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My working life began as a design manager for multi-national, Coats Viyella, back in the 1980s. It was a job I loved, but not one I could replicate on relocation to Yorkshire in 1991. My employment journey took several turns, through different sectors, but it was my voluntary journey which led me to the Community Development Foundation (CDF).

As a young mum I started to take my 15 month-old daughter to the local toddler group, which took place in a run-down 1920s village institute. One thing led to another and I became chair of the hall’s management committee and, as a volunteer, learned how to write funding applications, run a small charity and organise activities.

Over the next 10 years my aspirations for the community grew. I brought together organisations to raise funds for and build a large, multi-purpose community centre, which opened in 2000. I set up other groups and developed small enterprises. I learned my business skills on the job, hiring and managing staff, dealing with complex finances, running a building, meeting regulatory requirements, understanding our customers and so on. All of this influenced my work at CDF.

The Community First programme that we currently manage for Cabinet Office reflects every facet of my own community experiences. In 600 wards across England, panels made up of local people – residents, businesses, voluntary sector organisations, elected members – set their local priorities and invite applications from community groups. Small grants of between £250 – £2500 have to be matched with in kind time, expertise and cash. Since the start of 2012, 7,805 grant recommendations have been made … to 6,307 organisations … worth £11.4m!

Business Connectors are getting involved in the local panels, offering advice and support and lending a hand to local groups. The panels provide a great entry point for new connectors, often timorously heard to ask ‘where do I start?’ CDF can help; we provide tips and pointers during the induction training we deliver for new connectors and our website contains the postcode finder, map of panels and panel details.

The other half of the programme is the Endowment Matched Challenge where businesses and individual donors can make cash donations which will be matched 2:1 with government money. The yield from the investment will go on giving across England into the future. Watch this nifty video.

As the Business Connectors programme gains momentum, we are thrilled to learn that connections continue when the secondment ends. More excitingly, connectors return to their employer evangelical about the role the non-profit sector plays and the potential for partnership. This is good news and I believe we can look forward to Business Connectors catalysing and contributing to a nuanced and intelligent next generation of corporate social responsibility, which will contribute to both community wellbeing and better business.

This blog was originally published on the Business in the Community (BITC) website on 10 May 2013.