Embedding Community-led Thinking into Your Charity’s Work

With many charities feeling the financial impact of the pandemic, its now more important than ever to ensure that your processes are as efficient as possible. It’s also crucial to check whether they effectively deliver results for the communities you serve. This is why organisations such as Global Giving and The Global Fund for Community Foundations have conducted research into the concept of ‘community-led change.’ They’ve found that too often, the tools funders are using do not reflect the community’s perspective or preferences. So what can you do to build community-led thinking into your approach? And how can you equip your staff with the resources they need to always put the community at the centre of their work?  

volunteer during free time

Approaches: top-down or bottom-up?

While there are many ways to approach helping people through charity work, the method you choose can make all the difference. This can be vital to your fundraising success. 

Many prominent charity organisations, such as the British Red Cross, use a top-down approach that relies upon the say of board members and trustees to allocate funds. This approach can be effective with proper application. However, an alternative method is gaining in popularity.  

Bottom-up approaches to charity work directly with beneficiaries to understand their needs and effectively address them. Power is put in the hands of the beneficiary.

What has caused this shift? The experience of some charities has shown us that a top-down approach can have its problems. One infamous example of such charity work came about through Playpumps International. This project sought to install merry-go-rounds connected to bore-hole pumps in African villages in need of clean water. The idea was wonderful; through the power of children’s play, clean water could be generated for an entire village. However, this imposed solution didn’t consider the reality of the proposal. 

The play pumps have to be operated an impossible 27-hours a day to generate the recommended daily minimum water requirement – 15 litres per person. Not to mention the risk of injury and the ethical concerns relating to child labour. Such a failure might have been avoided through better planning and conversation with the communities. 

With a need-centred approach, charity workers can better build a career helping victims of abuse, poverty, hunger and more. 

why people volunteer

Building community-led thinking

Every charity requires different strategies to effectively carry out its work. But there are some useful common approaches to support community-led thinking. They are based on empathy, understanding and empowering communication with the communities being served: 

  1.  Assess the needs of a community by speaking to the community directly 
  2. Define a focus for giving and innovation, running proposed solutions by the community
  3. Develop the skills to better understand resistant counselling clients 
  4. Give communities with a say in the allocation of funds raised
  5. Keep evaluating the needs of your community, as they might change 

These strategies and more can all be useful methods of building community-led thinking into your work. In turn, those you serve in the course of your charity work will experience greater benefits and more actionable solutions to their needs. 

But one of the best things you can do for those you help is to leave them with the right resources to find their own solutions and maximize the effectiveness of your work. 

Resources to support a community-led approach

Your toolkit of resources will vary depending on the kind of charity work you do. However, every charity can draw from the same pool of available tools to enact greater change.  

Here are just some of the sources of knowledge available to you:   

  1. Government grants and assistance for non-profit work 
  2. Online courses on everything from treating trauma on the front lines to maximizing fundraising efforts 
  3. Books and publications intended to help individuals through difficult life experiences 
  4. Pro-bono legal support 
  5. Hubs for volunteer help and non-profit resources

Communication is the key

It might sound obvious, but frequent communication with your beneficiaries is the key. It’s easy to find yourself in a situation where you’re trying to deliver a five year strategy, only to find out that the priorities for your community have changed, and you need to change your approach. Make sure you have a way of regularly touching base with community representatives and conducting effective qualitative research into your needs. That way you can be confident that you’re delivering the right support.

Tags: charity sector, community-led thinking, management tips, training and development

Read more posts like this

About the author

Adrian Johansen

Adrian Johansen loves writing about her life experiences, which range from business, to travel, to just living in this crazy world. You can find more of her writing on Contently