Helping local charities to thrive

Business expertise and guidance given through an innovative project are transforming charities, helping them to thrive and aim for excellence.

Published in Essex Director Magazine Winter 2023|24

Community Spirit: Essex Community Foundation

With an aim to support the long-term future of local charities by contributing to their strategic development, the Thriving Third Sector Fund is managed by the independent charitable trust, Essex Community Foundation (ECF).

Based in Chelmsford, ECF gives around £4.5 million in grants every year to local charities to support their running costs and deliver projects that provide a wide range of help to local people. The organisation manages around 180 individually named charitable funds on behalf of individuals, families, companies, and public agencies.

Thrive Programme

One of the initiatives ECF has funded through the Thriving Third Sector Fund (TTS) is the Thrive Programme, delivered by Cranfield Trust, the leading provider of pro bono consultancy and management support for the voluntary sector.

The work of Cranfield Trust focuses on small to medium-sized charities that provide vital services to local communities, but that have few resources to invest in management and leadership development and external support. Volunteers, who are either still working or now retired, with experience in business are matched to charities and work with them, and CEOs, to help strengthen their skills so the organisation can move forward and meet future challenges.

Over the last four years, Hearing Help Essex, the Essex Blind Charity and Southend Carers are among 50 local voluntary organisations in the county, to have benefited from mentoring through the Thrive Programme.

Sue Elder, Associate Regional Manager with Cranfield Trust, leads the Thrive Programme in Essex. She said, “we have been working with ECF since 2019, delivering the Thrive Programme in the county and the feedback we have received shows that the results can be transformational.

“ECF identifies organisations that could benefit from the programme, and we match all participating organisations with volunteer mentors, based on the needs of the organisation and the people involved. The programme lasts for nine months and includes management consultancy, mentoring for CEOs, learning and workshop events, peer-to-peer support, and networking.”

Hearing Help Essex

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Retired HR director Chris Jullings is a volunteer with Cranfield Trust, and was matched with Hearing Help Essex, a small charity that supports people with acquired hearing loss.

Chris said: “I worked with Hearing Help’s CEO, Sophie Ede, to focus on the issues that will unlock the organisation’s ability to help twice as many people over the next two years. Being a Cranfield Trust volunteer is a small call on your time but makes a big difference to small charities.”

Sophie Ede said: “Working with Chris has been brilliant. He really took time to listen and to understand our challenges and then helped me to map out the stepping stones needed to achieve both our short-term and longer-term aims. As a direct result of this project we have increased our capacity and feel far more resilient.”

Reflections from a volunteer

Gordon MacSween, a former Managing Director who took early retirement, has also proved to be a valuable volunteer with Cranfield Trust. His skills and experience have helped the suicide prevention charity Reach out For Mental Health based in Colchester, and the Chelmsford-based charity InterAct that works with people with learning disabilities.

Gordon said, “having taken earlier retirement, I wanted to do something for charity and heard that Cranfield Trust would know of the best places for me to help. Their process has been excellent, and I am now working with two local charities, each with different challenges, and for both of which I have a real affinity.

“I don’t claim to be an expert in the third sector, but I do aim to bring the right tools and techniques at the right time, to help the excellent CEOs of these charities achieve more.  It’s the best use of my time and ultimately more valuable than directly volunteering.”

Essex Blind Charity

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Essex Blind Charity (EBC) has made great progress since becoming involved with the Thrive Programme.  

Jonathan Dixon, General Manager of the charity said, “I joined EBC at a time when it was at a crossroads. The Thrive Programme was there to rescue me and the charity. It provided me with the tools I needed to take the charity forward.  My mentor, Clive Morgan, had an HR background and was able to help me put in an organisational structure review. We are now a much stronger, better managed charity. This is not the end of our ‘Journey to Excellence’, it is only the start.”

Clive said: “I get a strong feelgood factor from being a volunteer for Cranfield Trust.  I get to use my skills, knowledge, and experience in a non-commercial setting. If you retire early, it leaves a void in your life and being a volunteer has helped fill that gap. I hadn’t realised how much knowledge and experience I had until I started working with charities, but now, I know I have quite a lot to offer.”

Southend Carers

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Dawnette Fessey, CEO of the charity Southend Carers, is full of praise for the help her organisation has received through the Thrive Programme.

She said: “being part of Thrive has made a great difference to me as a leader as it is quite a lonely position. The key achievement through the programme has been to start from scratch on a business plan. To be able to go on the training offered enhances us as charities. We might be the third sector, but we are not the third cousin once removed. The advice I would give to anyone considering this programme is to get on board!”

Andy Payne-Worpole, Head of Programmes at ECF said, “The Thrive Programme is a great opportunity for charities and voluntary groups to address the barriers and issues that hinder their development. It helps ensure they have the skills they need and makes them become more resilient for the future. The success of the project shows that ECF is not just a grant-making organization and this is just one of the ways that we are helping to support a thriving third sector in Essex.”

Get in touch

Essex Community Foundation works with many businesses in Essex, helping them support local communities, engage with their staff and embed a long-term approach into their corporate ethos.

T: 01245 355947
Or visit

For more information on Cranfield Trust’s range of pro bono capacity building services and how to volunteer, please visit               

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