Funders want to see change – what difference will you make and how will you know you are successful? Their forms are designed to test how well you have planned your project, in order to maximise success and minimise risks.
Campfire Convention is not only a new way to build social networks, it is also an ideas incubator.
This article may be useful for people seeking grants for projects.
My guide is based on 20 years experience as a volunteer writing grant applications, in collaboration with others, and successfully raising over £700,000 for a range of community projects.
Most funders only support projects that are run by organisations that have a constitution and a bank account that has 2 signatories. It is difficult to find funding for individuals or non-constituted organisations.
If you are an individual with a project idea suitable for the voluntary sector, you may want to think about building a team that can be constituted, so that you can you can start to find funding to support your idea.
Funders want to see change – what difference will you make and how will you know you are successful? They are looking for outcomes and impacts. Their forms are designed to test how well you have planned your project, in order to maximise success and minimise risk (for you and their investment). You may be in the voluntary sector but as an organisation, you are a business spending money to achieve something that has ‘social good’ and they want to see that you have a business plan. They want to know:
- Want you want to do.
- Why you want to do it – evidence of need.
- Who and how many will benefit. (Used for cost/capita – value for money).
- How you will do it.
- What it will cost.
- How you will measure success.
If you can answer these questions well, you may not have realised, but you have a business plan for your idea!
To gain their confidence:
- Tell a good story that fits with their aims.
- Show a well researched and thoughtful plan that shows you know what you are doing.
- Show that their investment will give value for money.
- Show you recognise risks to your plan and have thought of ways to minimise them.
Objective assessors will score (e.g. between 0 – 5) each answer to their questions and how well you match their criteria. They will add up your score at the end.
The highest scores get the grant.
If you are successful in your application, the money they give must only be spent on the project you have talked about.
- Finding funders
- Choosing your grant
- Project language definitions - aims, objectives, outcomes, outputs, indicators, impact, monitoring, evaluation.
- Filling out the form
- Evidence of need
- Who will benefit
- Evidence of change
- Tools to collect evidence
- Budgets and match funding
Join online newsletter circulations that give upcoming application deadlines e.g.
- http://www.fundingcentral.org.uk - part of National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). NCVO is a fantastic resource for advice and information for voluntary organisations e.g. https://knowhow.ncvo.org.uk
- There are various local and regional community support organisations that often have funding directories and newsletters e.g. in Dorset: Dorset Community Action Funding Bulletin
- Local authorities have grants (Town, District, County and Unitary Authorities). Find out deadlines. Don’t forget neighbouring authorities, especially if you are based near an administrative boarder – some of your beneficiaries or activities may live, work or take place there.
CHOOSING YOUR GRANT
There are many funders out there. Each funder will want to support particular areas of interest – an art form, heritage, people in challenging circumstances, environment, animal welfare etc. They may have several criteria that list what they will fund and won’t fund. Look at their criteria and find the best fit to your need. Understand their mission. Read the criteria, any guidance notes and terms & conditions slowly and carefully. Don’t skim and miss things.
Be a good fit for as many criteria as possible, certainly the key ones that are core to their mission, if not all of them. Think of the assessment process. They will be scoring how you fit their criteria. Double check you have addressed each criterion when you are ready to submit.
You may have a loose fit with some criteria. For example, your work may cross over geographic boundaries. Talk about the outcomes for beneficiaries within the funder’s target area and if appropriate, find match funding for other areas. If you want support for organisational development or researching a business plan, if you are based in a funder’s boundaries, they may support all or most of this work even though beneficiaries may extend beyond their area because the majority are within their boundary.
Beneficiary numbers may include those you work with directly and indirectly – audiences, families e.g. B Sharp’s (a young people’s music making charity I was involved with) Big Mix festival may have 100 young performers directly involved and 500 children & young people in the audience over the day who experience culture relevant to them, in a rurally isolated area with little opportunity to experience this, and may be inspired to take part in the future. Including those indirectly affected in your project numbers affects cost per capita and increases value for money.
If you are asking for the maximum £ available, or close to it, be sure that you can match all their criteria well.
A funder may be looking for something that you already do but haven’t paid attention to or properly measured. For example, if you are getting people to learn new skills as developing artists, there may be other outcomes: improved personal and social confidence, better mental health, more engagement with society or school, increased citizenship, increased ability to enter employment or higher education, less isolation, reduced risk of offending etc. Government and local authority departments are increasingly commissioning services from organisations to deliver their aims. You could use what you do well and adapt your project, or the measurement of it, to show you can deliver the outcomes they want. You will have to think of ways to prove you are delivering them. If you adapt your project to suit funding criteria, keep your integrity and values so that you still achieve the outcomes you want and are happy doing what you propose.
Read through any guidance notes they give you and follow them. Before submission, double check that you have followed them.
Understanding the funder’s language is essential. Use the same language they use in your application. Remember, you are a business and they will treat you like one. The questions will tease out your business plan, so their language is related to business, project planning, management, measurement and finance. Frequent terms:
Aims - are what you want to achieve and the purpose of your project. Aims are about change. Describing them will use words like – increase (e.g. participation, access, understanding etc.), decrease (e.g. isolation), better, more, stronger, improve, new, develop, grow and integrate. Aims are about the future.
Establishing your aims is the starting point of developing your project. Everything you do should be based around achieving your aims. Anything else is a distraction.
Objectives - actions you will do in the future to achieve your aims. They should be SMART:
- Specific: the objective should specify what you want to achieve and be focused upon your aims.
- Measurable: you should be able to measure whether you are meeting the objectives or not.
- Achievable: the objective must be achievable and attainable given the resources you have.
- Realistic: the objective must be realistic given the resources used.
- Time: sufficient time should be allocated to achieve the objectives, in a timely manner.
E.g. Hold 4 exhibitions per year. Or, book an exhibition venue by 9 September (with the aim of promoting emerging artists work).
Outcomes – are completed/achieved aims; the changes you expect at the end of the project. Funders are increasingly focused upon an outcomes approach. Excellent transferable advice about this can be found here:
Outputs – Measurable things or activities that have made the change or result from change – the number and type of workshops, performances, exhibitions, meetings, blogs, publications, accreditations/qualifications, employment or training posts created etc. Completed objectives.
Impact – Long-term outcomes/changes e.g. increased social cohesion, a regular and sustainable outlet for artists, wider appreciation of the arts, a stronger workforce, increased organisational resilience.
Monitoring– The process of measuring outcomes and outputs. Only measure things that are useful to know. These can be:
- Quantitative – the number of participants or audiences, workshops, performances, income generated, distance - catchment area and geographic reach.
- Qualitative – experience, skills, knowledge, engagement, learning, enjoyment, integration, excellence, opinions etc. Critical to your brand.
Indicators – Things you will measure that show change - Youth Music describes them as, “What you will look for to ascertain how well your project is performing and to what extent you are achieving your intended outcomes. Sources of evidence are the tools or methods you will use to collect the information needed to demonstrate the progress you have made in achieving your intended outcomes. For example, if your intended outcome is 'to develop the musical skills of all participants', a good indicator might be 'the participants' own assessment of their musical ability'. The associated source of evidence might then be 'Self-assessment questionnaires'.”
Baseline – Measurements taken at the start of the project so that you can track change and journeys. Repeat the measurements at project milestones e.g. at the end or in a long project, when you have to report your project’s progress to get the next tranche of grant money. The measurements will show any change and the difference you have made. When reporting, you could use your numerical measurements to make charts or graphs for easy interpretation.
Evaluation – The process of assessing if you have achieved your aims and objectives by interpreting your data. Evidence based evaluation and reflective practice enables continual improvement. Frequently evaluating your data will help you identify problems and successes and adjust your project to correct or build on results.
Let funders know you will keep checking back against your desired outcomes to make sure you are collecting useful information to evidence/explore them – it is part of your risk management and thinking about ‘what next?’ at the end – “We did this, learnt that and now want to do this”.
FILLING OUT THE FORM
Allow plenty of time to prepare a bid. You may need to:
- Gather various supporting documents e.g. letters of support from partners; technical plans for building renovations, bank statements, accounts etc.
- Prepare a detailed budget.
- Keep your story within a word count – editing takes time! I often cheat a little by cutting out ‘and’ or commas by joining words with / e.g. ‘we will consult young people/parents/partners’ so 3 words end up as one word in a word count tool. In a word count question, a clear note form without correct grammar is acceptable, as long as you are clear in what you say.
Prepare your answers in a Word document if you are filling out a form online. This is helpful for:
- Word count tools.
- Preventing loss of your work if your ‘logged in’ time runs out before you save. I’ve kicked myself after losing hours of work, tightening phrases for a word count restriction and getting an exact fit, only to find it won’t save because you are no longer logged in. It is all lost! It is very hard to remember all your previous work in detail!
- Sharing answers in a Word document with partners or a critical friend before submission. This keeps your online application password confidential and prevents others accidentally submitting your application before you are ready.
EVIDENCE OF NEED:
Do your research about the need for your project and how you can make a difference (to persuade yourself, and relate it to the criteria of the funder). Understand the needs of your target beneficiaries and why you can help them. This can come from:
- Published statistics about demographics e.g. https://www.dorsetforyou.com/statistics
- Statistics about your target participants/audience.
- Research by large organisations related to your work e.g. Arts Council England, Universities etc.
- Consult your project targets – interviews, questionnaires and focus groups.
- Evidence of what you have done before, its successes and what you have learnt – adjusting to a new understanding of need or approach. “We did this, learnt that and now want to do this.”
- Personal testimonies of beneficiaries, partners and other stakeholders – short one line quotes.
- Hyperlinks to online videos, photos, documents or blogs about your (or others similar) previous work that you want to develop.
- London based funders may not understand rural isolation issues – higher costs and difficulties of transport, lower population density – fewer participant numbers, effecting cost/capita. Explain these if relevant. A good document highlighting rural isolation issues is here: http://issuu.com/nymaz/docs/nymaz_rural_isolation_research_repo/15?e=13671048/11140831
WHO WILL BENEFIT?
There can be direct and indirect beneficiaries. Are you integrating a target group into the wider community? Are you strengthening communities by adding vibrancy, creating employment, reducing fear or anti-social behaviour? There may be more subtle outcomes and benefits than those directly affecting people you work with directly. If you talk about this, you may need to prove the wider beneficiaries and outcomes (e.g. from sample questionnaires).
Can you increase the number and range of beneficiaries, using digital tools to reach them? Workshops using tools e.g. Skype to overcome rural isolation, or publishing resources that result from your activities could increase value for money and legacy.
Work and consult with key people delivering the project, to prepare your bid and get your story/plan right and realistic.
As an organisation, you will be working with people within the organisation who will undertake project tasks and you may be contracting in people with specialist skills or working with partners and venues etc. Talk with them about their availability, costs, support etc. so that they are on board and can help you deliver the project on time and within budget.
Your activities will depend upon what changes or outcomes you want to make. Your activities (outputs) should always help deliver your aims and desired outcomes. If they don’t, they are distractions that use up resources and energy. Know why you will do what you propose. Part of your activities will be to manage the project: research, consult, plan, deliver your programme, monitor, evaluate, adjust; repeat on a loop. Tell funders this.
Be clear about your activities. Don't say, "We hope to...., we would like to....." Are you going to do something or not? Is it in your budget? Be positive and committed. "We will......." is a commitment. Don’t just say, “We will run workshops to increase skills in…..”. Give numbers e.g. “We will run 10 x 2 hour weekly workshops for 20 participants to increase skills in…. “ This gives a target to measure as part of your outputs.
Sequence your activities in a logical order. You may be asked to timetable your activities. Think about how long it takes to organise something and what resources you have to do it. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Work backwards from your desired outcome e.g. selling artists work needs, in reverse order: an exhibition, publicity to public, artists’ work produced, booking venue/s suitable for the amount of work to be shown, contracts with interested artists, publicity/invitation to artists, consultation/research of need & competition (market research). Each of these actions can be broken down into further actions – Publicity: posters, social media, website, newsletters, press releases, networks, word of mouth etc. which in turn need graphic designers, printer, copy writer.
You may have the skills for the tasks within your organisation, get training, or out source them. Training will add to your timescale but if you have time, may be worth the investment.
Planning your timetable and working out the resources needed for each stage gives an opportunity to cost each resource, finishing with a total cost. People’s time is an important resource. Make sure it is available and price it. This all comes into your budget either as real costs or ‘in kind’ donations.
EVIDENCE OF CHANGE – outcomes and impact.
Funders will need to report on their work and what they have supported, and will need to tell a good story. Your story is part of theirs. You need to gather evidence to show you have made a difference and done what you said you would do. An excellent guide to help plan and do this is the Code Of Good Impact Practice:
It takes time to measure, collate and evaluate outcomes. You will be expected to report on any outcomes you talk about, so you will need to measure them in some way. The simpler and less time it takes to measure the outcome, the better. Build in the cost of your time to do this. For a small grant, keep to key outcomes that are simple and focused, so you don’t spend loads of time gathering evidence – it may cost you more in staff time to gather evidence and report than the activities the grant pays for!
EXAMPLES OF TOOLS TO COLLECT EVIDENCE:
Quantitative: Numbers, using registration books, ticket sales (measures audience number and income), book keeping, structured logbook to record numbers for outputs.
Qualitative: Information from questionnaires, surveys, focus groups, self-evaluation questionnaires, portfolios, work produced (music, art, a product), testimonials, case studies (written by a beneficiary), team meetings and milestone reviews, parent/family/peer/teacher feedback, accreditations, logs of what worked or challenges and how you overcame them, partner feedback, blogs, social media feedback and engagement, video, photos. You can put numbers to quality e.g. in a training programme, a self-assessment questionnaire could ask participants’ levels of confidence or knowledge on a scale of 1 – 5. Do this at the beginning (baseline) and repeat at milestones to find change.
Budgets are dependent upon the cost of resources you need to deliver your objectives and carry out a task. You can ‘scope’ a budget when you are working out your project timetable. You will build a list of all the actions needed and the time it takes to do them. You will need to think about all the resources you will need for each action – staff – freelance or salaried, venues, equipment, transport, publicity, training, recruitment, core costs – see below. Try to not underestimate how much time it takes to manage projects – especially if you have a number of partners involved.
Budgets tell stories as powerfully as written text. Your budget will show how thoroughly you have thought about everything you will need to achieve success. Check your budgets against your text answers. They should cross reference each other. Are there any actions you have said you would do that have not been covered in your budget? Have you put in costs that haven't been explained in your written answers?
These are expenses covering your operating costs such as staff, office, hire charges, insurance, transport, utilities etc. Try to give details, so instead of saying staff = £3,500, break it down:
Project manager 10 days @£150/day = £1,500
Workshop leader 50 x 2 hour sessions @£20/hour = £2,000
These are your organisation’s fixed overheads/operating costs – what you pay even if you do nothing – office rental, utility bills, staff on a salary including National Insurance and pension contributions, insurance etc.
Full cost recovery
Most funders want to only fund a specific piece of work. Most organisations in the voluntary sector struggle to find money to cover core costs because they are on going and not a project in itself. However, it is generally accepted that projects use proportions of your core costs to make them happen. Try to aim for ‘full cost recovery’, where the project also takes into account and builds into its expenditure a proportion of your core costs. A rough guide is about 15% of your budget is acceptable as a core cost contribution.
Things you buy and keep rather than rent e.g. materials, buildings, equipment and vehicles. (Fixed assets).
Balancing your budget
You are not expected to make an overall profit. They are looking for you to break even. Your income will need to be exactly the same as your expenditure, including the grant application you are working on. If you predict a profit by using their grant, why can't you use the profit to contribute towards the project instead of asking them for money? Perhaps you don't need a grant or at least not as much as you have asked for, or you should be thinking of a loan. This is why budget income and expenditure must balance exactly. Be conservative in your estimates of income so that if e.g. you do sell more things or have more private donations than you expected, you will make a profit which can be reinvested in future work. They won't take their money back if you do better than expected, but they won't give you more than an amount to break even in your initial predictions. They are trying to give you a leg up as you start or trial something new, or need some infrastructure to develop something. While the project may link to other things you do, it should be a stand alone piece of work that breaks even. Don’t include the value of ‘in kind’ income in this balance, only actual money you spend and gain.
When you know your total expenditure, you know how much income you need. Having a number of income sources reduces dependency on one or more sources, and the impact of any underperforming. A diverse income portfolio shows a funder that you have potential to become sustainable and have resilience.
The most important thing to be accurate about is the key elements that affect your ability to do a good job - the cost of people’s time, venue hire and equipment etc. Being under resourced in these areas will undermine success. Showing exact figures for e.g. equipment shows you have done some research. You can be exact for e.g. workshop leader time because you know how many sessions and fee per session. You can fine tune budgets with rounded approximations to exactly balance expenditure and income, by playing with proportions of core/office costs allocated to the project, ‘run around’ transport costs or income such as donations, ticket sales or participation fees (because numbers taking part are estimates and can be anything, as long as it is in the ball park of reality).
Goods or services given to you for free. What would the cost of a volunteer be if you had to pay them on the open market? Don’t forget the value of your management committee or trustees (and include them in the number of volunteers you have, if asked) e.g. if applying for money to support organisational development or researching a 3 year business plan. Try to include this in your income to show the value of support you have. It is a good way to show that your peers and community like what you do.
Match funding is a contribution to the project other than the grant you are applying for. It doesn’t have to be a match £ for £, it could 10 – 20 % and could be in kind. Funders rarely want to be the only income source. If they are only part funding the project, they will want to see how you get other income to cover costs. The more confident you are about other income sources, the better. Get letters of agreement from other contributors to evidence confirmed income. Projected income such as sales, raffles etc are less reliable and are part of your risk. They will want some match funding to see that:
- Others support you.
- You can develop other income to sustain you in the future.
A diverse income portfolio will help achieve match funding and sustainability. Ways to increase income sources may be to:
- Charge for services, with a sliding scale depending upon ability to pay.
- Sale of work produced or commission on e.g. art sales; refreshments at events; ticketing at events.
- Sell merchandise based on organisation branding – badges, mugs, t-shirts etc.
- Donations, philanthropy, sponsorship (business or a public challenge – bike ride, ice bucket etc.).
- Other grants.
- Some of your own money from your organisation's reserves.
Funders are often keen to support partnerships between organisations. Partnerships help share:
- Resources and create efficiencies.
- Learning, which strengthens your organisations and sector.
You may be asked for letters of support from them. Be sure to talk with them about your plans and share an understanding of what partners bring to the project. If you talked about doing a project together sometime ago, don’t assume they can still do it. Hopefully they can contribute to costs, or reduce them with in kind contributions – staff, venues, equipment loans etc. It can be helpful if you write a ‘letter of support’ template for them, which they can personalise if they have time. In the letter, bullet point what they will bring to the project (as above), giving a little detail, what they do and why they want to work with you.
Funders want to know how you will publicise your project for the purposes of participant and staff recruitment, sharing good news, successes and learning, as well as crediting their investment and support.
This could involve a number of channels such as
- Social media platforms
- Press releases – local newspapers and special interest journals – print and online – related to your project.
- Professional and partnership networks and their communication channels
- Word of mouth
All these take time to do and have costs with budget implications. Let funders know you will plan stories so that they are co-ordinated and link up over different platforms, giving people plenty of notice if you want them to be involved.
If asked about project risks and strategies to minimise them, be brief e.g.
Risk: Match funding shortfall.
Solution: Match funding calculation based upon experience. Team will regularly monitor actual figures and have new income generating strategies if any income streams look like they will under-perform.
Risk: Loss of staff.
Solution: Key delivery team will be contracted on a freelance basis, agreeing periods of work and replaced if they leave or become ill. All staff are up-skilling and can 'step up' when needed.
Risk: Desired outcomes are not achieved.
Solution: Thorough planning with partners and delivery team, regular monitoring and evaluation, trustee and peer network consultancy, adapting the programme to overcome challenges.
Funders do not want you to be dependent on them forever. They want to help you get an idea off the ground so that it stands on its own feet. Unless the grant is for a one-off special project, they don’t want everything to grind to a halt after their investment. Think of ways you can carry on afterwards – perhaps you will have more people paying fees for a service or develop new business related to the project.
Sustainability is not just about money. It is also about investing time, energy and understanding into relationships with all your stakeholders – participants, partners and the wider community. This involves regular consultation and sharing the good news about your outcomes. Tell funders you will build this into your project. Without stakeholders support, funding will dry up. I’ve written a blog about this: http://network.youthmusic.org.uk/learning/blogs/ayvin-rogers/top-tips-making-breakthrough-organisations-and-projects-more-sustainable
Before submission, check:
- Your story makes sense.
- You have addressed all their criteria.
- You have followed their guidance notes.
- Your budget adds up correctly and expenditure and income are balanced.
- Grammar, format/presentation and typos. Make it easy for the reader.
- Have all the supporting documents they may require.
Ask a critical friend to see if it makes sense. An assessor will not know you or your work; so if your friend is unfamiliar with your work, see if s/he has understood what you want to do and its value, in the same way you expect an assessor to.
I have been lucky to be mentored by experienced people. Ask someone experienced to comment on your application. Some local authorities have officers that will check your application for free; other organisations may ask for a small fee e.g. Dorset Community Action. I often think an application is good and then receive comments that vastly improve it. I am still learning.
TOP TIPS ON NON-GRANT FUNDRAISING & PHILANTHROPY
- Money follows Vision. Have a Vision that is easily explained.
- Michael Kaiser has a series of Arts Council England videos about philanthropy and arts fundraising. Recommended viewing: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=michael+kaiser+fundraising
- Evaluation – Very important to tell stories – “We have learnt this and now want to do this” – based upon evidence. What are your challenges?
- Useful to have a fundraising and business development post in your organisation, or consultancy as needed.
- Participant/Parent advisory groups – they can help fund raise.
- Birthdays – e.g. an orgaisation is 10 in 2020. Hang a fundraising story on a birthday all year.
- Baby boomers generally have secure pensions and disposable income. Good targets. People in their 50s and below have uncertain financial futures and are more cautious in giving.
- Crowd funding – very competitive – lots of good ideas out there using crowd funding. Start with a small project in the low £100s – test the market, gain experience.
- Nurture existing supporters – they already know your value.
Why do businesses give?
- Good will.
- They benefit e.g.
- Want your contact list to sell their products and services to (bare in mind the Data Protection Act).
- Concessions for events.
- Have a stand at an event.
- Logo on your publicity.
Understand what they want and their motive.