‘Communities Can’ demonstrates how capacity building programmes can help strengthen small organizations.

Date: 21 March 2017

communicites-can-logosCommunity organisations possess a deep understanding of the needs of their communities and demonstrate great persistence and resilience in addressing these needs. However, they can face a lack of access to development.

Communities Can, a 2-year pilot to test how best to provide organisational development support for small community groups, set out to demonstrate how they can be supported, and what they can achieve as a result. The Big Lottery Fund and the Young Foundation partnered with Barking and Dagenham CVS, Blackpool and Fylde CVS, Peterborough CVS, Voluntary and Community Action Sunderland and Torbay Community Development Trust to deliver the pilot. An evaluation was carried out by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC).

Opening for applications in July 2015, Communities Can matched 355 small and diverse groups to a range of experienced providers, who provided a wide range of development packages. These included business planning, fundraising governance, understanding organisational needs and measuring impact.

Groups receiving development support included Blackpool Buddies, providing peer support to people with mental health problems and Milan, which brings together women over 50 from the Indian diaspora who were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin for social activities, friendship and self-help.


  • 95% of the groups found the support they received useful and just under 50% found it extremely useful.
  • The groups were highly satisfied with the quality of support, with many highly praising providers. 90% awarded their `provider a 4-star rating or higher during feedback; 71% awarded the maximum 5 stars.
  • After receiving the support many of the groups improved their impact and effectiveness, with a number attracting more funding and expanding their reach.
  • The way groups engaged varied. Some were more ‘instrumental’, seeking help to get some tangible things done – such as registering their charity or improving a website and communications reach. Others used it ‘developmentally’ – to think about what they really want to do and how they can do it.

Key learnings about capacity building small community organisations:

  • ‘Assertive’ models of outreach are needed to locate harder to reach grassroots organisations in order to offer support.
  • A segmented approach – by stage of development and ambition – could lead to further improvements in the tailoring and marketing of support.
  • It takes time to build a relationship and adequately assess community groups’ support requirements.
  • Some community groups would value more time over which to access support – being able to check in with advisors or take further counsel over several months.
  • Communities Can piloted a voucher system and encouraged a market of providers but a tailored group of providers could provide a similarly effective but less complex and costly model for delivering support.

The Communities Can pilot has provided many insights for the Big Lottery Fund. As it establishes its new small grants programme, the Fund will consider ways to incorporate learning from Communities Can in pursuit of its ambition to reach smaller and more informal community groups and put people in the lead.

For more details of Communities Can project visit  www.youngfoundation.org or www.thinknpc.org. You can also download the full evaluation report here.


Notes to editors:

  1. Communities Can opened for applications in July 2015. It was piloted in Barking and Dagenham, Blackpool, Peterborough, Sunderland and Torbay. Groups were eligible for up to £2.5k of support and support packages averaged £1,575.
  2. The Young Foundation is a research and action based institute with a formidable track record of confronting inequalities. We work across the UK and internationally to create insight and innovations which put people at the heart of social change. We do this through research, work with communities and social innovation. We also bring together leading thinkers and policy makers around the world to develop new ideas to confront inequalities and create fairer societies. Find out more at youngfoundation.org
  3. The Big Lottery Fund is the largest funder of community activity in the UK. It puts people in the lead to improve their lives and communities, often through small, local projects. It is responsible for giving out 40% of the money raised by National Lottery players for good causes. Every year it awards around 12,000 grants across the UK for health, education, environment and charitable purposes. Since June 2004 it has awarded over £8 billion to projects that change the lives of millions of people. https://www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/
  4. New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) is a charity think tank and consultancy which occupies a unique position at the nexus between charities and funders, helping them achieve the greatest impact. This understanding of both sides of the funding equation is reflected in the variety of skills and knowledge of our people, and their backgrounds in charities and the public and private sector. Find us at thinknpc.org.
  5. For interviews and more information please contact: Lucie Russell on lucie.russell@youngfoundation.org or 020 8980 6263.