Accelerator Programme empowers voluntary sector

Foundation News

Accelerator Programme empowers voluntary sector

29 Jan 2021

Monkstown Village Initiatives in Newtownabbey is a charitable organisation serving the Monkstown community for over 25 years, with a focus on the regeneration of the area.  Its main activities include community support, especially through mental health and wellbeing services for residents of all ages, youth interventions and creating environmental awareness through its community garden facility.

Margaret Connolly, a former medical secretary, is the Community Garden Manager.  After retiring from the medical profession, she completed a degree in horticulture but knew that she really wanted to work in a role where she was helping people.  The opportunity with Monkstown Village Initiatives was a great way to make the most of her skills and she has been working there on a part-time basis since 2017.  Margaret’s responsibilities include the day to day running and maintenance of the garden, recruiting and managing volunteers, undertaking outreach projects with community partners, creating funding opportunities e.g. selling produce and products and completing grant applications.

Margaret is one of over 200 participants to take part in the Community Foundation Accelerator Programme, a capacity-building support initiative funded by DfC. The accelerator programme, delivered by NICVA and is empowering voluntary sector organisations to build capacity with skills such as fundraising, financial planning, trading, impact and risk management.  The programme had been in planning prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, but the experiences of the sector over the past 10 months have only further reinforced the need for it.

Margaret attended  ‘Success in Funding Applications’ and ‘Developing corporate partnerships’ online seminars in October.   She said, “Sixteen hours a week isn’t a lot of time, but I knew there was huge potential to increase our impact.   I saw this as an opportunity to build our network, gain expert advice from business leaders, learn what funding and upskilling opportunities are available and how to access them and get advice on how the economic future will affect charities.”

Margaret is already benefiting from the new skills and relationships she gained through taking part.  “I am now more specific in what I am asking for when I submit applications and I make sure the request is in line with the grantmaker or company’s values and objectives.  I loved hearing what other groups are doing and how they are using their funding and it was great to hear from actual company managers involved in the grant application process, listening to what they want and what makes an application successful.  We’re currently working with Newtownabbey Rotary Club to deliver a project and partnerships always increase the chance of securing funding. 

“I’ve become more strategic about what we will do in the garden, who we can help and what companies we can partner with and the process has taught me a project leader that large companies want to help local communities especially those situated close to them. I now view application forms as a way to create sustainable business partnerships.”

NICVA and the Community Foundation have done so much for charitable communities in bringing business, charities and service users together.  They have expertly used their valuable resources to persevere and look at opportunities and helped us get ready for the future, whatever that may be.”

Phase 2 of the Accelerator programme run by NICVA will begin this month.   Learn more and register at To view previous webinars see here. 

Siofra Healy, Director of Philanthropy at the Foundation and Sandra Bailie, Head of Organisational Development at NICVA, discuss how the capacity programme is going and the need for more of similar programmes to grow capacity in the sector. Listen here



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