Essential steps to fundraising success

Lindsey Lester continues her advice on fundraising, moving on to the details of filling out forms for funding grants and showing how to avoid the pitfalls that can cost you valuable time and effort

Following on from my last article I am continuing the theme of fundraising. As is I have said before, I am not an expert, but I hope that it will be illuminating nonetheless. Before I begin, I hope that I got across to you that writing bids involves a lot of advance planning and preparation such as coordinating research, organisation, writing the first stage of your proposal and preparing and writing your bid. Second, I can't emphasise enough the importance of ensuring that you have read the grant maker's guidelines and followed their specifications, and if you are unsure about any part of your bid writing seek expert advice. So, let's begin.

The actual application form is how you are going to communicate to the funder; it is telling the funder who you are, what you are doing, what you need the money for and presenting a case for their support. Application forms can vary from funder to funder, but they do all have common points regarding the information they require. I have listed some of these below.

The title
It is important to use a title that clearly sums up your project and what you are trying to achieve. The title should not be too long, funders should know instantly what the project is about and most certainly it should be self-explanatory.

Funder's objectives
Does your application actually meet the funder's objectives? Always read the guidelines and read them very carefully - do not ‘skim' the papers, which, if like me, you are an SBM with numerous other tasks that need just as much attention, can be very tempting. I will confess to having done this and to my cost, but I can understand why I did it and I am sure I am not going to be the last. If at all possible, take time out from your job to read the guidelines; lock yourself away from the phone, the office, staff, everything. If you have to, sit in your car (which I've done too!) and read it slowly and carefully, as it doesn't matter how good you think your project is - if you fail to meet the criteria and requirements of the funder, there is no point in applying in the first place. You will be wasting their time as well as your own and it can be disheartening! If need be ring funders, they do give good advice and will guide you as to whether your intended project meets their requirements. Unfortunately, they don't advise you whether you have a good chance of success or not - they are understandably very non-committal. Remember to make sure that you are reading up-to-date information, as funders can change and amend guidelines and objectives up to three times a year. This is particularly important for those funders who do not have deadlines and accept applications throughout the year.

The focus of your bid is one of the most significant parts of bid writing. Try to see it from the funder's perspective. Never make assumptions and keep to the project plan and your original aims. State the objectives - being specific and avoiding vague statements will increase your chances of success. Include why your project is important and how you will specifically use the money to achieve your aim. Fundraisers are more interested in who will benefit from the project (and any evidence that you have to prove this) than the needs of your school. Always use ‘layman's' terms, never use jargon, as your grant assessors may have no idea about your organisation so it would be wise to be concise and keep to the point. Just one more point to mention here, and that is that funders do not normally allocate funding for day-to-day running costs.

Making a difference
A lot of the time applications are rejected because funders do not believe that there is a need for the project, which could be down to your application not giving enough information on the ‘need'. Funders will always want to know that the grant they have provided will make a long-term difference to the people who will be benefitting from your project. They need to know that there is more support for a project than just a good idea. You will need to show that your project will be able to solve the problem or that it's what people actually want. Your evidence may include references to local, regional and national strategies, ie parish plans, deprivation figures, consultation with local organisations and potential beneficiaries, which can take the form of surveys, questionnaires, etc. Ensure you include the positive outcomes to the beneficiaries of the funding, not the outcomes for the school. For example, my school in particular is desperate for a sports hall and as we all know capital funding is highly sought after and hard to get, so we can be sure that we will be up against stiff competition. We would want to make a strong case to the funders that the project is not just a benefit to the school, but the community as a whole, and would describe how we would open it to the general public and help to integrate the disadvantaged into the community. In this case I would emphasis that we would be working with the community and would include any evidence that I had collected, with their views and needs being taken into account within our project plans. Be aware, though, that some funders will not fund any activity that is of any benefit to the school - it must be specific to the community or agency you are working with. This will be highlighted in the guidelines. On one application that I have completed the guidelines stipulated that the grant money could not be used towards any part of the curriculum.

Capital funding
Capital funding includes improvements to land and buildings, for example new build and renovations. It may also include fixtures and fittings. Personally, I have found capital funding to be the most difficult to secure as you usually have to have match funding (see below), which in the current economic climate can cause a lot of problems for the school - applications should include careful planning and be budgeted wisely. You will also find that some capital funders will ask for an initial application, following which they will conduct their own survey on the area in which your school is based, its population and how the community can access the facility. This is especially so with companies who offer capital funding for sports facilities.

Please be realistic in your budget for the application and take your time; do not rush this part of the application. Funders will have informed you in their guidelines of the maximum grant that you can apply for and a maximum amount that the total project can cost.

Revenue costs
Revenue costs can include salaries, marketing, travel, rent and rates. Again, be aware that not all funders will grant monies towards salary costs. Remember to include inflation if your project is not going to start for some time. If you have any doubts as to what revenue is on your particular bid then contact the funder and get your answer in writing.

Match funding
This can be a project breaker, especially with the way school budgets are under pressure at the moment. Unfortunately, most funders will not fund 100% of a project, which means you will have to find some matching funds, and this can include cash-in-kind payments. Cash-in-kind is a non-monetary contribution such as volunteers, professional trade time, and use of facilities or materials. When funders do accept cash-in-kind payments then, and I don't mean to bore you with this, read the guidelines, which include any specifics to assist you in working out what you can and can't use. You can also usually apply to more than one funding source for your match funding, or supplement grants by utilising your own budget or income. When using volunteers you will need to assess the type and scale of work they will be doing in order to calculate an appropriate value to their contribution.

From the start of your application always check out whether you have to pay VAT on any funding that you acquire. You need to do this at the beginning, as you can only apply for the amount of money that the project costs you. You cannot claim for the costs of VAT if you can claim it back. The reason you need to be aware of this from the start is that once the grant has been approved you cannot ask for an increase just because your costings were incorrect!

Some funders will also want to meet you and your team so that they can see the set up of the school and how well it is run; they will want to know whether your school has a good reputation, is it efficiently run and that your finances are regulated and in order. For the bids that I have applied for under 10k I have found that I was asked to provide a brief background of the school. However, in my lottery bid, where I was requesting funding of over 250k, I was asked to provide extensive information about the school, and to include a business plan, which took longer than the funding application itself.

Finally, don't rush your application, and make sure it looks professional. I always ask someone who has had nothing to do with the project to read any funding application that I complete and if they do not understand any section of the application then I reassess it. Ensure that you send all supporting documentation required, as your application will be rejected if they are not included. If your funder requests a letter of application you will find that there will also be guidelines for this. Always take the time to write an individual letter to each funder. Your funder will tell you the maximum length that the letter should be.

One more thing that may just help is to use the funder's language. Are there any ‘buzzwords' from the guidelines that you can use in your application? And always, always be positive.

I do hope that this article will be of some use to you. As I said before I am not an expert in fundraising, so there may be something that I have missed out of this article, or if you have any hints or tips please contact me - I will be grateful to receive any advice from expert fundraisers out there.