Help for not for profit and charity trustees


some of the problems with this vexed subject, part 1

If there is one topic that comes at the top of the list of small charity’s concerns it’s fundraising. When I wrote my book, I stayed away from the subject as I thought there was plenty of advice around already: I now think that was a mistake. There is indeed a lot of advice – and I have just been looking at some of it – but it’s pages of stuff about the duties of trustee and what they should and shouldn’t do. All important stuff and trustees involved with fundraising should take note. But there is more to it than that.

These comments are about making bids for funding as opposed to direct fundraising activities (stalls, fun runs, coffee mornings and the like). As an ex- grant giver myself, as well as experience of preparing applications for funding, this is a selection of points which I hope small charities may find useful:

  • grants of a government nature (which may come via a local authority). It is quite important to realise that it is generally easier to get money early in the life of these funding streams, than later. This is because considerable time is taken between the sponsoring department and the Treasury wrangling over details, so that when they finally emerge, there is little time before the financial year end to get the money spent. Having your ideas together therefore will enable a quick response which may serve you well. In subsequent years, there is more time and more applications making success less likely.
  • It’s really important to grasp what it is the funder wants or is willing to fund. Obvious I know, but I can assure you that many of the applications which came my way showed little evidence of this. You need to read their guidance and, if possible, look at what they have already funded. The closer you meet their requirements, the more likely you are to be successful.
  • applicants often spend a lot of time telling you what they do and much less of how they are going to do it. People are usually confident with describing the what: the how – the mechanics of delivering and managing the project can be unfamiliar territory. There may well be a skills gap. As a very rough guide I suggest at least half, and maybe three quarters, should focus on the latter. Essentially, they want to know if we give these guys £X000’s, are they going to deliver? Do they have the skills, management and systems to do what they claim they are going to do? So you need to reassure them that you will.
  • Most funders want to know what extra you are going to do. They may use terms like adding value or similar but the essence is what outcomes are you going to achieve with our grant? Few are keen on more of the same. This is a problem I know and fully accept and it is frustrating. Similarly with core funding, the boring business of running the show. This is beginning to improve but is still a problem.
  • in my book I devote a lot of space to information and reporting. If you have these systems in place then they will come in handy for bid writing. They want to know that a) you are on top of planning and reporting: that you know what is happening and that managers and trustees have a good grasp of progress and b) you will be in a position to report to them on progress especially with the part of your work they are funding.
  • finally, with slightly larger projects, the issue of integration is important. By this I mean where the bid has different elements to it involving for example drawings, a narrative application and some financials, that they all tally. Blindingly obvious you are thinking but again – to repeat myself – it is surprising in talking to applicants about their application asking them questions about how x relates to y in the various documents, one is met with blank looks. Someone wrote the narrative, someone else did the financials but ne’er the twain shall meet!

In my next post I shall concentrate on problems with writing the application itself which can raise tricky issues.

Peter Curbishley

Author of How to be a Successful Trustee ISBN 978 -1 913012-61 -8

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