donors more information about the results of the funding we have given. We now have a dedicated section of our website for telling impact stories, and have very recently started to produce a series of short videos featuring charity leaders and beneficiaries themselves talking about the impact of our grant-making on them personally. In early 2017 OCF’s monitoring and evaluation procedures were greatly improved, which will allow us to bring more rigorous measurement of success in future as we receive more feedback from groups about what has changed as a result of our funding.

6. We helped businesses connect with their community

During the year we continued to grow our Reciprocate responsible business group, with new Chair Richard Venables welcoming nine new members, and many companies making ‘impact pledges‘ documenting how they commit to engaging with their community. The Reciprocate Encounters programme was developed, with businesses running a series of free professional skills workshops for local charities on social media, law, HR and branding; and member companies took the lead in offering inclusive work experience and opening up their recruitment processes to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2018, we will focus on boosting charity boards and governance through employee volunteering.

7. We confirmed our good governance

In October, OCF achieved the UK-wide Quality Accreditation (QA4), an independently assessed governance kitemark for community foundations. We also received a visit from Helen Stephenson, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission, who dubbed OCF “the glue helping community to flourish”. This provides our donors and supporters with the reassurance that we will handle funds and relationships with the utmost professionalism – an approach fully supported by our very active Board of Trustees, who along with the staff team attended a strategy away day in November to confirm our ambitions for 2018 and beyond.

8. We learnt from our peers

OCF staff are always keen to learn from others, and the worldwide network of like-minded community foundations provides the perfect opportunity for this. In September we had the privilege of hosting friends from 12 different European community foundations in Oxford, and 2017 also saw the two-yearly UKCF Conference take place in Cardiff. The team was especially inspired by the presentation made by Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo in the US, and we are currently developing plans to take forward a similar partnership approach that will allow us to “lock elbows” across the public, private and third sectors to address social problems in Oxfordshire.

9. We celebrated giving

As we did the two previous years, OCF celebrated #GivingTuesday with a drinks reception for our donors and supporters. This event is getting bigger and better each year, and we were pleased to bring a strong community focus by choosing local social enterprises to host and cater the event. It was also the chance for us to share stories of the impact of our work by allowing beneficiaries of work we have funded to speak at the event. We will be doing more of this in 2018 so please watch out for details!

10. We started to build our convening role

During the year we held several clinics for local charities interested in our new Ambition Programme, through which we aim to give funding and non-financial support for collaborative initiatives that are addressing some of the pressing social problems we identified in Oxfordshire Uncovered. Crucially, we aim to bring together partners from multiple charities, as well as the public and private sectors, to make a difference together. During 2017 we piloted this approach with projects at the Berin Centre, and with South Oxfordshire Food and Education Alliance (SOFEA). This fits with our strategy to take a more proactive and long-term view of the distribution of our funds, and we will be developing this work during 2018.

If you think you can help us in 2018, please get in touch!