Anyone involved in activism, community work, and even charity work, for any length of time will know the headache fundraising brings.
Fundraising itself is complex and time-consuming, and all too often funds come with strings attached determining what they can and can’t be used for.
One group in Bristol is challenging this model, and putting not just money but power back in the hands of the communities that need it most.
Bristol Redistro is a small collective of just nine part-time volunteers, but since launching in 2020 they have distributed over £14,000 to 15 grassroots community groups across Bristol.
The three founders of Bristol Redistro have backgrounds in professional fundraising and grant-making, but were left disillusioned with the power structures that dominated the charity sector.
‘I just felt it was really unjust,’ said Sophie, a member of Bristol Redistro, speaking about the traditional charity model whereby professionals, often from more privileged backgrounds, make decisions about communities of which they may have little or no experience.
It was in a bid to escape this way of working that took Sophie to Edge Fund, a community benefit society who, since 2012, have pioneered an approach known as participatory grantmaking.
A New Approach
“at the end, everyone’s just really happy for everyone else”
Under this model, decisions about funds are made collectively, not just by a small number of board members.
Bristol Redistro borrows from and develops the Edge Fund method. Participating groups themselves are invited to make the decisions, with those groups that obtained funding in one round making the decision in the next round, and so on.
Sophie and her fellow volunteers have no role in the decision-making; their only role is the fundraising – currently via crowd funding – as well as the administration and facilitation.
‘It does really work,’ said Sophie, with the participatory element triggering a “wisdom of crowds” effect. Decision makers will often know applicant groups and the communities in which they work, bring an extra layer of scrutiny to the process
This stands in contrast to traditional funding decisions made by people who, Sophie said, ‘are not on the ground and don’t have that knowledge and don’t have those relationships.’
Sophie said that when Bristol Redistro began there was a worry that having groups make decisions about each other would lead to a competitiveness, but this is not the case: ‘it’s really supportive, and often at the end everyone’s just really happy for everyone else.’
The results speak for themselves. Bristol Redistro is now fundraising for its third round of funding in two years. Round one raised £6,000, round two £8,000, and the current crowd funder is well on its way to £10,000 at time of writing.
To apply for funding, groups must be self-organised, Bristol-based, and working within affected communities. Beyond that, eligibility is inclusive of many groups that may have found traditional funding difficult to obtain, like groups without formal registration and groups practising direct action.
It is this willingness to work with less well represented groups that really sets funders like Bristol Redistro and Edge Fund, and their participatory model, apart.
By distributing not only money but decision-making power, Bristol Redistro is able to focus on funding groups that are, as Sophie put it, ‘more politically motivated, or trying to create social change.’
Whilst funding for practical issues like shelter, food, education and healthcare are important, Sophie argues that such work isn’t ‘changing anything systemically.’ Instead, Bristol Redistro want to support work that challenges oppression, capitalism, and the ‘cultural beliefs in society that cause harm.’
“giving some of your money away doesn’t mean you’re off the hook”
Looking to the future, Bristol Redistro want to grow and offer more funds to more groups.
But beyond this, they want to educate people on issues of class and wealth, with plans for workshops and a zine.
These issues of class and power are crucial for all the volunteers at Bristol Redistro, where donating money is only the start of the process.
‘Giving some of your money away, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook,’ said Sophie. Instead, ‘people need to be active in their own lives, in tackling all the injustices and oppressions’ that exist around us.
Whilst saviourism is sure to continue for some time, organisations like Bristol Redistro offer an alternative for those who don’t want to simply buy a clean conscience but want to actively work towards a fairer future for all.
Bristol-based groups can apply for funding from Bristol Redistro from October 11. Details on the application process can be found here.
The current crowd funder page can be found here.
Feature image: Bristol Redistro.