User-led organisations are often small, often under-funded and often struggling to stay afloat. User-led groups often get forgotten because they are too busy trying to help people going through difficulties and, because they begin from the lives of people who are already marginalised and discriminated against, they lack the contacts and visibility to attract big name backers, mount media campaigns and catch the attention of decision makers.
Funders need to look at the way they regard mental health user-led organisations. Often the kinds of small, responsive organisations that really meet the needs of people living with distressing feelings and difficult challenges are too small to interest funders interested in scale, too local to interest funders interested in national impact and too specific to interest funders not committed to mental health.
Quote from The Crisis of User-Led Organisations (2019)
Funding Grassroots Mental Health Work
In the winter of 2021 we carried out a survey of 137 grassroots user-led mental health groups regarding their funding experiences. These small and often-overlooked groups work to support the mental health and wellbeing of their communities in a whole host of ways. “User-led” in this context refers to groups led by and for people with lived experience of a particular issue; they are by and for their communities, which may be based on shared experiences, identities, or geographies.
Our report, Funding Grassroots Mental Health Work (2022), based on this research, confirmed that these groups and organisations find it very difficult to get the funding they need to sustain themselves. We hope this report, including the action points and self-evaluation questions for funders, can support funders to resource small grassroots groups sustainably while preserving the qualities that make their work effective and powerful, such as their independence and autonomy.
Tips for funders videos
How to improve the funding offer for user-led groups
Listen to Beth, Debbie, Hameed, Jessica, Sylvia and Taimour, NSUN members whose grassroots organisations received Side By Side grants, offer tips for funders on making your offer more accessible to user-led mental health groups.
Tips include: prioritise simplicity, make it as easy and accessible as possible to both get in touch to find out more and make an application, and offer flexible ongoing support without asking for too much.
What not to do: red flags for user-led groups seeking funding
In this video, NSUN members discuss red flags – things that put them off applying for funding.
Reasons why grassroots groups might not apply for your funding include: complicated application processes, disproportionate monitoring requirements, no offer of core funding, and a lack of a reputation for working productively with and sharing power with marginalised groups.
Suggested reading for funders: reports
In addition to Funding Grassroots Mental Health Work (NSUN, 2022), we recommend reading:
- NSUN: What Do User-Led Groups Need? and Mapping The Lived Experience Landscape in Mental Health
- Boabab Foundation: Digging Deeper
- Local Trust: Below The Radar
- The Ubele Initiative: Harakati Project (“a project to explore opportunities to strengthen and expand the infrastructure that supports anti-racism movements in the UK”) and the Booksa Paper (“concrete and tangible steps that funders can work towards to address structural racism in the sector, the funding landscape and to benefit society as a whole”).
- Ten Years’ Time: Racial Justice and Social Transformation: How Funders Can Act (Report)
Suggested reading for funders: NSUN member blogs
Blogs by Taimour Ahmed, Leah Chikamba, and Slyvia Kalungi (left-right).
What I have found since venturing into mental health work full-time is that because I care so deeply about the work, the boundaries have become a lot more blurred.
With a lack of core costs funding sustainability is a pipe dream. Yet, most funders DO NOT cover core costs. Some funders even refuse to fund overheads.
What would make a massive difference is more specific funding for BAME-led organisations like ourselves…
Suggested listening for funders
Funding user-led groups: learning from the Side By Side Fund
In this episode of the NSUN podcast, Mark Brown talks to Ruairi White (Project Manager at NSUN) and Emma Ormerod (NSUN Associate) about what we learnt from running the Side By Side Fund for grassroots community groups.
The Side by Side Fund awarded small grants of up to £500 to peer support, mutual aid or self-help groups that benefit people/communities who live with mental ill-health, trauma and distress to connect remotely, prepare to move their activities to face-to-face, or make their group more sustainable. The grant was aimed at groups in some way led by members of the community they engage, and peer support was defined as the intentional action of bringing people together who have experiences in common to offer mutual support. Not all groups that fit this bill define themselves as “mental health groups”. Find out more about the Side by Side Fund and view our Grantee Profiles.
In this podcast, we talk about the barriers small, grassroots organisations encounter while trying to get funding for their core activities, moving away from power dynamics in funding towards more participatory grant-making and genuine representation of lived experience, and the value of making funding application processes as straightforward and accessible as possible.