Impact and Investment


This has been the first year of implementing Comic Relief’s Social Change Strategy which prioritises four key challenges of our time.

We have opened 10 ‘funding calls’ for funding applications, offering longer-term, more flexible funding to organisations whose work addresses the challenges:

  1. Global mental health matters

  2. Gender Justice

  3. A safe place to be, and;

  4. Children survive and thrive

Across all themes, more of our funding has been awarded to smaller, locally led grass roots organisations through investments with intermediary funders. Our international funding has increased direct awards to organisations based in the Global South2 where our work is being delivered. Comic Relief is now focusing our funding in 14 countries outside the UK and 6 of our funding opportunities have been global in scope, allowing us to draw together organisations addressing the same issues in different ways in different contexts around the world. We encourage these partners to learn with and from each other, sharing best practice and new models across international boundaries. Alongside more focused funding and a learning-led approach, the final strand of our strategy is to use Comic Relief’s influencing and storytelling ability to amplify the work of our partners. This year we have been proud to host our first parliamentary reception where long-standing partners, Mothers2Mothers and Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading were able to share their work with UK politicians as well as on the BBC during our Red Nose Day night of television.

The picture below shows the distribution of countries that benefit from our work:

Distribution of our work by country

Key Numbers

Key numbers


Total value of funding awarded


Number of funding calls opened


Number of funding applications received


Number of investments awarded


Number of organisations supported with new investments

60 (57%) of all international investments this FY

Number of direct investments in the Global South


This year was the first full year since the launch of our social change strategy, so we made a concerted effort to open as many funding calls as possible.

We aimed to distribute more funds this year because of our slight pause last year, and we managed to do just that, opening funding calls in each of our four challenges. We have also adopted three specific approaches, these are Sport for Change, Social Tech and Red Shed. There is more detail about the approaches below.

We opened 10 funding calls in total, received a whopping 2,241 applications and awarded investments totalling £75.4m, that’s £36.9m more than last year.

Number and Value of Investments
Breakdown of other Investments made within Strategy

Of the total £75.4m investments made, £4.7m is top up or continuation funding. Of the 316 awards made, 86% were under our current social change strategy, with the remaining 14% made as part of pre-existing commitments agreed before our current social change strategy was in place.

Children Survive and Thrive is a new area of work for us, which is why there are only 5 investments. We opened our first funding call under that challenge called ‘Rise and Shine’ which had a deadline of March 2019. We received 496 applications and we made awards in September 2019.


Our investments are approached in different ways. Our four challenges and investments made under our Social Change Strategy are sometimes applied using three approaches. The three approaches are Sport for Change, Social Tech and Red Shed (more detail on page 22). The table below shows the breakdown of approaches included in the numbers above. Sport for Change investments accounted for 12% of the value of all new investments made, with Social Tech at 6% and Red Shed 1%.

Investment Approaches

Comic Relief aims to invest its funds evenly between the UK and internationally. Due to the way we match some funding commitments by other bodies and timing of funding decisions, it is not always possible to have an even split. For 2018/19 the split between UK and international is shown below.

2018/19 UK and International split

Our Impact

How we are tracking progress against our Social Change Strategy

We are committed to evaluating the impact our investments and influencing work is making towards achieving the social change we want to see. In terms of our Investments in partners and projects we think it’s important to track how we are investing in line with the What, Where and How of our social change strategy. That’s ensuring a significant number of our investments are against our four challenges and in our priority countries as well as the ways we fund, the ‘How’:

We are constantly evaluating our funding proposition and in the last year we have worked hard to think about the kind of funder we want to be in order to enable the organisations we work with to be as effective as possible and work towards ensuring a strong and active civil society. Based on learning from external research and evaluations of our own funding programmes, including our Core Strength programme and our Futures Lab flexible funding programme, we have identified the following key funding characteristics as important to achieve:

  • Offering flexible funding through both core and project funding,

  • Shifting Power to the Global South: Of our international investments, 60 (57%) were in organisations located in the Global South,

  • Funding for the long term and making fewer, larger investments,

  • Ensuring people with first-hand experience are informing the work we fund,

  • Being more relational with our funded partners, and;

  • Targeting the 'missing middle' - those organisations our research showed are often underfunded that have an annual turnover between £0.25m to £10m in the UK and between £0.075m and £10m Internationally.

In order to measure and assess our performance and progress against the characteristics listed above we are developing a combination of quantitative indicators and qualitative measures. These are in the form of; facilitating collective learning events with funded partners; evaluating our investments against our strategy learning questions and collating and reviewing case studies and commissioning external evaluations to help us better understand pathways to social change. We are continually seeking to improve our ways of measuring progress. Set out below are some highlights of our progress up to now: 

  • Shifting Power to the Global South: Of our international investments, 60 (57%) were in organisations located in the Global South.

  • Making larger investments: Our median average investment size has increased by £30,000 in the last year.

  • Investing in the ‘missing middle’: The proportion of new investments made since August 1st 2018 into the ‘missing middle’ has increased by over 10% compared to the previous year.

  • Offering flexible and core funding: Our Core Strength programme provided up to £40,000 of core funding, a range of additional support and training, and more relational grant management to 105 small-medium sized UK charities over two years (2017-2019). The evaluation of the programme highlighted how important this approach and type of funding was for the organisations involved, being vital for the basic survival of at least nine organisations providing critical support services around homelessness, sexual abuse and children living in poverty. Every organisation (yes, every single one) reported feeling in a stronger position, with 70% having been able to leverage further funding, and core funding and relational grant management providing breathing space and strategic support for hard working charity leaders. In turn this unlocked improvements for beneficiaries, 73% of organisations reported improvements in their service delivery, 67% with better availability of their services and 54% reporting more opportunities for their service users to be involved in the service design and delivery.

  • Lived experience informing the work we fund: For our Mental Health Bridging the Gaps funding call, we recruited a Mental Health Collective made up of ten people with lived experience to be an integral part of the process. Informing the programme design, shortlisting and assessing applications and sitting on the panel agreeing which organisations should be recommended to Comic Relief’s Social Impact Committee. For our Across Borders programme we consulted with a group of refugees and asylum seekers to help inform the programme design. Our four Intermediary Partners throughout the UK, will ensure their small-grants programmes fund organisations that are authentically community- led, putting people with lived experience at the heart of the work.

We have also looked at how we change the way we tell stories, putting people at the heart of our storytelling:

  • Collective learning: In October 2018, thirty people from nine projects funded through our ‘I Define Me!’ programme - from Bogota, Cape Town, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Manchester and London - came together for four days in Bogota, Colombia. All working with gang-affected young women and girls, they were keen to reflect on the last 18 months, share learning, and consider how to adapt and change in their projects over the remaining 18 months. There was a wide variety of participants, which led to rich and productive discussions. All participants left with insights into new approaches, areas of focus, and learning, that apply to their individual projects. There was also a clear desire to continue to work together across contexts and continents before the final learning event in Cape Town in 2019. 

Our Themed Investments and Approaches 

We’re incredibly proud of all our investments and have worked hard to be as open and accessible as possible. That has meant encouraging new and established partners to apply under our thematic funding or approaches such as Sport for Change or Social Tech. We are also working with new Intermediary funding partners to help us reach small community-led organisations doing incredible work on the ground. The examples below highlight some of the exciting funding calls we’ve made throughout 2018/19. 

Global Mental Health Matters


Global Mental Health Matters

Bridging the Gaps: Strengthening Mental Health Support for Children and Young People

This programme supports marginalised children and young people who are at an increased risk of developing mental health issues and less likely to receive the support they require - in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia as well as in the United Kingdom. It funds partnership approaches to tackling stigma and discrimination, providing quality mental health services and/or interventions, that are looking to make strategic or systematic changes at local or national level.

Calls closed in September 2019 and awards will be made in December 2019.

Ahead of the Game: Sport and Mental Health

This Sport for Change and Mental Health programme will support work in the United Kingdom, Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda. It aims to support new or existing work that combines sports-based approaches with quality mental health support to reduce distress and/or improve mental wellbeing. The objectives are:

  • To support new or existing work that combines sports-based approaches with quality mental health support to reduce distress and/or improve mental wellbeing.

  • To contribute to a growing body of evidence by learning from projects about what approaches are effective for whom, in what contexts.

  • Calls closed in May 2019 and awards will be made in December 2019.

Theme Gender Justice


Gender Justice

Power Up: Resourcing Women’s and Girls’ Movements for Change

This programme supports a wide range of women’s rights organisations to fight against systems that perpetuate the injustices they encounter in their daily lives. It funds organisations led by women and girls, partnerships, consortia and women’s funds, who are supporting women to have collective power, build movements, and become change agents. The issues they’re working on include; Land Rights, LBTQI+ Rights, Labour Rights, Indigenous Women’s Rights/Power, Targeted Policy Work, Sex Worker Rights, Movement Building and Girl-led work. We are interested in demonstrating the broader learning about the value of women’s movements, and how funders can support them to create long- term change.

Number of investments 18, amount awarded: £7,694,520, Awards made July 2019.

Tackling violence against women and girls

This programme (in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) will make targeted investments in UK women’s organisations which provide frontline services to women and girls affected by gender-based violence and multiple disadvantage. We will invest in trauma-informed services, approaches and partnerships that reach the most marginalised women and girls to address the inequalities they face and respond to the complex needs that result from their experiences.

Calls closed in September 2019 and awards will be made in January 2020.

Tech vs Abuse

The Tech Vs Abuse fund is investing in UK not-for-profit organisations, to encourage creative digital solutions, improve the safety of people affected by such abuse, and improve service delivery. The funding is for digital tools, approaches, services and ideas, at very early stages of development, which respond to the challenges we've outlined. This round will aim to fund up to 12 organisations with grants of up to £50,000 over a period of twelve months.

Calls closed in July 2019 and awards began September 2019.

A safe place to be


A safe place to be

Preventing Homelessness and Insecure Shelter

Homelessness is a global issue and a human-made disaster. This supports organisations working in the UK, India, South Africa, Zambia and Nigeria, who are driving programmes that aim to break the cycle of repeated homelessness and insecurity, as well as supporting people to overcome the human cost and trauma of these experiences. Some of the work being funded includes:

  • Taking a city-wide approach to end homelessness in Cape Town and Tshwane in South Africa, and Exeter and Manchester in the UK.

  • A variety of work supporting asylum-seekers and refugees in England, Wales and Scotland.

  • Provision of holistic support – “beyond housing” – to help people deal with issues around, for example, substance abuse, the effects of trauma, and mental health awareness. Number of investments 23, amount awarded £6,699,864, awarded in March 2019 .

Across Borders: Routes to safety for refugees

This programme supports refugees and people seeking asylum to find safe, legal and dignified routes to safe settlement, whether that be in the country of destination, transition country or country of origin. It is a funding programme for organisations supporting refugees on the move along the key migration routes from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe, including the UK. Calls closed in November 2019 and the awards will be made in March 2020.


Children Survive and Thrive

Rise and Shine

We believe every child has the right to the best start in life. This programme aims to fund work taking a child-centric approach to address the comprehensive development needs of children during their early years, up to and including their transition to primary school. The programme will support organisations in the UK, Kenya and Malawi, focusing on an integrated early childhood approach (Early Childhood Development) which places importance on all elements of childrens’ development:

  • Grow – Childrens’ nutrition and health

  • Love – Caring and supportive relationships

  • Play and Learn – Childrens’ stimulation and early learning

  • Safe – Safety and protection in homes and communities

  • Secure – Linking family’s needs and available social protection programmes

    Calls closed in March 2019 and awards began in September 2019.

Approaches that cut across themes 

Social Tech – 2019

In partnership with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we ran the third round of our successful Social Tech funding programme. It offered 8 awards of up to £60,000 for UK organisations to digital innovation to provide better services to their beneficiaries using technology, designed with the user needs at the

heart. Thirteen products or services were selected including; apps for teenagers with depression, survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and people living with a muscle-wasting conditions, a website for a befriending service for disabled children, an online chatbot for people with bipolar depression, a digital game for deaf children teaching them about safeguarding and an app for fruit and veg vouchers. To find out visit the social tech page on our website.

Number of investments 8, amount awarded: £370,190 awarded in July 2019

Social Investment – Red Shed

Red Shed is a specialist fund within Comic Relief that was set up with gains generated from Comic Relief’s financial investments as opposed to donations from partners and the public. It focuses on testing new and innovative ways of funding our social change strategy and contributing to our vision of a just world free from poverty. Through Red Shed, we are looking to evaluate and understand how social investment could better support Comic Relief’s social change strategy and how we can fund social change in the future. Red Shed is, and will continue, to invest into a range of social organisations using repayable finance structures that will enable us to recycle the money back in order to further support more social organisations.

Intermediary Funding Partners

As part of our Social Change strategy, we’ve been developing a new approach to our investments. Working with intermediary funding organisations is part of our drive to support change at different levels in the most effective and sustainable way. We believe that grassroots, community-driven change is critical both to support individuals in need and to develop a vibrant, strong civil society that fosters local resilience and sustainable, positive change. We also believe that funders who are rooted in community-led development and understand the context and need within the nations they are located, are best placed to support the kind of grassroots, community-based organisations that can drive this change.

So far, we’ve invested in four cross thematic funders in the four nations across the UK who will be using funds to make small investments to a range of community organisations. The four funders are:

Community Foundation of Northern Ireland £1m

Wales Council of Voluntary Action £1.5m

Corra Foundation (Scotland) £2m

Groundworks UK (England) £3m

Our Influencing work

In addition to the investments we make, we aim to contribute to social change through an influencing agenda. Below sets out two examples of our exciting Influencing activities this year.

Parliamentary Reception

On Tuesday 12th March 2019, Comic Relief and the Coalition for Global Prosperity were delighted to co-host the official Red Nose Day parliamentary reception, to hear from South African project partners about the work of Comic Relief. Chaired by Sir Lenny Henry following his recent trip to South Africa, the reception heard from Nozandulela Samela and Thulani Manci, who travelled to the UK parliament to describe first-hand what their projects are doing with support from Comic Relief.

Nozandulela Samela, an HIV activist and communications professional who works at Mothers2Mothers, told the audience how funds raised by Red Nose Day enables their organisation to equip and empower their Mentor Mothers, who work in clinics and communities across eight countries. In turn, this ensures that more children are born HIV-free and mothers are supported and educated.

Thulani Manci described how his project, the Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading programme, has been enabled to produce citywide safety surveys to provide evidence for their work. He also spoke about the increasing importance of social technology in his work to create safe and sustainable neighbourhoods.

Comic Relief and the Coalition were also delighted to host Jeremy Lefroy MP and Stephen Twigg MP (Chair, International Development Committee), who both spoke about their first-hand experiences of the incredible projects that Comic Relief supports, including through creating and improving jobs and livelihoods for young people around the world. Representing Comic Relief, Liz Warner (CEO), Sir Lenny Henry, and Richard Curtis (co-founder) recognised the generosity of the British public, and the extraordinary funds that are raised to support local champions here in the UK and around the world to change lives.

Promoting mental health globally

In October 2018 the UK Government hosted the first ever meeting of international ministers solely focussed on mental health. Its aim was to drive political leadership and ensure mental health is valued on par with physical health. Comic Relief was there to participate in the summit as members of the working groups, making recommendations to summit leaders to influence mental health policy on a global scale. We were also there with two funded partners; young musicians and performers from Raw Materials, a creative arts and education charity from London performed at the summit reception in the Tate Modern and the Friendship Bench project from Zimbabwe also attended the summit bringing along one of their benches.

This year Comic Relief also invested in the United Purpose Global Mental Health campaign ‘Speak Your Mind’ pooled fund to support and catalyse the work of local campaign partners in low and middle- income countries to further the mental health agenda.