Future-proofing advice providers

chris-minnochInnovation, sharing resources and information – and not reinventing the wheel will be key factors in the sector’s survival, says Chris Minnoch

The Future Advice Fund was established five years ago in response to the reduction in public spending on legal advice. Aware of the particular impact this would have on not-for-profit providers, a group of funders (Baring Foundation, Comic Relief, Unbound Philanthropy Foundation, the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund (now closed) and, since 2014, The Legal Education Foundation) pooled resources and invited applications for project funding to help frontline providers improve their sustainability. Grants were also awarded to infrastructure bodies to support their members. The funders expected projects to generate tools and resources that could be shared across the sector and hoped to create a more supportive policy and funding environment for advice.

The fund has now closed for new applications. Over 50 projects have been funded across England and Wales, with each designed to meet one or more of the fund’s ‘bridges’ to sustainability:

  • Making the most effective use of resources
  • Attracting Income
  • Strengthening advice organisations
  • Making strategic use of the law
  • Building the evidence base for advice
  • Advocating and campaigning for advice

With a number of projects completed, and many others able to demonstrate progress, the FAF funders have now commissioned LAPG to pull together the tools, resources and lessons learned to date and share these with the sector. We’ll make as many of these available as we can, through a workshop programme and by developing online resources. We’re building an adjunct to the Legal Voice website, which will host the multimedia resources we’re developing.

Our workshop programme has so far focussed on two main themes: fundraising and social media. These themes are interlinked as fundraising increasingly moves online and as NfPs are looking to harness the benefits of marketing and communications. Having a sophisticated online presence is now more important than ever, as is developing a multi-strand approach to fundraising, but as we know the sector lacks time, expertise and money to invest in staff with specialised skills. Funding barely provides for caseworkers let alone marketing professionals and fundraisers. We’re seeking to address this issue by making resources available, levering in expertise and delivering affordable training. We’re able to do so due to support from The Legal Education Foundation, which is administering the final stages of the Future Advice Fund.

It’s clear that there are very many committed and talented people trying to keep the sector afloat in the face of considerable difficulties. Our challenge is to ensure that this good work and endeavour reaches the maximum number of beneficiaries. We also want to try to minimise the chance that projects unwittingly reinvent the wheel. This was a particular concern of mine in relation to the structure of the Advice Services Transition Fund, with the learning and support aspect being almost an afterthought. All credit to the Future Advice funders for recognising the importance of pooling the resources developed through the fund and the necessity to share these far and wide across the sector.

The broad themes emerging from our initial scoping work are:

  • The emergence of ‘new’ ways of paying for advice – crowdfunding, insurance-based claims, developing a pool of individuals willing to make donations, tapping into different public sector purses, etc.
  • The importance of understanding legal advice as one of a number of connected tools for helping vulnerable clients.
  • The importance of demonstrating the impact and value of legal advice, both in financial and non-financial terms.
  • The need for sound and responsive governance and management, and for trust and co-operation between the two.
  • The need for NfPs to get better at shouting about their successes and having an effective, professional, online presence.
  • The necessity for strong partnerships, between advice providers and other related services.

Over the coming months we’ll develop resources based on these themes. We’ll publish our workshop programme for 2017 soon and will run sessions across the country to give as many providers as possible the chance to attend. TLEF funding ensures we can offer these sessions at affordable rates and can disseminate resources free of charge.

While the FAF projects are achieving impressive results we are aware that many others will be developing new ways of delivering and paying for services and reaching out to and supporting vulnerable clients. I’d be interested to hear from anyone with an innovative idea about how to improve sustainability for social welfare advice services. Please get in touch if you want to discuss any aspect of our project.

 

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