Christians Against Poverty share their 23 year’s experience of translating their faith into action in a way that we can all celebrate.
A good friend of mine, now training to be a vicar, has a saying he likes to repeat, "Methods are many, principles few. The methods may change the principles never do.”
At Christians Against Poverty, this has been a question we have interacted with for the last 23 years. How do you take someone’s faith, their inner principles, and provide it with ways to benefit communities? How do you allow belief to graduate from core rationale to dynamic action?
Below are our top four insights that have come from our successes and failures of empowering local communities for the last few decades.
As a charity which works exclusively through local churches, we have always had a bit of a shortcut to identifying core principles – in our case, specifically Jesus’ simple call to be kind to the poor. And we have tried to keep it about as complicated as that, a broad church if you will. The simpler we have managed to keep our core objectives the more people seem to be able to join in.
‘Poverty is bad’ is a hard one to challenge – when it comes to principles, we aimed to keep the entry level to be as attainable as possible – to find the fewest necessary principles for someone to subscribe to in order to align themselves with our work.
What does that look like for you? What are the fewest core elements that makes you, well, you… and then how can you find out if people share them?
2. Find simple (not necessarily easy) methods
Anyone giving any of their time in today’s hectic society should be celebrated. Our intensive debt counselling work has people who have dedicated their lives to it, and through these fantastic people we have grown to a network of 293 debt centres over 23 years. Since partnering with Nesta, DCMS and the Saver Support Fund, we now have a network of over 130 churches trained to deliver Life Skills, one of our group services, focused on providing people living on a low income with the skills to budget and manage competing household needs, as well as how to think through relationships and forming positive habits.
How did this grow so quickly? We kept it as simple as possible.
3. Support the journey
For a charity that made our name working in a tightly regulated sphere, our Life Skills initiative has been a learning journey of what we need to monitor and hold, and where we can release things over to our fantastic partners and volunteers. This has led us to a policy of holding Life Skills lightly yet valuing our volunteers highly.
This started with small scale trials allowing for detailed feedback meaning volunteers shaped the product. As we have scaled up, Focus Groups and one-to-one reviews with volunteers have been a big part of the process, with a decision to let that guide us within the compass bearing of our principles and desired outcomes.
This mentality allowed for volunteers to make suggestions based on experience such as flexible use of modules, highlighted support needs such as coaching resources and has created a dialogue to ensure we are adaptable to the needs of a particular communities, such as additional cooking sessions.
4. Adapt the methods, maintain the principles
Life Skills was prompted by a gap in our money management course, CAP Money. This provided money management principles through a three-week course. However, when it came to lower income beneficiaries, we noticed some skills that were lacking to put the budgeting principles into practice. We also noticed a greater need for support, and ongoing touch points. So, this prompted the idea to run an extended eight-week course similar to our other initiatives, integrating our proven coaching and peer community methodology. We then needed to build in skills around healthy living, cooking, shopping and relationships to allow for the budgeting skills to be put into practice.
So we had our idea, which we then tested. From there, we moved onto a small-scale trial and then we ran a full pilot. Following this, we partnered with the Saver Support Fund for a full-scale expansion. A big part of the Nesta and DCMS partnership has been evaluation and learning including creating a Theory of Change, appointing a new Product Owner and an overhaul of our monitoring and data collection. We have changed expectations around use of the course material, we are reviewing all the material and possibly even introducing new modules.
And through these changes, we believe we are more and more clearly understanding and achieving our principles of enabling volunteers from local churches to engage at the earliest stages possible to help people on a low income live better.