Help for not for profit and charity trustees

Fundraising: II

In my last post I discussed issues concerning funding applications and provided some suggestions which I hope would help. In this post I want to discuss the actual business of writing a bid which has its own problems and can be quite tricky.

Larger charities and not for profits can often afford to buy in the necessary experience and bid writing ability or even employ someone on their staff who can do it. Small charities – who are the vast majority – cannot usually afford this. Here are some pointers:

  • Right from the get-go, be clear about what you are bidding for and what you want to do. At this stage, I suggest steering clear of the application form. This may seem an odd thing to say – particularly as I said last time to be clear about what it is the funders want – but there is a risk of plunging into the form and typing answers without having a true grasp of your key objectives. If you are not clear, there is danger of coming to points in your application where the lack of clarity of purpose can become a problem. The problem is being led by the form rather than being clear about what you want to do.
  • There are people who can write lucid prose and can make a good stab at writing the application or a first draft of one. Then there are those who can’t, their skills lying elsewhere. The problem arises when weeks are spent by the latter and a pretty awful application emerges which may be beyond redemption. Starting again may not be an option because of time. Correcting something which is, frankly very bad, may not be possible. Major corrections may involve seriously hurt feelings. Colleagues may simply be unwilling to undertake the drastic surgery needed. A problem. How to avoid it? …
  • … ideally, do not ask someone without the necessary writing skill to do the job in the first place. In a small organisation, there may simply not be the people. Before you ask someone, as I said in the first bullet point, get a clear agreement (as a team ideally), about what the main points of the bid will be. Discuss these with the writer in a little more detail, what some of the questions will involve and prepare some skeleton answers. Make sure you keep in regular touch with them, both to check on progress and to offer help or further support. Offer help with some elements. None of this will turn them into a wordsmith but it will enable you to keep on top of the process and the support is likely to be appreciated. Is there a trustee who can help?
  • No small charity is perfect and funders’ questions are sufficiently broad to mean there are likely to be gaps in your organisation. I suggest not trying to wing it but to be honest. It is much better to say that you recognise the shortcoming (whatever it might be) and say how you will tackle it. It might indeed be part of your application and require funding help.
  • Be positive especially about your achievements. Small charities are all too often aware of their shortcomings but not always of the fact that they have continued to operate and do good things with very limited resources. That doesn’t mean being boastful but it does mean recognising the difference you have made.
  • More applications have word counts these days which cause their own problems. Oscar Wilde once wrote to a friend and finished by saying “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter”. Writing succinctly is a skill in itself and I cannot, I’m afraid, offer much advice on how to achieve it. Bullet points help, both in reducing the number of words and focusing on short phrases or sentences. It is however extremely annoying when you have a word count of say 200, to be told ‘insufficient evidence provided of …’ if you are turned down.
  • Leave as much time as possible at the end to enable further work or corrections to take place. If there are only days before the deadline, very little can be done. Ideally, try and get a good draft done at least a week, and preferably 2, before the deadline.
  • Try and put yourself into the shoes, or the mind, of the person reading your application. It is difficult as I know from experience but if you have read their guidance and looked at what they have funded in the past, it should give you some clues.
  • It’s always a good idea to ‘rest’ your application for at least 24 hours. By that I mean don’t look at it at all. When you reopen it, what seemed clear to you when you wrote it is gibberish when you look at it again.
  • Finally, be careful about assumptions. You know the background and issues which your charity or not for profit is trying to tackle: the person reading your bid may not. I once took a party of London based civil servants down to Cornwall to look at some projects and work we were doing in the county. The whole day was worthwhile I thought when, on the train back to London, they chatted about what they were going to eat and one said “you couldn’t pop out for a pizza where we’ve just been”. The fact that parts of Cornwall (and other other rural counties) are remote and isolated is not always realised by urban based folk.

However good your proposal is, bids which fit the funder’s criteria are likely to be successful. An average bid will therefore stand a greater chance of success if it fits their bill. When all said and done, luck does play a part.

Peter Curbishley

Author of How to be a Successful Trustee.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: