Winner - Charity Governance Awards
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Winner - Charity Governance Awards


Smallwood Trust

I stepped in as Interim CEO when the board were frustrated by the lack of impact. Working with them I modernised the charity, from how its mission and values actually delivered to the vision, right the way through to the way it delivered support to women in financial need. I become Chair of Trustee once we had completed that process and could recruit a permanent CEO.

Who they are

Smallwood Trust is a national gender-focused funder with a clear mission: to enable women to be financially resilient. The charity’s aim to end gendered poverty by providing grants to (1) individual women, who are often facing destitution, for essential needs, enabling them to live with dignity, avert crisis and get back on their feet; (2) frontline women’s sector organisations, helping to build their capacity to deliver vital services to women with complex needs and their children; and (3) policy initiatives so that decision makers are aware, intentional and accountable for improving gendered poverty. All grant funding is directed at supporting financially vulnerable women to overcome adversity and build a confident, positive and secure future.

What they’ve achieved

By the end of 2015, the 130-year old Trust was at a critical turning point. The number of beneficiaries had reduced to just 384, despite the endowments having grown significantly. Despite the clear need, it was increasingly difficult for financially vulnerable women to access hardship grants – the Trust was asking applicants to submit up to 17 different documents — and the potential to support a significantly larger number of financially vulnerable women wasn’t being realised. At the same time, the Trust had become isolated from wider funders and third sector networks, and its outdated bureaucratic processes were having negative effects both internally and externally.

The board intervened, recognising that a radical turnaround strategy was necessary to transform the Trust into a modern and inclusive funding partner. Phase One focussed on getting the right people ‘on board’ (recruiting trustees with more skills, experience and diversity), undertaking a major review of the Trust’s governance and legal structure, and identifying a new common purpose and modern mission for the charity. Phase Two included recruiting the Trust’s first permanent CEO, developing a strategic plan to increase the Trust’s support of financially vulnerable women, implementing new evaluation and learning methodologies to inform strategic decisions, adopting a new legal structure, and — not least of all — launching a new brand for the evolved, modern funder that remained sensitive to the Trusts long history.

In pursuit of its redefined mission (‘enabling women to be financially resilient’), the charity has supported 6,950 financially vulnerable women (on track to hit its target of 10,000 before 2021). Not only that, but it raised its application success rate from 1% (2016) to 70% (2019), increased its monthly hardship payments from £29,000 to nearly £60,000, granted 40 new multi-year grants to frontline women’s organisations, launched two reports at the Houses of Parliament, and focussed on increasing funding to ‘left behind’ areas in the North of England and Midlands.

Why they won

Judges praised this charity’s approach to governance, which gave substantive and consistent consideration to beneficiaries. Led by the board, decisions were taken to properly apply the resources of the charity for its beneficiaries. The board took brave decisions in implementing comprehensive new structures and processes, which considerably aided the Smallwood Trust in increasing its social impact. Sweeping reforms across governance and a committment to evaluation and improving impact are aimed at ensuring that the Trust’s new-found success will be sustainable.