£6 million and counting: how Hubbub became a grant maker
By Alex Robinson 2nd February, 2023
Last week we launched the Community Nature Grant Fund as part of In Our Nature, our citywide climate campaign in Manchester. It's the latest in a growing series of funds run by Hubbub, which range from seed grants for grassroots community groups to six-figure sums for growing startups and established enterprises. In fact, over the last four years we've run grant programmes with a value of over £6 million, and in our last full year of trading we enabled grant funding to be given to 366 different charities, community groups, and innovators.
This might come as a surprise: after all, we're a grant-seeking environmental charity ourselves. With several grant programmes underway, and on the cusp of a major new fund announcement, we thought this was a good time to reflect on our work in this area. Why have we become a significant grant maker, what have we learned and who funds our programmes?
All our funds have something in common: collaboration. Much of our work involves working with major businesses and charitable foundations to tackle shared problems, finding innovative ways to create social and environmental impact. Grant funds are no different. We bring subject matter expertise; deep links to the sector; measurement and evaluation skills, and, increasingly, draw from our experience running a variety of funds. Our partners bring financial resources and their own expertise and networks.
We run three main types of grant fund, all with their own ambitions and unique characteristics. We've learned useful lessons from them all.
1) Grassroots Community Funding
Hubbub increasingly links frontline community groups and corporate or charitable funding. Take the Community Fridge Network: in partnership with Co-op, we've been able to support the growth of the network from 100 to over 400 fridges over the last 3 years. In 2022 alone, the scaled network redistributed 11.6 million meals' worth of surplus food to over 262 thousand visitors. We support each community organisation with guidance, access to a network of peers, a fridge (of course...) and money towards their costs. The Tech Lending Community Fund and Breaking Ground are other examples in this area.
These groups often have much of the knowledge and skills they need, they just lack the resources to bring their ideas to fruition. 45% of all voluntary groups have an income of under £10,000 a year.* Financial support is often their top concern.
However, getting money out to grassroots groups can be hard: they are under-resourced and can be wary of 'opportunities' that take up time and offer no guarantees. Successful grant-giving at this level requires lots of time and conversations. Funders need to consider the accessibility of their application process, make things simple for the applicant and not overburden them with reporting requirements. To boil it down: build trust and offer trust in return.
2) Accelerating Innovation
At Hubbub we've always sought innovative solutions that can offer step-changes in impact, from our 'nudge' voting ashtray the Ballot Bin to using drones to map coastal litter. Our entrepreneurial approach has enabled us to combine with major businesses to support grant funds that seek to accelerate progress in challenging areas. The £1m Circular Future Fund with the John Lewis Partnership is supporting sector-leaders like plastic-free period products company Dame as well as experiments with breakthrough potential, from expandable children's shoes to polyester dye removal. Our work with eBay's Circular Fashion Innovator's Fund and the Time After Time Fund for e-waste with Virgin Media O2 are similar, with companies seeking to fast-track the success of new initiatives that align with their own sustainability ambitions, but could have a far wider impact if successful.
These are high risk, high reward ventures. A big part of our role is to help assess the potential for impact, and to mitigate the risk. We've learned to do this through careful design of grant criteria, thorough assessment, and grant panels with independent subject matter expertise. The judges of the reusable packaging-focused Bring It Back Fund, for example, included two academics and a representative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, as well as a food retailer and our lead partner, Starbucks.
Post-funding support is crucial, too. Local groups we funded as part of In Our Nature in 2021 talked about how communications support had increased their following and reach, while others mentioned simply feeling supported and connected to their peers. Grantees can often learn from one another, and as a funder we can create opportunities for them to do so.
3) Scaling What Works
Hubbub is designed to run experimental projects and, where possible, to scale-up the successful elements. But we only have the capacity to do so much. While we're committed to sharing our results openly and creating How To guides for others to follow, sometimes funding is needed alongside the know-how. Take our In The Loop fund, in partnership with The Coca-Cola Foundation. In The Loop is a collaborative approach to boosting recycling on-the-go, and its results in cities across the UK show it could achieve its aim of creating a consistent and effective nationwide approach - if only councils had the resources to implement it. Grant funding helps to solve that problem, offering both the money and expert support local authorities need to make on-street recycling work in their area. As the approach has been successfully trialled from Edinburgh to Lambeth, they can be confident that it's worth the investment of their time.
Funding for Impact
Making grants is about so much more than making money available. From defining the impact strategy at the beginning to measuring the outcomes at the end, it's a way of working that requires a mix of boldness, careful thought, empathy and trust. You also need a megaphone: just because there is money to give away doesn't mean anyone will find out about it. One of the most vital things we've learned is the need to brand and promote a new fund in order to reach your target audience.
For us, funding and supporting other organisations is one way of creating environmental and social impact at scale. By harnessing innovation and supporting others to replicate what we know works already, we can help the sector go further, faster. Together these funds aim to make it easier for everyone to make environmental choices, whether through providing tried and tested infrastructure such as on-the-go recycling, innovative products and services, or enabling hundreds of community groups to engage their communities in environmental action. Watch this space for regular updates about the impacts of our funds, and news of a major new nature-based fund very soon.
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