No two funders operate in exactly the same way, but there are several things that they have in common. Most importantly, they all want to make the biggest impact they can with the money they have available. It’s your job to convince the decision makers that you’re the right organisation to help them do it.
Before you make your next grant application, check out these top tips for success.
Know What’s Available
There are many well-known funders in New Zealand, but equally there are many funding bodies that fly under the radar. For your best chance of success, do your homework and make sure you know what all your options are. Tonic Magazine is a great source of funding information.
Be Aware of Criteria
Every funder has a set of criteria which determines which organisations, projects, programmes and expenses they will fund. In most cases, they will have areas or sectors of the community which are given priority, and then some restrictions around the type of expenses that can be funded.
Be aware that the funders criteria have been carefully considered and regardless of how good your cause is, you can’t simply ‘massage’ your organisation to fit. Instead of submitting lots of applications that loosely fit criteria, decide to focus on only the ones that have a great fit.
In recent times, one of the biggest changes to criteria has been in relation to wages. Traditionally, wages have often been difficult to source, but many funders have relaxed their rules on this. While they may not include wages expressly as an option, many say that they will fund operational costs. If you can prove that wages are an essential cost of operating, you may well be considered.
Most funders have a funding advisor who reads the applications, makes recommendations and then passes them on to the decision making committee. The advisor is also responsible for liaising with community organisations, so that your applications have the best chance of success.
While you are allowed to submit applications right up to the last minute, it is in your best interest to apply as early as possible. This gives the funding advisor an opportunity to consider your application and come back to you with any questions or points that need clarifying before the deadline is reached. If your application arrives on their desk 5 minutes before close-off, there is no opportunity for improvement before your application gets passed through.
It is also important to realise that some funders start preliminary granting as the applications come in. If you leave your application until the last minute, you may find that all the money has been distributed before your application even arrives.
Build a Relationship with the Advisor
Many people believe they could get more funding, if only they had a chance to speak to the decision makers directly. Unfortunately every organisation wants this face-to-face time and in most cases it’s simply not possible to accommodate every request.
That said, the funding advisor is the person who can ‘go-into-bat’ on your behalf. They are your best advocate when it comes to selling your organisation, your project, and your ability to make it happen. Get to know the advisor, keep them in the loop with your successes, and listen to their ideas and suggestions. They will be the one sharing your message with decision makers, so give them every opportunity to share it in the best possible light.
One of the simplest ways you can start building a relationship with funders is to attend funding forums and expos where they have a presence. Even if you have heard it all before, showing your face, asking relevant questions and taking the opportunity to thank them for past support will make a difference.
Provide Up-to-Date Documents
Many organisations have a ‘Funders File’ where they keep documents most commonly requested by funders. While this is a great idea, it is essential that you regularly review the folder and ensure that the documents are accurate and up-to-date. Simple things such as contact details and current trustees are often overlooked, and out-of-date information can hold up, and at times jeopardise, the whole process.
Submit Complete Applications
While it is not always obvious why specific information is required, it is important that you answer every question asked on the application form. Empty spaces suggest you haven’t done your homework or lack the organisational skills required to get the job done.
If a funder states that you are not to include additional information, then take their word for it and leave it out. Not only will it not be read, they will be annoyed by your inability to follow instructions. However, if a funder invites additional information by all means include it. Just be sure that you summarise your response on the form itself, and clearly index the information that relates to that question. An answer of ‘see attached’ is not enough.
Ensure Mission Centred Projects
When you are really strapped for cash it’s tempting to create a specific project, just because you know there is funding available. Don’t! Not only is it an ineffective way to run your organisation, it is unlikely you will receive funding anyway. Funders are only interested in supporting projects that will help you further your mission, so stick to your plan.
If you are trying something new, be sure to explain why you’re doing it and how it fits into your wider strategy. Funders like innovative projects, but they need to understand how it fits with the bigger picture of what you are trying to achieve.
While most funders recognise the need for you to keep some money in reserve, large nest-eggs will undoubtedly be questioned. If you have more than 12 months operating budget in your accounts, make sure you explain why it is not being used to support the project in question. Funders understand that money can often be tagged for future activities; you just have to let them know when that’s the case.
Likewise, if your organisation is in financial difficulty, it is important to explain how you got into that situation, how you intend to rectify it, and what plans you have to remain financially stable in the future. While funders do not expect you to be making a corporate sized profit, they do expect you to operate as a solvent organisation.
Say everything you need to get your point across and then STOP. Simple bullet points using everyday language are far more effective than long-winded explanations full of fluff and jargon. Using infographics to present metrics and statistics can be a useful way to summarise important, but sometimes confusing, data. Check out www.piktochart.com or www.canva.com for some easy to use templates.
Funders are looking to finance needs not nice-to-haves, so it is important to explain why this item/project/programme is so essential for your organisation and why your organisation is so essential in the community.
How will the funding of this application help you meet a genuine need in your community? If it is a real and urgent need, explain what has happened in your community to make it so. How has your community or organisation changed? How has recent government decisions affected your organisation or the community it serves? Why is this project or item a need in your community now, when it may not have been 12 months ago?
One way to demonstrate need is to consider what the impact would be if your organisation didn’t exist. However, be careful how you express this kind of thinking as sometimes it can appear desperate and sensational. It is more effective to focus on your strengths and the positive difference your organisation makes.
Highlight the Depth of Impact
Working in the community is like dropping a pebble in a pond. There are some instantly recognisable benefits, but the impacts often reach further than what is seen on the surface. When describing your outcomes, make sure you highlight the true depth and breadth of the impact.
In explaining your impact, a useful question to consider is ‘If your organisation was doing everything right, what would your community look like as a result?’ This question forces you to think past the services you provide and on to the outcome you are ultimately trying to achieve.
Give Funders ‘Bang for their Buck’
Like most people, funders want to get the most value they can for their investment. Let them know how funding your project or programme will be a good investment in the long term. Are you collaborating with another organisation, therefore reducing the cost of running two separate services? Will you make the equipment, resources or facilities available for use by other groups? If you can demonstrate that the benefits will be seen outside of your own organisation and clients, this will have a positive impact on your application.
Put simply, if you haven’t returned your accountability reports from last time, you will not get funding this time around. Make sure you send in your accountability statements on time, in the right format and without being prompted. It really does make a difference to future applications.
Provide Letters of Support
If you are a new organisation or your project could be considered a little unusual, make sure you demonstrate that you have wide community support. This can be achieved by including letters of support from other organisations or agencies, particularly those who already have a good reputation in the community and a strong history with the funder from whom you are requesting funds.
Choose your Trustees Wisely
Like it or not, the reputation of your trustees reflects on your organisation – both positively and negatively. Avoid recruiting trustees just so you can get ‘bums on seats’ and instead look for people who have a strong reputation and can make a genuine contribution to your organisation. Make sure you have a code of conduct in place for your trustees before you need it.
Kerri is a Facilitator / Trainer with Exult and has over 20 years experience working in and for the community sector.
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