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From fund to Foundation – building a rapid response mechanism in the pandemic

B Corp Neighbourly was founded in 2014 to enable businesses including Danone, Aldi, M&S, Lidl and Penguin Random House to support hyper local charities and community causes in the UK and Ireland. Since March it has been working double time as the 15,000 causes in its network saw a 106% increase in need from vulnerable people compared to pre-pandemic levels, and business partners wanted relevant, fast ways to help.

Neighbourly CEO Steve Butterworth chatted to Forster about how an idea for the provision of emergency support was turned into action through a new Community Fund, and why it has evolved to a Foundation.

10 November 2020
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Neighbourly is based on the belief that community resilience builds from strong connections between government, businesses, not-for-profit organisations and individuals. Over the last six years we have proved time and again how big businesses can make a critical difference to individual lives by sharing resources and skills through hyper-local causes.

Often ignored, these small causes operate at street level and have direct knowledge about who needs help in their area – knowing individuals on a named basis. They are trusted and, as proven over the last eight months, they respond quickly.

Not surprisingly, our programmes with national brands are planned in detail and run through a tight management process whether they are around distribution of surplus food or employee volunteering.  At the core is our real-time technical platform which means we can instantly connect what’s available – products, people, money – with what the vetted causes on our platform need, and report back the impact made.

When the pandemic struck it was clear we needed to provide a different type of help.  We run regular voice-from-the-street checks with the causes in our network and they were reporting a rapid increase in need as people locked in, lost work and became unwell. The causes were also being impacted by an instant reduction in volunteers and needing to change the way they delivered their services.

As we looked at the Government response, talked to our business partners and listened to the local causes, we realised that this wasn’t about a blanket “more money” response, it was about speed. Our local causes didn’t need big grants and certainly didn’t have time for complex form filling, they wanted small amounts of money made instantly available so they could pivot their services and support people in their communities.

Our Community Fund was set up in March thanks to generous funding from Lidl, Aldi, M&S, Danone, Southern Co-op, Coca-Cola European Partners, Heineken and giffgaff – all businesses we work closely with and who recognised the importance of getting rapid support out to communities. Since then, over £1.2 million worth of £400 micro-grants have been distributed to more than 3,000 local causes, who in turn supported more than 1 million people.

We know that 75% of the causes in our network had to completely remodel their services in response to the first wave of the pandemic.  We learnt through a recent survey that 100% of recipients found the emergency Community Fund grants invaluable. 69% said the money helped provide comfort to isolated people, while 68% said it helped them look after people’s mental health.

We’ve seen the difference these rapid micro-grants have made – and we’ve also seen how slowly charity funding provided by Government has been distributed. Analysis by Pro Bono Economics suggests that only 36% of charities have been able to access Government funding, leaving many organisations struggling to provide the services that people are increasingly having to rely on.[1]

Having achieved so much so fast with the Fund, and realising that the pandemic is continuing to cause long term damage across the UK, we started conversations with our partners about next steps. This combination of business-funded micro-grants delivered quickly to trusted causes was not only unique but also providing vital support to vulnerable people.

In October, we launched the Neighbourly Foundation in partnership with Lidl, Aldi, Southern Co-op and M&S through its Sparks programme. It uses the same principles as the emergency fund but is in a permanent structure that means we are ready to respond to local needs as well as hold funds for donor-advised distribution.

Sadly, as the second lockdown gets under way and poverty, hunger and mental health problems continue to rise, we know that the foodbanks, domestic abuse charities, elderly care groups and other local causes in our network are again facing increased demand for services. Extreme poverty in the UK is predicted to double by Christmas, alongside a 61% rise in food bank use.[2]

By hearing what the local causes are experiencing in their communities, talking to our business partners and using our existing tech infrastructure we have been able to act fast in the knowledge that what we are doing is adding real and new value.

Now we are extending conversations; to other organisations working in communities so more causes can access the support available and to more national businesses who want to make a difference locally. Talking, asking, listening and acting. It’s a life-changing combination.

For more information on how to support the Neighbourly Foundation or how to become registered as a good cause, please visit 



[2] Trussell Trust, September 2020