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Oct 18

A view from across the pond: United Neighbourhood Houses of America

Clare Gilhooly, CEO of Cambridge House Settlement and a Board Trustee of Locality, provides a guest contribution to Locality blog, reporting from the United Neighbourhood Houses of America conference in Washington DC. 

I’m here in very sunny Washington DC to attend the UNCA (United Neighbourhood Houses of America) conference on behalf of Locality and the International Federation of Settlements (IFS).

Conferences here seem to start early compared to back home with an 8am start each morning!  The extra time seems to be spent saying an inordinate amount of “thank you’s” to sponsors but the differences in philanthropy are immediately apparent with a number of individual sponsors. Member organisations as sponsors are also more apparent rather than the usual banks that we would have.

The first presentation was on a Baker Tilly report Disruptive Forces: Driving a Human Services Revolution (for Human Services read VCS to us).  The presentation highlighted similar issues to what we are all facing such as an increase in demand for services and the Government rolling back, but the big strong messages I heard were:

a)    Uncompromising demand from funders for impact 
Not just a few case studies but a strong evidence base of proof.  A clear cost of the intervention and a cost to the lack of intervention – I think we know this but the clock is ticking!

b)   Brand causes not organisations
Be clear, be concise and mobilise. Just having a recognisable brand is not enough – people want to know what is the call to action.

After a lunch of more “thank you’s” and a couple of not so strong workshops, (one that seemed to focus on a Government programme called ‘Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood’ which felt like I’d gone into a 1950’s time warp and was rather alarming).  A networking session followed where a group of us from IFS promoted the forthcoming IFS Conference in Sweden in May 2012.  It would be great to have more colleagues from the UK attend and more information will be available at the Locality Convention in November.

The day ended with a brilliant seminar called ‘Ten Non Profit Funding models’.  A,what we would call a social enterprise, called The Bridgespan Group have undertaken research with 144 organisations that were founded in the early 1970’s and who have grown to a $50m turnover. What they unpicked were some clear themes on funding models and although they were saying for smaller or older/younger organisations it may not be the same.  It was presented brilliantly with some great examples. All the organisations had one main funding source and they had dispensed with the scattergun approach, focussing instead on their main source. Sometimes it’s the simple messages we need to reflect on for our own organisations such as ‘who are your natural funders?’ ‘look at your successful peers and what do they do differently’ and ask your current funders/donors ‘why do they give to you?’

A full copy of their findings is downloadable for free here.

That’s enough from me for today. If you have any thoughts or comments about the topics I have highlighted please do share them in the comments below.  You can also read more about Clare’s second day at the UNCA conference here.

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