Tuesday, 28 February 2012

How the funder thinks....

Have you ever made an application for funding, and been rejected? Wondered what on earth the funder wanted you to say or do to get the money?

Firstly let me explain what a “Funder” actually is: It’s effectively a hive mind – an entity consisting of several individual volunteers who make a decision based on a pre-existing set of rules known as “The Constitution”. In FET’s case our constitutional documents are called “Articles and Memorandum of Association”, as we are registered with Companies house as a Company Limited by Guarantee. It is not, generally, the officer employed by the Trust (or whatever). That person carries out the will of the hive mind, and pursues it's decisions in the real world. All application for our main grants scheme are carried back to the Board of Directors.

So how can a community group access this group mind, and convince it that their project shines brighter than the others presented at the same meeting. After all, in these straightened times there is less money flowing in the coffers of grant making bodies, as with most other institutions in the UK. You can read the rule book and provide a good application, but sometimes that’s not enough. What I would like to attempt here is to give the FET Blog readership some insight into what the funder wants, how they (generally) think and hopefully give you an edge when project application time comes around for your group.

It does really start with the constitutional documents of your target funder. If they are a government agency, they will have a code of practice upon which their decision making is led. So point one is to do some homework on the Funders that you wish to approach. Constitutional documents tend to be a bit long winded and legally phrased, so if you are going ask for said documents, look for the “Objects” section. This is where the organisation states their reason for existence, and what they want to achieve. Most organisations that have enough money or are connected enough to make grants will be registered charities.

Collect all of the standard “who & what we can fund” “past projects” and other introductory material, but also take the time to have a look at the objects of the organisation. Gain an understanding of the types of projects that particular funder likes and dislikes. If you dont see many Church roof repairs in their past projects then chances are they dont spend money on church rooves. The point is that each Funding entity has it's own personality, it's preferences and it's dislikes. As the Board of Directors changes over the years so too will this personality, but probably not by very much. Remember the Constitutional Objects? That will always remain as the core and guiding document.

There is always the chance that you have got the wrong end of the stick about what sort of thing the organisation wishes to fund. The real problem of course comes when your project only tenuously matches up against their criteria. For example if a sports club with a private membership approaches the Landfill Community Fund wanting a new clubhouse roof, but does not wish to allow general public access to the site once the project is completed, then they are not compliant under the LCF access rules and won’t get funded.

Therefore pay close attention to what the funder is asking you to do, and what proofs and assurances you need to provide. If you cant get hold of something that your funder wants, then communicate this with them. Lots of groups are disappointed because the left something out that they didn’t consider important, but which was in fact a critical component of their application.

Any good funding body will have an officer who is there to assist you with information and advice. Listen to what they have to say, and do as they ask you to do. Nothing annoys a funding officer more than giving good advice about something they have detailed and intimate knowledge of, and then being ignored! Poor communication with the officer is the cause of many funding failures, and it's a lot more common than you would think.

Speaking of application failures, in my experience most that fail do so for one of the following reasons;

The project is not well planned and gaps in things like "who will manage the work?”are  apparent.

The application is unclear as to what the final outcomes will be, or is incomplete in some other way.

The costings are unclear or are obviously wrong

The application does not fit the criteria of the funder in some critical way

The applicant has not attempted to gain enough additional funding from other sources, leading the funder to feel over exposed to risk

The applicant has not followed through on essential preparative work, such as a community
consultation, gaining permissions, doing surveys or seeking letters of support from stakeholders.

A successful application must seek to address the funders needs – remember all funders have a source that they need to satisfy, and will have to answer to this source at audit. Ion our case this is HMRC, but it could be a corporation or bank, local, national or central government direct, a wealthy benefactor or a trust set up by a family.

Funders have the opposite agenda to most other groups or businesses – our success is measured by how much money can be moved out the door. Not as easy as it might first appear, as every grant made must be properly formulated, be fully compliant and be both transparent and auditable. The auditability of any given project is always on the funders mind, and should therefore be on the applicants mind as well.

So remember – most funders want to help, but you must provide them with the means to help you through good application and preparation. In every case, good communication throughout the application process is essential. In every case, be sure that your project matches the fund requirements.

Thats all for now - Please feel free to ask any questions, which will be answered in the comments section below this post.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

What the weather did...

Over the previous 2 years th UK got a serious taste of a continental winter  weather system – Weeks of subzero temperatures, falling at night to double minus digits on a regular basis, and snow falls of up to a foot and more at a time. The sheer weight of the snow affected not only conservatory roofs,but our oldest and largest trees, snapping off big radial limbs under tonnes of accumulated snow.

Whilst winter 2011 – 2012 has been generally quite mild, we have had to endure high winds. On 2 occasions these were strong enough to cause structural damage, and specifically in central Scotland. Whilst much has been reported of roofs being ripped off, chimneys toppling and the dangers associated with flying soup cans (Remember the lorry that went over and shed it’s load of tinned soup on the M9  before Christmas?) I haven’t seen any reports on how the windstorms affected our woodlands. So here is my mini photo blog showing “What the weather did” to Falkirk in January 2012.

Feel free to send in your own photos of the destructive power of our weather, or indeed any Environmentally led topic, and I’ll post up the best!

 The Oak pictured above appears to have a very shallow root system - Disease perhaps?

You can see in the backgound of the above shot that a lot of trees have gone over and become tangled up in the branches of their neighbours.

The Callendar forest is littered with big limbs snapped off of old oaks and sycamores, due to either winds or previous years snowfall

This Beech has obviously taken a beating over consecutive years.

What is amazing is that only a relative few trees were damaged, with many remaining unaffected

A side view of the previous shot

There is a bench in amongst the branches of this broken limb, which survived unscathed!

The question is this - are these extreme weather events a completely natural part of Scotlands weather cycles, or are they driven by global warming. If the latter is the case then extreme weather is not only here to stay, but will possibly escalate year on year.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

A few winter items

Hello again from the Falkirk Environment Trust, and a belated Happy New year to everyone.

As always I arrive in the blogosphere with too much to tell ad too little time to tell it, so straight to business;

FET news – The Board have decided to increase the lead time between the between the applications deadline and the board meeting to a period of 5 weeks.

Given that the next board meeting is on 28th of March 2012, the dead line for Main Grant submissions will be the 22nd of February. This is mainly due to the high number of applications in the last few years, and the time it takes to get each one ready for the board.

Next up is a link to Life - Falkirk’s Biodiversity Newsletter, Issue 13 , produced by Falkirk Council’s biodiversity officer Anna Perks. Well done Anna. She also asked me to publish the link to the Falkirk Area Biodiversity Action Plan 2011-2014. This document is invaluable for anyone wanting to mount a biodiversity project in the area, naming the species and habitats that an applicant would be potentially working with.

And in that vein, I’d better give you the link to the latest, and indeed greatest New Leaf News; click http://www.cgiscotland.org/, then in the left side of the site, look for the “New Leaf News” navigation link. This will give the most recent copy, as well as all of the back copies. If you’ve not come across it before then it’s worth checking out.

On a different note, FET is talking to various stakeholders about the problems in the Falkirk area created by Mink infestation. Any project that comes of these discussions is going to have to be heavily volunteer led. Is there anyone interested in getting trained up in the area of voluntary Mink tracking and control? Please let me know either by commenting below or emailing me on info@fet.org.uk

That’s it for now.

Art Berg