For 25 years, County Durham Community Foundation has helped companies to manage their charitable giving. PETER BARRON outlines the business benefits of working with one of the region’s most trusted grant-giving bodies

THROUGHOUT the quarter of a century since it was launched, County Durham Community Foundation has faced countless challenges – but none as momentous as those presented by 2020.

In June, the Foundation marked its twenty-fifth anniversary; having given away £45m in grassroots grants to thousands of community groups.

But there was little time to celebrate, as the anniversary coincided with the biggest public health crisis in living memory – and the demands on the organisation rocketed as a result.

As she reflects on 2020, the Foundation’s chief executive Michelle Cooper can look back with pride at the way her team rose to the challenges and provided the glue that helped to keep many communities together.

In December, with community foundations becoming the trusted partners of the National Emergencies Trust, the Foundation passed the £3m milestone for charitable giving from April 2020. By the time the financial year comes to a close, at the end of March 2021, Michelle is confident that figure will have topped £4m.


“It has been incredibly challenging, with a lot of hardship, but we’ve seen an amazing surge in community spirit,” says Michelle.

“In tough times, businesses and individuals kept on giving and wanting to help others. Community foundations like ours became more important than ever, and I’m proud of the role we’ve played.”

Sandringham Financial Partners - Darlington, is an example of a business wishing to give back to the community and has chosen to work with the Foundation to make a difference.

Rachel Denham, who opened national firm Sandringham’s Darlington office in June of this year, to provide independent financial advice with business partner, Tristan Burd, said: “I grew up with limited opportunities, in a household where money was tight, and I have succeeded through sheer hard work. It was my parents’ belief in education that gave us the hope that we could rise above our circumstances, and I believe education and opportunity is the key.

“I have a passion for the future of the next generation. I want them to dream big, to know what they can achieve, and I want to be part of helping them to do that.

“When I heard about the Foundation, and the charities they fund, I knew it was the right fit. They are so driven by what they do and embedded in the communities they serve.”


Sandringham Financial Partners - Darlington has become a regular giver to the Foundation’s Covid-19 Recovery Fund and plans to set up its own charitable fund with the Foundation as the business grows.

Rachel said: “It’s been easy to give through the Foundation, and with very little work, we have a vision for our giving and a plan for how to grow it. It’s really motivating too. As we build Sandringham Darlington, we are driven by knowing our success can make a real difference to those in need.”

Tristan added: “One of the things about the Foundation is that it’s really well managed, so we have a lot of trust in the team, and how our donations are looked after.”

He said confidence had been underpinned by Michelle’s business background, which included 15 years as an investment manager for Northstar Ventures.

It is this business savvy and grit that boosts Michelle and her team to meet the huge need they see. A recent fund set up by the Co-op donated £1.5m to support charities addressing food poverty. The share of the fund for County Durham and Tees Valley was £28,000 - yet applications to the Foundation totaled £112,000. With the help of its generous donors, the Foundation has been able to increase the amount given out from £28,000 to £85,000.

The Foundation manages charitable giving for several businesses, including looking after the Banks Community Fund for The Banks Group. The team also administers community grants given out by Darlington Building Society through its annual pledge to donate five per cent of profits to good causes.

Three new fund-holders have come on board recently: UMi, EMG Solicitors; and Learning Curve Group. The Foundation also works on an ad-hoc basis with other businesses, including SSE Renewables and Anglian Water.

The Foundation offers the following:

  • Responsible giving for businesses that want to build strong communities
  • An experienced team to handle administration and public relations support
  • Support to make charitable giving tax-effective
  • Deep local knowledge around worthy causes and need

“There are so many good causes, and people and businesses get bombarded,” says Michelle. “They’re being asked to give every five minutes, and how are you meant to know if an organisation is as good as it sounds?

“With the Foundation, we get rid of all that hassle and angst, and just get back to basics. Through us, businesses can give a little, or give a lot, and support charities local to them, making a huge impact without fretting about admin or due diligence.”


And, as we head in to 2021, Michelle is convinced that the need for the Foundation, and its business partners, will be as great as ever.

Even if the vaccines are as effective as everyone hopes, the economic impact is, sadly, bound to lead to more hardship.

“The Government’s furlough scheme ends in March, so we will inevitably see an increase in job insecurity, and the next significant impact will be around mental health issues,” says Michelle.

“Which is why we will be digging deep to help however we can and inviting local businesses to come and join us.”

To find out how County Durham Community Foundation can support your business, telephone (0191) 3786340 or email: