Backbone Fund – £2 million to strengthen the voluntary sector

Published: 28 February 2023 
Three young people in work clothes stand against a leafy background holding signs on brightly coloured paper that say We are the Young Trustees Movement.
Young Trustees Movement. Photo credit: Mita Desai

Today we’re delighted to announce funding* totalling £2 million through the Backbone Fund.

The Fund provides long-term, core funding to key infrastructure organisations, helping to build resilience in the sectors that we support. Part of our commitment to civil society and its leaders, the Backbone Fund – now in its sixth year – enables vital organisations to plan strategically for the long term. 

These organisations provide crucial infrastructure support for the charity, arts, education, migration and youth sectors. They strengthen collaboration and help the sectors we support to exercise a strong independent voice. This commitment and investment are more important than ever as organisations respond and adapt in the face of immense challenges. The following organisations are vital advocates, connectors and collaborators that strengthen civil society through their efforts: 

The Backbone Fund was set up in 2017. To help us understand the Fund’s impact over the last five years, we commissioned an independent evaluation from Nexus Evaluation Ltd and have published a summary of the key findings. The evaluation found that the Backbone Fund provided organisations with: 

  • A sense of credibility and organisational confidence
  • An ability to balance strategic and operational needs
  • A sense of security and stability
  • The ability to be responsive to a fast-changing context
  • Influencing the wider sector and key decision-makers
  • Growth: a catalyst for engaging with other funders
  • Widened reach, engagement and participation

The report also makes a clear case for more funders to invest in infrastructure organisations, encouraging them to: 

  • Provide long term core funding to infrastructure organisations to support the health of the third sector as a whole
  • Support and empower a culture of learning to help build the value case for infrastructure organisations
  • Create a more consistent and collaborative approach across funders and organisations to strengthen voluntary sector infrastructure and support long term resilience
  • Drive diversity, equity and inclusion in the voluntary sector by building a wider ecology of infrastructure organisations

The evaluation demonstrates the value of long term core support for infrastructure organisations – as a result the Foundation has reaffirmed our commitment to the Backbone Fund. Holly Donagh, our Director of Strategic Learning, Insight and Influence, reflects on how the evaluation findings will shape the way we make grants through the Fund going forward in this blog

Moira Sinclair, Chief Executive, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, said:​“The challenges created by the pandemic and more recently by the cost-of-living crisis have underlined the need for good, resourced infrastructure support. We see these organisations as crucial in building a healthy, thriving eco-system – they provide training, speak up for the sectors they support, capture data and act as a vital connector for ideas and leaders. We hope more funders will resource this work and consider long-term, core funding too, giving organisations the head space they need to plan strategically and to respond in dynamic and uncertain times.” 

Caron Bradshaw OBE, Chief Executive, Charity Finance Group (CFG), commented:​“We are delighted to receive this grant through Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s Backbone Fund. Our charity’s vision to inspire a financially confident, dynamic and trustworthy sector is as important today as it was when were founded 35 years ago. This core funding will enable us to continue supporting thousands of charity professionals, and be a strong, impactful voice for and within the sector.​“As an infrastructure organisation and relatively small charity, we understand the enormous challenges that civil society now faces. The sector is doing all it can to remain financially sustainable and the support that charities receive from CFG and others is never more needed. Forward-thinking funders like Paul Hamlyn Foundation play a crucial role in helping us to deliver positive impact for the charity sector. We thank them for recognising this and for providing much-needed support during these uncertain times.” 

Úna Boyd, Immigration Project Coordinator & Solicitor, Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ), commented:​“We really welcome this support from Paul Hamlyn Foundation. This will allow CAJ to continue to drive change forward by making strategic interventions in the particular, complex context of Northern Ireland.” 

Daniel Vockins, Outgoing Executive Director, Strategy & Fundraising, NEON, said:​“We’re delighted to have been chosen for the Backbone Fund by PHF – this will enable us to train more spokespeople, campaigners and people on the frontline to fight for meaningful change in their lives, their communities and across the UK.” 

Cassandra Harrison, Chief Executive Officer, Youth Access, said:​“We’re delighted that Paul Hamlyn Foundation is supporting our work again. This funding will make an enormous difference and help us deliver our vision for young people.​“We have been supporting our national network of services since 1975, driven by the knowledge that if all young people can access high-quality, free advice and counselling services in their community at the earliest opportunity, it will prevent problems from getting worse and lasting longer.​“Not only does evidence show us that our members’ approach is effective, it’s also what young people tell us they want;​‘whole person’ support that treats them as more than a diagnosis. Working with our brilliant partner, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we’re one step closer to making this a reality for more young people.” 

Richard Bray, Chair, Charity Tax Group (CTG), said:​“CTG is delighted to be in receipt of funding from the Paul Hamlyn Backbone Fund. This fund recognises that organisations like CTG can make a huge impact in their support of the whole charity sector.​“In recent years CTG has played a critical role in ensuring a fair tax system for charities. This funding can be transformative as we seek to be equal to the challenges of the digital age and extend our reach to even more charities. If past experience is a guide this funding will pay for itself many times over.”

Julie Bishop, Director, Law Centres Network, said:​“We are grateful to Paul Hamlyn Foundation for their support of our core work. We appreciate their confidence in our collective vision of change, but also their commitment to walk the path with us, and for an extended period. This will be vital to our ability to remain responsive to local and national challenges, and to seize and create new opportunities for working alongside communities through this period of crisis.” 

The Backbone Fund is by invitation only. 

*The award to the Cultural Learning Alliance is non-grant financial support.