Investing In The Future Of Community Sponsorship

The Community Sponsorship Scheme enables community groups to directly welcome and support a resettled family into their local community. The Scheme was established in response to the desire of civil society to support refugees and is an example of effective government and civil society collaboration. Refugees resettled through the Community Sponsorship scheme complements those resettled via local authorities through the new United Kingdom Resettlement Scheme. This paper argues that there is a need to strengthen the community-based leadership of the scheme and the capacity of the lead sponsors to grow the scheme. This will require a rethink of current practice and the organised channelling of funding to the main charities who deliver community sponsorship at the grass roots. If community sponsorship is to reach its potential to become a major pathway for the protection of refugees, a more ambitious vision is needed.


This paper argues that the principal sponsors are the critical and pivotal animators of the scheme and need to be invested in if they are to work together more cohesively and strategically. It is only by better collaboration and meaningful solidarity that the sponsors will realise their full potential and secure the resources that they need to be effective enablers of this community enriching scheme.  For the Community Sponsorship scheme to flourish and grow, there needs to be a sustainable financial investment in the sponsoring organisations themselves who deliver the scheme at the grass-roots. Unless there is investment in this groups capacity, there is a danger that the growth of the scheme will be much slower than it needs to be and many more refugees who could be settled under the scheme will remain outside of the protection that this vital resettlement route offers. 


In particular, the growth of community sponsorship in the UK is dependent upon the joint endeavours of lead sponsors, RESET and the Home Office as well as the UNHCR and the other international actors working together in the spirit of ‘generous leadership’ and with an ambitious vision to grow the scheme. To facilitate this joint venture significant philanthropic, business and government investment is urgently needed. This paper advocates for investment in the capacity of the key community delivery partner – the lead sponsors.



Community Sponsorship currently faces an existential threat to its growth and development as a new and crucial lifeline for the safe, legal, and planned resettlement pathway for refugees. The community sponsorship scheme is more vital than ever with 1.4 million refugees in need of resettlement. The New Immigration Plan and subsequent Nationalities and Borders Bill places more responsibility than ever on community sponsorship as an important resettlement pathway for vulnerable refugees. Yet, there is no strategic financial support from government and others to invest directly in those sponsoring charities that are developing the scheme. Without guaranteed income lead sponsors cannot plan ahead with confidence or scale up and sustain this important work.

Securing the growth of the scheme will naturally increase and widen protection to vulnerable refugees and offer a unique welcome and integration programme led by the host communities themselves. Civil society is a vital actor for adding to the number of resettlement places through programmes such as community sponsorship. For community sponsorship to grow and for it to offer ‘additionally’ to government resettlement schemes and bring safety to more refugees, it needs to be resourced and professionally supported at the grass roots by charities who have the capacity, skills and safeguarding track record.


Refugee resettlement numbers over the last ten years had been falling here in the UK yet the number of refugees needing the enduring solution that a third country can offer has over the same period been rising dramatically. The UK still offers some of the most generous resettlement terms competing with any developed country[1]. This generosity enables those with refugee status to benefit from the State on the same basis as its citizens. To establish the community sponsorship resettlement scheme, Government resources pay for the Home Office and also for RESET that has been eligible to apply for a significant Home Office grant.


These are uncertain and demanding times for those working in refugee resettlement in the UK and around the world. The pandemic coupled with international refugee emergencies has shone a light on the valuable and essential support that civic society organisations involved in community resettlement provide but it has also amplified a long-standing structural issue of under-funding in the voluntary sector. Where there might have been an aspiration to develop a fundraising strategy to support community sponsorship this seems to have taken a backseat against the pressures and challenges of navigating a pandemic coupled with responding to the unprecedented and unplanned numbers of people currently seeking sanctuary in the UK.


The role of community sponsors is to support refugees arriving through the Community Sponsorship scheme and ensure that refugees are provided with housing and integration support for 12 months. This includes, ‘orientation to the local area, supporting access to medical and social services, English language tuition, supporting attendance and appointments at the local Job Centre plus, assistance with navigating social welfare provision and support towards employment and self –sufficiency’.[2]


There has been several reports and evaluations[3] relating to the delivery of the Community Sponsorship scheme. However, these reports rarely focus on funding or the critical work of the principal sponsors[4] who fund the work themselves, carry the financial and reputational risks and are contractually accountable to the Home Office for the direct delivery of the resettlement scheme.  Whereas, Local Authorities and RESET both receive government funding for their resettlement work[5], principal sponsors have sought funding for their own role in the scheme but remain largely under-resourced and their potential is not being fully realised.


The principal sponsors are the lynchpin of the Community Sponsorship resettlement scheme. It is their willingness to participate, take responsibility and manage risks in territory traditionally the domain of the Home Office and Local Authorities that makes sponsors so essential to the success of the scheme.  Yet, Government or other coordinated funding does not currently extend to the principal sponsors.


One reason for this is that principal sponsors themselves have not approached the Home Office individually or collectively with a strong case for support. Another, more speculative, is a notion that that government funding should not go directly to sponsors as it could compromise their independence and altruistic behaviour as part of civil society. Speculatively, government may still view Community Sponsorship as a ‘pilot’ and is waiting to see if sponsors have the vision, determination and ability to secure funding for themselves from private and philanthropic sources.  Whatever the reason, there is little evidence to suggest that any of the agencies of government are actively involved on an on-going basis in facilitating the securing of funds through any private or philanthropic mix that could help give confidence to the continued investment and commitment of the main sponsors.


It is also important to note that official refugee resettlement targets have been removed leaving the decision to local authorities based on their capacity to resettle refugees to decide on numbers. At the same time, the government has also set no limits on the number of refugees that community sponsorship can resettle. An unintended consequence of the removal of a resettlement target figure is that the principle of ‘additonality’ becomes undermined and without numbers the measuring of outputs, outcomes and value of money becomes questionable. The concern here is that strategic planning might be happening in a budget vacuum. For community sponsorship to grow and for it to offer ‘additionally’ to government resettlement schemes and therefore bring safety to more refugees, it needs to be planned for using established methods such as ‘logic modelling’ supported by a ‘theory of change’. Community Sponsorship will not grow at the pace needed to ensure it becomes an important pathway for refugee resettlement without setting out an ambitious target coupled to professional planning that takes into account the lead sponsors capacity to deliver the scheme.



The Migration Policy Institute, in reviewing the global state play of refugee sponsorship programmes and the opportunities for investment, strongly advocated for philanthropic funding in addition to government support: ‘As displacement trends and the needs of both existing and emerging refugee sponsorship schemes continue to evolve, private philanthropy can provide critical support for sponsors, civil society organisations, and government actors. Their investment, if strategically targeted and attuned to the national context, can make a difference for the quality and sustainability of sponsorship programmes.’[6]


One success in the funding field has been the ‘Backstop Fund’.  Responding to calls from some sponsors for assistance to reduce the risks associated with Community Sponsorship, American philanthropist Ed Shapiro pledged £1 million in December 2020 to launch the Community Sponsorship Backstop Fund. The Backstop Fund is designed to reduce the financial exposure of Lead Sponsors and reduce their risks by providing a grant of £1,000 and up to £5,000 for an issue of significant concern that jeopardise the success of the sponsor support to a refugee family. Funding for the Backstop Fund is only guaranteed until January 2022.[7]  In November 2021, the Shapiro Foundation, in order to speed up the placement of ACRS Afghan families from hotels in the UK into homes, extended its original Backstop Fund offer to community sponsorship groups. The Foundation offered the first 20 sponsoring groups £4,500 each if they could submit an application by the end of January 2022.  This offer would mean that a sponsor group only needed to raise £4,500 towards the required £9,000 under the rules of the scheme. Whilst this offer recognised that raising the required government mandated money quickly is an issue for some groups, the main hurdle for speedy resettlement is usually finding suitable housing.


In addition to a Backstop Fund, it would be very beneficial to frontload investment in the lead sponsors through a capacity building grant. Such a grant would enable lead sponsors to plan the growth of the scheme with more confidence, work together better and share good practice. Such inward investment in the sponsors themselves might attract other funders and hopefully build the confidence of some major grant makers to invest in the sponsors and other actors delivering the scheme. At a Lead Sponsors Network meeting in November 2021, convened by RESET, capacity building was discussed. RESET is keen to increase their support to existing and new Lead Sponsors and may be proposing a growth grant fund for Lead Sponsors which will enable them to explore the things that will help them to grow their capacity.  They anticipate this being in the region of £25k per year[8]. This figure is not confirmed but would represent a very small fraction of what will be needed.


Improving the resilience of the critical infrastructure actors is vital for the security and prosperity of the scheme.   A recent survey of Catholic sponsoring organisations confirmed that with investment, between them they would be able to welcome 118 families per year.  Currently, they collectively support approx. 30 sponsor groups and refugee families.  They calculate that the cost for each refugee family they bring into the scheme is approx. £4.5k. To fund 118 families would therefore collectively cost them around £531k.  This figure could be significantly reduced by clusters of sponsoring organisations working together to share costs. There are potentially 9 clusters of Catholic organisations around the country, each requiring a similar level of investment.  The cost to each cluster per year would vary but be in the region of £60k per cluster. There is, however, a consortium of 4 lead sponsors who have developed a working together model that with shared resources and economies of scale has calculated that they can deliver up to 100 sponsor groups over a 3 year period for a cost of £450k. This cost equates to £4.5k per group and mirrors the Sponsor Refugees own estimate that each sponsor group that welcomes a family comes at a cost of £4k to Sponsor Refugees themselves. This cost is offset by a £1.5k fee each sponsoring group makes to the lead sponsor charity.


The community sponsor groups themselves have the capacity to generate much needed revenue to support the scheme. Under the current rules, each sponsor group raises £9k to enter the scheme.  The money is a safety net and demonstrates the capacity of a sponsor to organise sufficiently to be responsible to carry out the role they have taken on and to comply with Home office requirements. So far, the 300 sponsor groups will have raised between themselves approximately £2.7m but most lead sponsors will not have developed mechanisms for accessing this resource to sustain their own involvement on the scheme[9].


The voluntary sector and civil society is playing a significant role in fulfilling the resettlement needs of both refugees and the state. It is in the very nature of the charitable sector to do as much as possible with as little as possible, and to rely heavily on the good will of volunteers. The economic contribution volunteers make under the community sponsorship scheme is worth noting. The economic value of volunteering for the scheme can be calculated using the formula: the number of volunteers and the average number of hours each volunteer offers each week set against the number of weeks they are active in a year. This gives the total number of volunteer hours that can be multiplied against an hourly rate such as the Real Living Wage which currently stands at £9.90 per hour. Using this calculation based on 10 volunteers in each of the existing 300 community sponsors groups, each doing 3 hrs each per week over a 46-week period and remunerated at the Real Living Wage of £9.90 per hour, the total economic value of community sponsor volunteers is over £13.5m.


There is no one-size-fits-all funding solution for building the capacity of sponsors committed to the scheme. Each organisation has its own unique personality and needs. For example, some organisations will take a light-hands-off-touch approach that gives volunteers and sponsoring groups a freedom to deliver their plans and behave as they see fit. Others, such as members of the Caritas Social Action Network, will want to ensure volunteers and sponsor groups that operate in their name will comply fully with their policies and procedures especially in safeguarding that protects vulnerable refugees and volunteers alike.


Funders will recognise that not all sponsors need funding to the same extent as the diversity, size and ambition of sponsors varies greatly as does the widely differing governance and operational needs of organisations delivering the sponsorship scheme.  Inflationary pressures on wages and other areas of expenditure will continue to add pressures on the cost of delivering community sponsorship services. In these uncertain times brought on by the current pandemic it is important that ‘core’ and ‘unrestricted’ funding is sought to enable lead sponsors to invest in areas of their service that will best deliver results. Unrestricted funding will allow lead sponsors to invest in their capacity to deliver sponsorship and allow them to be nimbler and flexible in responding to the ever-changing landscape of uncertainty by allowing a more confident approach to planning ahead.[10]



Community Sponsorship is at a critical moment. Lead sponsors need funding to support their continued involvement in the scheme if they are to plan for growth.  For example, a number of charities are hoping to grow community sponsorship, but to make concrete this commitment they need the confidence of sufficient investment in order to succeed. If lead sponsors are to increase the numbers of community sponsor groups and therefore increase the number of resettled refugees, they will need to employ more workers to manage this growth and invest in their own capacity.

We need a planned and tailored approach to fundraising that can result in some new growth to voluntary income leading to resources being available to enable charities to make much needed investment in infrastructure.  A flexible funding strategy is needed that recognises the vitally important need for capacity building in the voluntary sector. A strategic collaboration is needed similar to the long-term relationships being developed in the USA and Canada with philanthropic organisations such as the Open Society Foundation, the Shapiro Foundation and the Giustra Foundation.  Philanthropic investment can be a catalyst for future government buy-in and investment in the lead sponsors is essential to the long-term sustainability of the scheme.

The principal lead sponsors are the critical and pivotal animators of the scheme and need to be invested in if they are to work together more cohesively and strategically to develop and grow this legal and safe route for refugee resettlement. Without the investment in the principal lead sponsors capacity to increase the numbers of resettled refugees may be squandered and growth too slow to meet the ever increasing urgent needs of refugees to find protection through planned resettlement.


If the principal lead sponsors are to take up the invitation and opportunities presented in the recent An Inspection of UK Refugee Resettlement Schemes i.e. to develop strategic plans to overcome the obstacles and barriers to resettlement and work with the Home Office to develop a communications plan to promote and grow community sponsorship, then they will need to be able to trust each, work together and speak with one voice.  A weaknesses of the refugee sector generally has been identified in a recent Migration Exchange Report[11] as a ‘lack of strategy and insufficient proactive collaboration, cross-sector communications and information sharing.’ It concludes that few networks share information and learn from each other and the report advocates for the sector to ‘pool its collective resources more if it is going to achieve significant policy changes’.


Principal lead sponsors that create a united resettlement community need to be able to collectively work together and support the part that each has to play in confronting the challenges that lie ahead.  Investment in the principal lead sponsors working better together would establish a leadership network to share information, collaborate to solve common problems, and align much needed advocacy work that supports common strategic goals.



A new strategy that brings together the stakeholders to focus on the growth of the scheme should be commissioned and facilitated by an independent body.


There is an urgent need to bring together stakeholders, especially community sponsorship providers, funders, and policy makers to agree the funding challenges faced by the scheme and identify the barriers and opportunities to grow and develop community sponsorship.


Principal and lead sponsors supported by Reset, the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative and the Home Office need to convene a fundraising symposium for UK and international funders to explore how community sponsorship can be better financed to fulfil its potential.


An unrestricted capacity building bridging grant should be secured as soon as possible for the principal lead sponsors to secure the investment already made by the principal sponsors thus far.


The financial contribution that lead sponsor charities and volunteers make to the community sponsorship resettlement scheme should be quantified to demonstrate the value of their contribution to the scheme.


A formal alliance of principal lead sponsors working together would attract funding and investment that is not currently enjoyed by lead sponsors.  This would also build collaborative working and give the sponsors a powerful voice. This would need to be resourced with a convening secretariat and it would need to have an arrangement that allowed funding to come into such an accountable body.


Mark Wiggin

January 2022


[1] Year 1 funding is £8,520 per refugee (excluding the education supplement) and £5,000 per refugee in Year 2, thereafter tapering down to £1000 in Year 5. See ‘Funding Instruction for local authorities in the support of the United Kingdom’s Resettlement Schemes Financial Year 2021-2022’ and

[2] UK Refugee Resettlement: Policy Guidance August 2021, Home Office pages 12-13

[3] For example: An inspection of UK Refugee Resettlement Schemes (November 2019 – May 2020). David Bolt Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. November 2020 also Community Sponsorship in the UK: from application to integration. University of Birmingham. Jenny Phillimore & Marisol Reyes. July 2019; see also various Birmingham University evaluations on the scheme.

[4] Principal sponsors are those charitable organisations that are recognized as lead sponsors and have an ambition to deliver multiple sponsor groups and are committed in for the long term development of the scheme.

[5] This is a tendering process open to all and bid for by RESET

[6] Refugee Sponsorship Programmes – A Global State of Play and Opportunities for Investment. Migration Policy Institute Briefing paper December 2019.

[7] RESET website

[8] RESET Lead Sponsors Network meeting 16th November 2021

[9] By contrast Local Authorities receive approx. £28k per family which for 300 families would equate to £8.4m

[10] See Cairns, B., Firth, L. and Hopgood, R. (2021) The holy grail of funding: Why and how foundations give unrestricted funding. London: Institute for Voluntary Action Research.

[11] Taking Stock and Facing the Future. The infrastructure and resources of the UK migration and refugee sector. Migration Exchange 2020.  The report was commissioned by the funder network Migration Exchange to review the infrastructure and resources of UK organisations working on migration and refugee issues, with a focus on their capacity to achieve social change.