Thoughts from a Funding Adviser

The following article was written by Alison Chandler Funding & Business Planning Officer

It has been a busy summer in the ACVO office and every day is a school day.  Here are some of the bits of learning – sometimes painful – that we have seen Third Sector organisations go through in terms of their grant-seeking from independent funders.

1. How to get turned down for a grant really quickly:

  • Don’t fill in the application form.

We see lots of versions of this.  One is to leave sections of the form incomplete and refer the readers to additional separate printed materials.  The readers are the people who will make the decisions on your application.  They are busy people.  They may be printing off at home or reading off a screen. Your doing this means the reader has to print out the additional material as well as the form – and you cannot guarantee that they will.  Essential information must be included in the application form itself.  Also, the funder will have spent effort working out which questions to ask and it is this precise information that the reader is seeking – not the information that you have chosen for another general purpose and put into a glossy document.

Another version of the problem is the applicant who gives a one sentence reply to a question which has an answer space capable of taking 500 words.  If the funder has left a lot of space it is because they want a lot of information. Really think about what is being looked for and use the space to be as convincing as possible about it. Always do the maximum not the minimum.

Another is repetition.  If you find yourself repeating the same statement in several questions on the application then you are not filling in the application form properly. The reader does not want to read the same statement over and over again.  If you think they have asked for the same information again, you are wrong. Go back and really think about the questions being asked and how they relate to the guidelines and criteria.  Where you have duplicated you can make space to score more highly against what they are looking for.

  • Ask for the round figure which is the total that they will give.

Look at the maximum they will give and pop that round figure into the box where they are you about your project’s expenditure – that’s a great way to get rejected. If you look like you have not thought about the costs of and income to your project why should a funder trust you to manage the project?  You must make the case for every £.  Why do you need £5000 not (perhaps) £4357?  Round figures look like guesses not quotes from suppliers or previous experience.  If you have not thought carefully about your application why should a funder think carefully about it?

  • Presume the funder understands your situation.

You may explain what you need and why you need it – but have you made clear why you need it from this funder? Have you left them thinking:  Isn’t all education funded by the government?  Yours is an essential service so surely it must be core funded?  You have a large grant from the Big Lottery or money in the bank so that must be usable for the work isn’t it?  Surely the parents of these children could pay for your activities? Not all funders are well informed and up-to-date with the state of public funding or what it takes to run a third sector organisation.  It is their money and the onus is on you to explain why they should grant it to you.

  • Tell lies

When a funder doesn’t have a form to fill in you have to decide for yourself what to say.  If you say that “any amount would make a significant difference to our clients” you are not communicating the truth.  A £5 donation would not make a difference.  Don’t see the lack of a form as a way out of answering questions you find difficult – the funder wants to know the same things whether there is a form or not. What do you need to spend money on?  What will be achieved with specific amounts?  If you cannot research what would be a suitable amount to apply for then give them a meaningful shopping list: Amount A is what you need as a minimum (explain why)  Amount B is what you dream of (explain what it would mean).  Amount C would at least achieve some little thing and is better than walking away with nothing (or £5).

2. Why not aspire rather than stagger?

Two grant-seeking strategies:

  • Spend your time researching very long lists of more and more potential funders.

Chuck out any with difficult application forms or requirements.

Put in application after application for small amounts to sources you have no relationship with.

Mainly get turned down or receive small amounts.

Keep going on and on and on while largely relying on the same old sources – Council and time-consuming community fundraising.

  • Become the kind of organisation which will be well funded by a short list of major funders. Application forms are only difficult if you don’t have the answers.

Draft applications and have  ACVO review them before you send – we can usually do so with just a day or so’s notice.

Funders willing to help with major grants and for core costs are looking for organisations that can demonstrate good governance and leadership. clear strategic thinking, sustainable business planning, diversified fundraising strategy, connectivity and evidenced relevance in their community.  They want you to be able to answer Why You? So What? And Who Says?   If you are not sure what these mean or whether you shape up then why not find out.

Spend the time you are currently wasting on option 1 above working with the expert ACVO team  – working on these.

Increase your success rate and build foundations for the future.

Invest your whole team in developing your organisation to be fundable and then reap the benefits forever after.

ACVO’s Sandy Mathers can help you develop your governance and leadership, monitoring and evaluation.
Alison Chandler and Kaja Czuchinka can help you develop your strategic thinking, business planning, fundraising strategy and review your funding applications.
Alasdair Simpson, Alison Chandler, and Mike Melvin can help you reach out to the community to consult, recruit and promote your work.
Joyce Duncan, Jane Russell, Maggie Hepburn, Susan Morrison, and Matt Carle can help you with your connectivity.
Ann Corbin and Sarah Irvine can help you develop your financial administration and book-keeping.