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.

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