Many people might not be used to giving to organisations without charitable status. Here we explain why we’re not a charity and don’t plan to become one, and why we’re asking you to trust us with your donation anyway.

“What’s wrong with charities?”

Charities do lots of good, but charity is not the only model. Here are two reasons why the model doesn’t work for us:

Charities are hierarchical. We organise on the principle of mutual aid, a practice with deep historical roots which became popular during the COVID-19 crisis. Where charity has a top-down structure – charity executives and staff decide what a community needs, then decide who is eligible to receive it – mutual aid is organised horizontally. This means we don’t have a hierarchy, paid staff, or trustees. We are not detached from the community we serve – we are part of it. This enables us to be flexible, adaptable and responsive: for example, when Cambridge Community Kitchen recently had to close due to COVID cases, we were able to quickly offer all CCK’s recipients an emergency grant.

Charities are restricted in their speech. The Lobbying Act, introduced by the Coalition government in 2014, restricts what charities are allowed to say in the run up to an election, and can even be applied retrospectively in the event of a snap election such as 2019. In 2017, a list of 100 high-profile charities such as Save the Children and Greenpeace called the act “draconian”, “chilling”, and “burdensome”, as it restricts charities’ freedom to criticise the government. We have no party political affiliation, but we are committed to speaking our minds on the structural causes of poverty and hardship. The most unequal city in the UK didn’t get that way by itself; we won’t be pressured into pretending that inequality arises in a vacuum.

“How are you accountable?”

We understand that charities offer an extra layer of accountability – the scrutiny of a board of trustees, for example. We offer this through our fiscal host, which is quite literally called Accountable! Our finances are held by Accountable via the Social Change Nest Community Interest Company, on a platform called Open Collective. Open Collective allows transparency, so you can see our donations and which grants are going out. Obviously we don’t publish the names of grant recipients to protect their privacy, but you can see our principles and decision-making process for giving out grants, as well as the areas our recipients live, and transactions in and out of the account.

All the administrators of our Open Collective page are also organisers for Cambridge Community Kitchen, a well-known local food solidarity organisation which won a Mayor’s Award for its work last year. CCK operates on the same mutual aid model and manages its finances in the same way via the Open Collective platform. Like CCK, we have a no-strings-attached policy where we offer support to anyone who asks for it, without means testing – we trust our recipients to know what they need. The only difference is our support is comes in the form of cash, not food.

“How do you prevent fraud?”

Part of our model is not requiring anything from our applicants when they ask for a grant. The DWP benefits system, and some charities which give out grants, often put people through a demeaning application process before they are deemed worth of receiving help – our fund exists to provide an alternative to that. However, we do have two conditions for giving out grants: all applicants must live in the CB1-CB5 postcode area, and no applicant can receive more than £50 every other month. We verify applicants’ location either through proof of address, or by meeting them in person. We track all the account numbers we give grants to, and our recording system automatically flags repeat requests.

Still not sure?

Intrigued but not convinced? We’re real people and we’re happy to chat. Drop us an email at cambridgesolidarityfund@gmail.com to set up a phone call.