Meet the community foundation that is supporting business through the COVID-19 pandemic

Covid-19 | Covid-19 Advice | Covid-19 News | Interview | South West
Sue Turner

Business Leader recently spoke to Sue Turner, CEO of Quartet Community Foundation, to discuss why the firm has raised over £600,000 through its Coronavirus 2020 Response Fund to support small, local charitable organisations. With is rapid access programme, already £245,000 has been deployed in grants.

Can you give me an overview of your career prior to Quartet?

I’ve spent 50% of my career in the private sector and 50% running not for profits. I was the first person in my family ever to go to university and studied law here in Bristol.

In my early 20s I joined the CBI and was Regional Director for the South West at a very young age. This introduced me to a wide variety of business leaders and it was great to learn from so many experienced people who were generous in sharing what they had learned over their careers.

Before taking over as CEO at Quartet Community Foundation I was the Director of Communications for The Bristol Port Company, a highly entrepreneurial South West business and one of the UK’s most important deep water ports. Throughout my career I’ve blended the values and motivation of the not for profit sector with the techniques and skills of high growth business to get the best of both worlds.

Can you give an overview of Quartet Community Foundation and the work it has done?

Quartet Community Foundation links people – and businesses – who care with local causes that matter. There are c.7,000 local charities, community and voluntary groups across Bristol, Bath, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire, most of which have no fundraising or marketing capability. They do brilliant work helping our most disadvantaged people and communities, but can’t ask the wider world for donations so we provide the easy way to donate to them, with all the due diligence and local knowledge needed.

We give out over £3.5m each year to around 1,000 local causes and we’ve built a permanent endowment worth over £35m. Because of our unique insights into grass-roots local needs and the research we produce every year, we provide donors with detailed, unique philanthropy services. We’re also trusted by leaders in public, private and third sectors to provide deep insights into local social needs and we collaborate with them on how best to tackle issues to make life fairer for more people.

What does your day-to-day role look like?

Running a charity is much like running a business; I make sure my team of 18 have the resources and support they need to do their jobs then I get out of the way to let them do what they do so brilliantly.

As well as ensuring we have solid governance, I spend a lot of my time talking to donors, potential donors and partners of all sorts to forge new relationships that will ensure we keep growing our ability to provide more support to the local third sector.

If I am not out at an event in the evenings and weekends you’ll find me preparing for a board meeting or giving online support to somebody – I am a member of the Governing Board of Bristol’s City Funds and mentor and advise a variety of different people and organisations, as well as being a Non Executive Director with Cornish Mutual, a business based in Truro which specialises in providing general insurance for the farming community across the Westcountry.

How can other businesses in the South West get involved?

We have many business supporters some of whom donate an amount from their profits each year into a fund held in their name. This is invested and the income from the fund is used to make grants to help small local charitable organisations. It is wonderful to see how these funds grow over time – one company’s fund started with an initial donation of just £15,000 and it’s now worth over £500,000. Other companies donate small amounts when they can which is used for immediate grant-making.

We’ve also created and run Bristol Giving Day an annual event each October when teams from companies can have some fun, raise money and donate to small local causes. I’m always happy to hear from anyone interested in exploring opportunities.

Can you tell me about your Coronavirus Response Fund?

As soon as the extent of the crisis became clear, we realised that charities were going to experience a massive cut in income. It’s estimated that around 50% of charity income has disappeared as charities cannot hold fundraising events and the income they rely on from shops, cafes and other trading has dried up.

Many charities feel obliged to stay operational and to carry on supporting disadvantaged people far beyond when a pure business decision would mandate closure.

In fact that need for charities’ services is greater now than ever before.  So at the start of the crisis we launched the Coronavirus 2020 Response Fund.

Thanks to so many generous people we have already raised over £620,000 and in just two weeks we have given £295k in grants to 71 organisations with another £320,000 of grant applications in the pipeline. The road to recovery for charities will be extremely difficult as the demand for their services will continue at unprecedented levels but their ability to fundraise will be constrained. We know how wonderful and generous the British public are so I’d love to hear from anyone that can donate now to the response fund or later during the recovery phase.

How important are social enterprises like yourselves in times like this?

The moral obligation that charities feel to their beneficiaries means that they will keep on delivering services, caring for people and finding ways to keep going through this crisis. It is this ethical drive and determination, even when the logical business decision would be to close, that separates charities from many businesses.

What I’ve learned over the years is that public, private and third sectors all have a lot to teach each other. Business leaders often tell me that they would run charities better but I know many of them would struggle because charities run on such tiny budgets that most business people would throw their hands up in horror and say it is simply not possible to do what we do without more resources.

The wonderful thing about the charity, voluntary and social enterprise sector is that we are used to making a small amount of money stretch an extremely long way!  Anyone in the business world who wants to make their business more efficient should spend some time working in a small, local charity or social enterprise and you will learn a huge amount which will help you make your business more efficient.

What does the future hold for you and Quartet?

The future looks very uncertain for a lot of charities but, because we have our £35m endowment Quartet Community Foundation is in a very good position to keep supporting our sector and providing philanthropy advice to people and businesses far into the future.

We’re going to be taking a leading role across the West of England in raising and deploying funds to help the third sector get back on its feet, using our knowledge of what grassroots communities and organisations really need to help them.

I am an optimist so I’m sure that the people and businesses who have been more fortunate through this crisis will give generously to support hundreds of thousands of people here who are struggling.

Anyone who is able to donate can do so at  

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