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Standout from the crowd – Tips on funding for the VCS

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Standout from the crowd – Tips on funding for the VCS

So the election has come and gone and many commentators predicted that whoever won,  many of the challenges facing voluntary and community organisations would remain the same.  Central and local government funding has been on a downward trend, but cuts to public services  are accelerating the scale of funding reductions and competition to get grants from major funders and trusts is very high.

However there are opportunities as the VCS is very good at delivering services to communities, reaching those that other public services find hard to engage with and legislative changes, such as the provision of health and social care services, are creating openings for the VCS to move from a funding relationship to a commissioning relationship.   The trouble is that smaller voluntary and community organisations find it difficult to show the impact they are having on their community and don’t shout about it to the right people.

I run a popular workshop called Perfect your Pitch, which is designed for groups to help them articulate their offer and impact in applications and when they get the chance to meet the right people.  We take people through a process to identify their unique point of difference and get them to practice this in front of a ‘dragon’.  Nearly 250 people have been through the course and I wanted to share this learning to help you think about how to use these techniques the next time you put in an application or get a chance to meet a commissioner.

Tip 1 – Don’t chase the funding –to me this is the most important tip –  sit back and think about what funding you need rather than what funding is available.  Yes it sounds simple but a lot of organisations get caught up applying for funding without thinking why and how they are going to deliver it.  I had one attendee that spent a whole month applying for ten different opportunities and did not win any of them.  They were of course very disheartened, but when we worked it through only two of the opportunities were really relevant to the service the organisation provided, splitting her time across ten applications, meant she could not do a good and thorough job on any of them.

Tip 2 – Prepare, prepare, prepare – this follows the first tip in that you cannot expect to write an application in half a day from scratch.  By focusing your efforts on fewer higher quality proposals you are likely to get better scores when they are being assessed and a greater chance of winning.  We run grant programmes for funders and assess applications, as with most funds, we are always oversubscribed for the funding that is available.  This means that you could still put in a very good application but just miss out by a few points as we have a cut-off point on scores.  We often find that applications score less well either on their response to evaluation (impact) and monitoring or on making the case for their project.  And sometimes it is really hard to work out exactly what the project wants to achieve… think about the reader, we don’t know you, we can only judge you on what you tell us.   I use the Nana test… if your Nana understands what you want to do then so will everyone else, keep it simple and clear.

Tip 3 – Need to scale up? – work with others.  We cannot change the fact that is much more cost effective to contract with one organisation rather than with many.  This is happening across all public services and with some funders, cost savings are made on management by contracting with a ‘lead contractor’ or ‘lead partner’ who will then do all the management on behalf of the commissioner and sub contract with other organisations to deliver services.  Whilst it makes sense, it does mean that smaller organisations miss out because they are not connected into the right ‘lead partner’, or there is not an obvious one to work with – we think this is particularly challenging in rural areas.  In a lot of cases organisations and particularly their trustees can be resistant to change and collaboration as it feels risky, but there is greater risk on your sustainability if you need to rely on public funding to keep afloat. So if you want to access funding to support your communities, working with other areas and organisations will help you provide the scale and reach to make you a viable proposition to a commissioner.

Tip 4 – So what is good about you?  Why should we fund you? Why should we work with you? – can you really answer these questions in a succinct way with impact?  I suspect not or at least you would need to really prepare your response.  There is something about the British personality to be a bit self-effacing and we can find it very difficult to be bullish about what we have achieved and what we can do.  You need to work out what your point of difference is from another organisation

  • is it about your reach and trust in the community? – which means you can access them far quicker than someone else
  • is it that you have lots of things going on in your building that can help the people you are working with? – which means you can provide added value support they would otherwise not be able to access
  • is it that you have a team of volunteers that make it much more cost effective to run a lunch club or cafe

Identifying two or three things you do that make a real difference can be very powerful and keep you in people’s minds.

If you would like to find out more about our training and support contact Caroline