Lloyds Bank Foundation: Why small charities do and should engage in policy – and importantly, how.

On policy day of Small Charities Week, let’s think about why small charities do and should engage in policy – and importantly, how.

At Lloyds Bank Foundation we support hundreds of small charities helping people tackle complex social issues, from domestic abuse to dependency and homelessness to asylum processes. These charities are helping people who too often have fallen through the net of state provision. They’re delivering critical support to help people piece their lives back together. But charities do not exist just to pick up the pieces. In many cases, they exist to wrong a right. To tackle an injustice. And to make a system work for the people it should be supporting.

While delivering services will always be a critical to most small charities, engaging in policy and influencing work is also a priority for many – even when they don’t realise they’re doing it. Embedded in the communities they serve, small charities’ experience in supporting people at risk makes them well placed to share their expertise and push for change more broadly. They’re picking up on new trends and issues before the rest of us – and they’re figuring out the best way to respond.

Yet when waiting lists are growing and resources are stretched, how are small charities influencing beyond their own services? Here are some great examples from charities that we’re supporting:

  • a charity in the South West is training up experts by experience in public speaking to give them the skills and confidence to shape a new Inclusive City agenda for refugees and asylum seekers
  • a charity in Yorkshire has worked with the local council to get it to adopt a city-wide commitment to supporting people affected by childhood sexual abuse across range of different services
  • a charity in the East of England is informing their local council’s approach to sex workers
  • lots of charities we support are providing information to commissioners to help them understand the complex mix of needs in their area and inform the services that are later commissioned.

Key to engaging in policy and influencing work, particularly for small charities with limited resources, is being clear about the change you want to see – and importantly, who can affect that change. Yes, improving support for refugees and asylum seekers is an aim we can all get behind, but what is the practical change you could influence? Is it about getting housing providers to ensure accommodation is of a suitable quality? Is it about getting local decision makers behind a national campaign to Lift the Ban on working for asylum seekers? Being specific about the change you want to see will help your work become more manageable. Mapping out the audiences who can make that change happen will help to identify the different approaches you might need to take.

Small charities are also particularly well placed to involve experts by experience in policy work. After all, who else is better placed to inform and shape a system or support than someone who has experience of needing that support? It is great to see that more and more policy makers and charities alike are looking for opportunities to engage experts by experience in policy making – although it’s important that the right support is in place and their contribution is fully recognised for the high value it brings.

At the Foundation we want to help small charities to raise their voice and influence. We believe it’s a key way of stemming the rising tide of demand – and preventing many more people from facing complex social issues. We’re actively trying to shape policy and speak up on issues that affect the charities we fund, alongside looking at how we best support small charities to raise their own voices. There are already plenty of resources out there to help – from SMK’s wide reaching Social Power report to more sector specific initiatives such as Asylum Matters for the refugee and asylum seeker sector. We know you have the answers to many of society’s problems, so this policy day we’d urge you to think about how you too could make your voice heard.

Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales is an independent charitable trust funded by Lloyds Banking Group. The Foundation partners with small and local charities helping people overcome complex social issues. During 2018 the Foundation distributed £20 million through new and existing grant, supporting more than 900 charities which helped 142,000 people experiencing disadvantage. Through long-term funding, developmental support and influencing policy and practice, the Foundation helps charities make life-changing impact.

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