What are hardship funds and why are they important?
Participating and volunteering to support sport and physical activity often involves costs. The cost of activities, kit, equipment, match fees, membership, competitions, training courses, coaching qualifications, childcare and travel can all create additional financial pressures. These can act as a barrier to people getting and staying involved, especially for those with less or no disposable income. It’s important that clubs and community organisations recognise this and do what they can to support their people in times of need.
Creating a hardship fund can help by covering some, or all, of the costs associated to participating or volunteering. This page explains how to set up a hardship fund and explores some of the key considerations.
Benefits of hardship funds
Establishing a hardship fund is a great thing to do and has lots of benefits including:
- Giving you a better understanding of your people and their changing needs.
- Showcasing your organisation's commitment to inclusion.
- Reducing the financial barriers that prevent participation and engagement in sport and volunteering for those in greatest need.
- Enabling new, continued, or renewed engagement by people that may otherwise drop out.
- Helping to maintain a diverse, healthy, and thriving community of participants and volunteers.
- Positively using your resources to invest in your people and add social value to your community.
There are a few things you’ll need to consider, discuss, and agree with those responsible for running your organisation before setting up a hardship fund. These include:
- Understanding your organisation’s current financial position to determine what support you can afford to offer. Be sure to use any financial information you have available to develop a clear understanding of your current and forecast position.
- Deciding on the purpose and scope of your hardship fund. It’s important to consider the costs associated with participating and/or volunteering at your organisation. Depending on your financial position, you may be able to support people in different ways. For example, you could cover, waive, or subsidise the cost of sessions, membership, kit, equipment, competitions, events, or courses. You may also want to offer support with travel costs. If you can’t offer financial support, there may be other ways to help, including gifting or lending any used or spare kit or equipment that’s in good condition.
- Agreeing on the amount available. It’s important that your committee or board agree the amount of support you can make available in total and what that looks like for each individual or family. The level of support may vary depending on different people’s circumstances but it’s advisable to set a limit.
- Deciding what to call your fund. The phrase ‘hardship fund’ may not be right for your organisation and its people so explore some alternatives and find the best fit.
You’ll need to fully think through who’ll be able to access the support you provide. This can be challenging so it’s important to consider your options and their implications. Setting an eligibility criteria is a good way of ensuring you support those in greatest need. Consider:
- How you’ll determine who’s in most need of support and what, if any, proof you’ll require. You may want to include; people in receipt of certain welfare benefits, children and young people who receive free school meals or have a signed referral from their school/college, and people not in employment, education or training.
- Those who are working and aren’t in receipt of any financial support but have limited or no spare income. While you’re unlikely to be able to support everyone, it's important not to exclude these individuals or families.
- Any insight you might have on your participants, members, and volunteers to help you make decisions on who to support. Our ‘Engaging lower socio-economic groups (LSEG) page’ can provide you with helpful information about people from lower socio-economic groups and the barriers to participation they may face.
- Whether to ask people for proof they’re eligible. It’s important to recognise they may have concerns about sharing information on their financial situation. Think about what assurances you can offer them that their personal and financial information will be kept confidential and only be seen by those responsible for making decisions. If you are planning to keep a copy of the evidence, bear in mind data protection laws.
- The additional administration time required to check the eligibility of applicants to the fund. Liaising with potential recipients and checking documents takes time, so make sure you’ve thought through who and how you’ll do this.
- Consulting your participants, members, and volunteers on your proposed approach to your hardship fund to get their feedback and buy in.
Once you’ve determined who you want to support and what evidence you’ll ask for, formalise it by writing it down. This will be your eligibility criteria. Be sure to get it approved by your committee/board and any other relevant people.
Once you have agreed on your eligibility criteria, you’ll need to decide on the type of application process you want to put in place for your hardship fund. This can range from informal discussions with individuals and your committee/board, to a more formal process such as a letter or application form. The process you agree should be the same for everyone.
You’ll need to decide whether the fund will be open to applications year-round or if there’ll be deadlines for applications throughout the year.
As people may be reluctant to ask for support, ensure the fund and any application process is well communicated, simple to complete and discreet, with safe space provided to have any conversations regarding an application. Remember, not everyone can access and complete documents online so it’s important to offer paper alternatives.
Asking for help and financial support is a conversation many will find difficult to have. It’s therefore important that your fund is well advertised and that everyone knows about it. To ensure you reach those most in need of support, use all the channels available to you and offer clear information on:
- Who the fund is aimed at.
- What the fund can be used for.
- How support will be received.
- The scope of support available (including any values where applicable).
- Eligibility requirements.
- How and when to apply.
- Timescales for decisions.
- Who to contact for more information.
- Confidentiality – how this will be maintained.
Agree, from the outset:
- Who’ll be involved in the decision-making process and how it will work.
- How you’ll assess applications against the eligibility criteria (see deciding who to support).
- How you will prioritise applications if your fund is oversubscribed (applications exceed the funding or support available).
- The process for anyone who may want to appeal against your decision.
- The process for validating, formalising, and communicating decisions. Consider if decisions need to be made with your full committee/board or if you can have a sub-committee responsible for this. Remember, it’s good practice to involve at least 3 people to ensure fairness, consistency and eliminate any conflicts of interest.
Once you’ve decided, write this process down to formalise it and share it with your committee/board for approval.
It’s best to have consistency in your decision-making team. Those responsible for making decisions are likely to need some training on the process including:
- Recording and dealing with any potential conflicts of interest.
- How to check applications (including any evidence you request) to determine their eligibility.
- How to request further information.
- Where and how to record their assessments.
- How to prioritise applications.
- Where and how to store applications to protect people’s privacy and comply with data protection regulations.
- Who’ll be responsible for approving any decisions and how this will be recorded.
- How to communicate decisions.
It’s important that the process for awarding your hardship fund is managed correctly and transparently. Our top tips are to:
- Document everything! Keep records of all your decision-making processes, decisions and how you’ve allocated your funds or resources.
- Regularly collect and record declarations of interest.
- Consider holding and awarding any funds from a separate bank account.
- Have at least 3 people involved in assessing applications.
- Have at least 2 people responsible for authorising the distribution of funds (our online banking guidance can provide you with support if you are doing this online).
- Request that any recipients of your fund provide receipts for purchases (kit and equipment etc) and that you have a way of tracking their attendance to ensure your support is being spent appropriately.
- When communicating your decision with applicants remember, discretion is key.
- Advise successful applicants of your decisions and the timescales associated with your support.
- Communicate your decisions with any unsuccessful applicants, explain the reasons for your decision and, if relevant or appropriate, encourage them to reapply should their situation or circumstances change.