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November 1, 2011

Little and local just as important

The Scottish Government’s new £4m Enterprise Growth Fund was massively oversubscribed (600+ bids totalling more than £50m).  Predictably these major schemes attract the attention. But equally important are the schemes that disburse very small amounts of money to thousands of local groups. These groups form the bedrock of community life and without them communities would literally fall apart. The evaluation of VAF’s community chest makes interesting reading

The specific findings of the evaluation of the Community Chest Fund were:

1. The Community Chest has successfully engaged with very small community groups across Scotland with grants made in every local authority area.

69% of applications were from, and 74% of grants awarded went to groups with an income of under £10,000. 63% of available funding was awarded to community groups or voluntary organisations not registered as a charity. Over a quarter of applications came from groups that had been operating for less than a year. For the majority of groups who responded to the survey, this was their first funding application.

2. The Community Chest successfully attracted applications from, and awarded grants in 6 local authority areas from which VAF and other funders had traditionally received few applications

The unique approach taken by VAF to penetrating those local authority areas where historically there has been a very poor uptake of mainstream funding was highly successful. Over the two and half years of the grant programme, an average of 40 applications came from each of the 6 priority areas. This compared with an average of only 24 applications from each of the other 26 local authority areas.

3. The Community Chest successfully helped over 500 small local organisations to build their capacity to sustain and develop their activities or services

The combination of a very flexible grant along with the delivery of free training was a powerful tool to engage small groups, and build the confidence and skills of volunteers and staff to sustain and develop services. Concrete outcomes were delivered by the grant programme for volunteers, the funded organisations and the wider communities in which they operate. In addition 20% of grant funding was directly for capacity building activities.

The training programme, delivered to 441 individuals from over 400 organisations in 21 Local Authority areas, was particularly valued by groups with 92% of survey respondents who had attended the training reporting that their group had benefited from the training.

4. The grant successfully helped sustain services to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people

Applications came from, and awards went to organisations delivering vital services, such as: advocacy advice or information; support groups and befriending; childcare or tackling health and disability issues.

62% of Community Chest funding was used to provide services to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities including: people affected by disability and illness; older people; people from a black or ethnic minority communities; children and families and young people.

70% of applications and grants awarded were for operating costs. 66% of groups responding to the survey stated that their activity could not have gone ahead without the grant they received from the Community Chest.

5. The size of grant, the funding criteria and operation of the Community Chest grant programme successfully met the needs of very small local community groups and the community within which they operate.

At a maximum of £1,000 the grant was large enough to make a big difference to a small group, yet small enough to manage, and allow the application process to be as simple as possible. The application process was considered by respondents to the survey to be “straight forward” and “fairly easy”. The guidance notes and application form were “clear and easy to understand”.

The flexibility of the grant was an important component of the Community Chest grant programme. It allowed groups to address locally identified needs which they were well placed to both understand and react to when equipped with the skills and resources to do so.

Most applicants received a response to their application within 8 weeks. Four grant rounds were held per year to make the programmes as accessible as possible. However, this did mean that a small number of applicants waited up to five months before hearing whether their application had been successful or not.

A number of respondents to the survey also asked for more detailed feedback on why their application had been unsuccessful.


In the light of the findings a number of key recommendations are made for improving the Community Chest grant programme. These are:

1. Consideration should be given to encouraging applications which focus on capacity building activities that help an organisation grow and develop. A target could perhaps be set for this.

2. Consideration should be given to exploring delivering the capacity building training through local third parties, who could be provided with the course materials and trained in their delivery.

3. Consideration should be given to how the delivery and uptake of Measuring Success, the training course on monitoring and evaluation, can be increased.

4. A more detailed explanation of why applications were unsuccessful should be supplied wherever possible.

5. Consideration should be given to reducing the time from application submission to notification of decision.