Small Grants Fund: review

An evaluation of the Wellbeing Fund Open Applications process, an emergency funding programme set up in March 2020 to support the third sector response to the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Introduction and background

1.1 Background

The Small Grants Fund was set up as part of the Scottish Government's £50 million Wellbeing Fund to distribute small amounts (approximately £2,000 per grant) of funding to voluntary organisations, primarily small community groups. The aim of the fund was to support local voluntary and community groups' immediate responses to the Covid-19 pandemic by providing grants quickly to organisations for which due diligence checks had already recently been completed. It was targeted at groups whose services had been affected by Covid-19 and who could put the grant to immediate use to help support local families and communities at greatest risk from the effects of the pandemic in the short term.

The fund was managed by the Corra Foundation, with funding distributed by a group of national funders: the STV Appeal, Inspiring Scotland, SCVO, the Cattanach Trust and Impact Funding Partners. In the first instance, beginning in late March 2020, organisations previously funded by the national funders who were potentially eligible for the fund were contacted by the funders and invited to apply. The purpose of inviting eligible organisations which had pre-existing funding relationships with the funder was to enable funds to be distributed quickly, reduce potential risks and reduce the need for lengthy financial or governance checks on applicant organisations. Following this, in mid-April 2020 local Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs) were asked to refer local organisations to the fund. Some organisations receiving grants in the early phase were also invited to make second bids later on in the process.

Given the relatively small size of the grants available and the need to distribute the funding as quickly as possible to allow grassroots organisations to tackle the immediate effects of the pandemic, groups were asked only a basic set of questions to identify their eligibility for the fund. This was done to reduce the administrative burden on organisations seeking to act quickly to support their service users. The main criteria for awarding funding were that organisations had had their service provision adversely affected by Covid-19, and that they could put the funding to immediate use to help those at high risk from the effects of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.

Funding was distributed to a wide range of different organisations across Scotland, including those focused on supporting vulnerable children and families, people with mental health needs, people with disabilities or other health needs, older people, and those facing financial hardship.

1.2 Aim and scope of Small Grants Fund review

Given the speed with which the Small Grants Fund needed to be implemented, the nature of the fund itself, and the small amounts of funding being distributed, it was not possible or proportionate to develop mechanisms for conducting a rigorous outcomes or impact evaluation. Instead, the aim of this review is to use the information provided by funded organisations to understand how the Small Grants Fund awards were used and what they were used for. It also looks at the lessons learned about the process of the Small Grants Fund, from the perspective of both funders and recipient organisations.

This report thus seeks to answer the following research questions:

  • Who received funding and what projects did the money support?
  • Was the funding used as intended?
  • What lessons can be learned from the implementation of the Small Grants Fund?

1.3 Method and limitations

This report is based on responses provided by funded organisations to a brief end-of-project monitoring form consisting of a mixture of closed and open-ended questions about what the funding was used for. The monitoring forms were distributed electronically by the funders. Each funding partner developed their own monitoring form, meaning that funded organisations were not all asked the same questions. Out of 1,543 awardees, 1,526 monitoring forms were returned within the necessary timeframe to be included in the analysis, meaning that 99% of funded organisations are included.

As noted above, the speed with which the Small Grants Fund was rolled out and the need to ensure that money reached organisations quickly meant that data collection on the scheme was limited. Bearing in mind the fact that the fund was aimed at small organisations responding to the pandemic, monitoring questions were designed to be light-touch, brief and simple. As such it is beyond the scope of this review to draw any firm conclusions about the overall impact of the funding in terms of outcomes for communities. Rather, this review uses the available data to demonstrate what the funding was spent on, to what extent it was used as intended, and to highlight any lessons learned from the experiences of third sector recipients, and those involved in running and administering the fund.



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