Developing and testing new ideas with City Bridge Trust’s ‘Stepping Stones’ programme



Got a great idea but lack the funds? Read on here about how to armour clad yourself for the future.


In these stormy times, how financially resilient is your organisation? There is no doubt that inequality is growing in London, reflecting a shrinking charity grants trend, a reduction in social spending and rising poverty rates. So how can you clad yourselves in armour for what might be an uncertain future? City Bridge Trust’s Stepping Stones programme can provide vital seed finance for London’s charities to develop and test out new ideas.

One way to future-proof your organisation could be through enterprising activities…creating an unrestricted funding stream, with the finance to support it. Yet social investment – as it is called – can seem daunting. Lots of charities don’t have time or head space to consider something they feel they can’t confidentially engage in.

This often means that good ideas don’t get the time and attention they deserve.

One thing many charities do share is an entrepreneurial spirit and an ability to spot a great opportunity. Here at City Bridge Trust, we have seen that over and over in our 24-year history – small and medium-sized organisations having original, creative ideas about how to tackle new or recurrent social problems.

Therein lies an opportunity to consider social investment. City Bridge Trust has an initiative, called Stepping Stones, that aims to guide and support charities looking to future-proof themselves through social investments.

Many charities share the desire to try something new. However, the lack of finance often stymies these ideas. So many of our grantees have good ideas – concepts worth incubating and investing in, or existing successful projects that could be scaled up. And these are the very ideas that ethical investors would jump at the chance to be involved in. Stepping Stones offers that advice and support when charities are considering the next step. It might be financial modelling advice, testing an idea, or exploring how or why to develop a particular concept.

We offer grants of up to £50,000 to provide a safety net to examine and test an idea. There is no liability nor costs to pay if it is deemed unworkable.

These grants allow smaller charities a “safe space” to road-test an idea, encouraging innovation and sustainable growth.

We set up Stepping Stones in recognition that voluntary organisations often need more than pure philanthropy to achieve their goals: often they need finance to innovate, test, grow, buy assets, maintain property or redesign their business. It’s deliberately risk taking in nature – and will help address the shortage of early-stage, high-risk, small loans.

The success of Stepping Stones Fund is underpinned by a strong partnership between City Bridge Trust and UBS. It is an exciting and very effective combination of the trust’s grant making expertise, some past funding and the skills and insights of the bank’s corporate volunteers.

Most grants are for capacity-building support to help organisations access social investment in the future, and are usually concerned with helping staff and trustees to consider how social finance might be beneficial as a strategic approach.

What we are saying is: you know the needs out there, and you have the solutions – the ideas to meet those needs. Come to us and we can help you refine that idea, make a business plan and set up a financial model for its sustainability. And then, if it’s workable, at stage two, we can help fund it. Don’t just rely on grants and cross your fingers. Ethical investors are queuing up to support these kinds of initiatives. It’s a win-win for everyone.

To date, the Stepping Stones grant programme has distributed over £3m in funding to 77 organisations in Greater London that wish to test out ideas for trading, or purchase and redevelopment of property.


Find out more about the Stepping Stones Fund here.




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