Inspiring Communities: long-term funding with relationships at its heart

After more than 15 years of working together, the Todd Foundation and long-time community partner Inspiring Communities have developed a relationship based on shared learning and mutual respect that has seen both organisations change the way they work.

When Todd first started funding Inspiring Communities in 2008 both were committed to the concept of community-led development and the importance of allowing communities to use their knowledge to create local solutions to local situations. But they weren’t sure how that would look in practice.

“We knew we were onto something but we didn’t really have a plan in place for how we were going to grow community-led development when we got started, it was just a great big idea,” says Inspiring Community’s Megan Courtney. “Now we're recognised as one of the top NGOs in the country, and the idea of community-led development has become much more mainstream.”

She says that evolution wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Foundation.

“By funding us for the long term and walking alongside us in a high-trust way we’ve been able to develop and adapt over time.”

These days, rather than having a traditional funder-donee relationship, they share ideas and learn from each other about how to best grow and support community-led development.

“I can always say exactly what I think to anyone at Todd,” says Megan. “We tell them what we hear and see and think and what we're experiencing – we can talk about the hard stuff.”

According to Todd’s programme and relationships lead Susie Schwartz, working alongside Inspiring Communities for so many years has led to a deeper understanding of how community-led development works.

“It can seem messy and it doesn’t always follow a linear path, but through our relationship with Inspiring Communities we've really taken on board an appreciation for how change works and we understand that often communities know best about what works for them and what they need to thrive.”

Those insights have helped guide the Foundation’s move to a more flexible way of funding, as well as a growing focus on building  learning relationships with other community partners.

Susie points to the way communities responded during the Covid 19 epidemic and Cyclone Gabrielle as examples of the power of community. “They got things done in ways that were often more effective than action that was led from the centre.”

For Inspiring Communities, the lessons learned in the aftermath of both those events led to the publication of Make the Move: Shifting How the Public Sector Works with Communities in June 2023. It’s a practical resource for leaders in central and local government agencies which they hope will provide a blueprint for the future.

“It reviews the current evidence of working differently – good and bad – and  provides some guidance to the public sector on the shifts required to create the conditions for locally-led change,” says Megan.