One of the topics that we have talked about a lot during the Support Fenland project has been funding. We know from speaking to funders that Fenland is a priority area for their funding programmes, and we know from speaking to groups that they’re worried about where their money is coming from. So, the question we’ve been asking representatives of community groups, charities, funders, and support organisations this autumn is “how do we increase funding success for groups in Fenland?”
One of the biggest issues is that groups aren’t making applications. They told us that they are put off making applications because:
- They find funding applications complex, time consuming and there is no guarantee of success.
- They aren’t looking to deliver something different. Instead, they want the funds to carry on doing the things that they already do
- Finally, funders are seen as risk averse and need to have proof of success at the point of application, rather than to fund you to test out activities first. This is particularly a challenge for small and medium sized groups, who don’t have the money to deliver the activities to get that proof upfront, and so get stuck in a vicious cycle.
We heard from the funders about adjustments that they are putting in place to make their application processes more accessible to smaller groups. This includes Living Sport who have been switching to telephone calls instead of application forms so that groups can talk to a grants officer about their project, and changing their evaluation requirements to make them more proportional for smaller grants.
Funders told us that where the groups were able to apply for funding, then their applications were well received. If applications weren’t successful, it was because the groups hadn’t built a relationship with the funder, hadn’t considered the long-term sustainability of their work, or were trying to squeeze their project to try and fit the requirements of the funders.
We discussed lots of ideas about things that the funders, the groups, or support organisations like us could do differently to overcome these issues. We’ve shared the slides from our Jamboard below so that you can see all the details, but ideas that we came up with included:
- Reviewing funding application processes to make them simpler and easier to navigate. This might include scaling the complexity of the application with the amount of funding, or changing the language on the application forms to make it easier for groups to understand what the funder is actually looking for.
- Increasing the level of support to applicants. This might include making it easier for groups to speak to funders and build relationships before application, having a series of short videos on how to complete the application, or enabling support organisations to help groups complete the application forms.
- Developing capability within groups to complete applications and deliver on funded projects. This might involve running and attending training course or workshops, recruiting volunteers with specific skill sets relating to fundraising, or creating and attending peer support networks.
Here at Support Cambridgeshire, we’ve been working up ideas that we can take forwards, alongside our existing offering. For example,
“Meet the Funders” events where groups can make appointments to speak to representatives from different funders about their projects. This is a great step towards relationship building, and to get an idea of whether your project will be fundable.
Training courses on funding applications that are run periodically throughout the year.
From 2021 there will also be a new Fundraising Network, where you can come along and meet others who have responsibility for raising funds, to learn and share with each other about what is going well and discuss what support you need.
We’re also running regular meetings between support organisations like ours and funders, where we can share insight that we are getting from groups, work out the best ways for us all to work and learn together, and understand the barriers to accessing funding and identifying changes that can be made. Building these relationships between our organisations will make a difference in the support that we can all offer to groups who are looking to apply in the future.
Cambridge CVS & Hunts Forum are on hand to help support you with finding funding opportunities for groups, and to review and help complete your applications. If you would like some one-to-one support, then contact Vic (firstname.lastname@example.org) to arrange a time for you to speak with a development worker.
What have been your experiences with funding applications? Have you managed to secure grants to support your organisation? Have you been worried about taking the first steps in an application and stalled? Whatever your experiences, we’d really like to hear from you to help shape our thinking for the future.