Confident you have a well-honed project idea and that your organisation is ‘funding ready’? (See also Yellow Bird’s earlier article Looking for funding: it all starts with your project idea.) You can now start the process of identifying the right support. 

There are literally thousands of funding programmes in operation across the UK. They range from the European Commission to national government, regional programmes, local trusts and corporate donors. Trawling through those opportunities to find the most relevant can be both time-consuming and overwhelming.     

Where to start?      

Funding databases like GRANTfinder (UK wide) and Funding Central (England voluntary and charitable sector only) take the legwork out of the search process as they present the opportunity to ‘model’ your project according to those criteria which are most important to funders. Who’s delivering the project, where the project will take place and what the project hopes to achieve (common examples being employment; innovation; upskilling; and regeneration) are all important.     

Researching previously supported projects will give you a better understanding of what a programme is trying to address, particularly where the guidelines are not transparent. If in doubt, pick up the phone and ask the funder directly.     

Pay attention too to the Exclusions section of guidelines. A religious organisation may not qualify where promoting religion but may do so where the project focuses on interfaith activity. Similarly, funding may not be on offer where a project seeks to replace a statutory service but it’s worth investigating this further. In these austere times of eroded community services, what was once considered statutory may no longer be.      

Think local    

Providing of course that the funding programme is a good overall fit to your project, there is a greater probability of funding success if you apply to a programme with a local or regional as opposed to national focus.   

Local and regional agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Growth Hub and local authority are great points of contact in providing information on timely opportunities. So too the Community for Voluntary Service or community foundation for charities and voluntary groups.   

Personalising your approach 

Whether you’re approaching an individual donor or company, or submitting an application through a funding programme, personalisation is key.

For funding bodies, it’s a little easier to determine what makes their organisation tick. After all, their motivation is set out in their overall strategy and reflected in their funding guidelines. 

However, where targeting an individual or an organisation without a formal application process you need to first identify what about your cause or business will resonate with your ‘target’. You can get a good measure of what they might care about through meeting in person. There’s a number of benefits to identifying an event where your target donor is speaking:

  •  you get an insight into their motivations and interests which will help you to assess if your project will be of appeal to them;
  • it may present an opportunity to approach them on the day to gauge their interest levels regarding your work; and
  • if you don’t get the chance to speak to them in person, the event acts as a shared experience which you can use as the basis to follow up.

What a person posts, shares or comments on through social media is also an indication of what matters to them. Similarly, a general Google search for any mention of them in the local, national or trade press can tell you what they’ve been involved in.

As well as prominent local business people, it’s worthwhile making a direct approach to the local Chamber of Commerce and other local membership organisations such as the Rotary Club. If they’re not able to support you directly, they may be able to introduce you to others in their network. Progressive companies of all sizes understand that community engagement through community social responsibility can have a hugely positive impact on staff motivation. 

Building relationships

When you do make that initial contact, don’t assume your target donor has any prior knowledge of your organisation (although ideally they will know you through the great PR you’ve been undertaking!) Any questions they have about your organisation should be addressed by including the following 5Ws and 1 H in your approach: 

  • who (you are and what your organisation represents);
  • what (you’re looking to achieve);
  • where (your project will take place);
  • why (you need their support);
  • when (your project is taking place); and
  • how (that donor might help). 

Your ‘call to action’ (in other words, what you would like them to do in response to your communication) should be specific about the support you need. If they donated X amount, what would this sponsorship look like in real terms (eg a year’s salary of an underprivileged young person)?

Your focus should be on building long-term relationships. Look after your donors and they will continue to offer their support; not only through giving but by championing your work and offering valuable promotion. Public acknowledgement (unless the donor has specifically requested not to be named) through the press, social media and annual reports presents great PR for your donor.  

Other sources of support 

Organising your own fundraising presents a great way to get communities involved where your organisation is based in a particular area. There’s a real opportunity to get creative with social gatherings, sponsored events and challenges, cultural events, fashion shows, dinners, auctions, lotteries and competitions. With the growth in crowdfunding, ‘community’ takes on a new meaning and extends beyond geographical boundaries to anyone who has an interest in supporting you.

Your accountant will be able to advise on relevant tax incentives such as Business Rates relief or R&D tax relief. Low-interest loans too serve a purpose in that they can help shore up the gap should you be waiting for the first approved payment from a funder.

And finally, a special nod to awards. Whilst the award itself may not involve a monetary prize, the PR around winning or even simply being nominated can positively raise your profile. 

Yellow Bird’s blog on the next step of the funding process, Preparing a Winning Bid, is coming soon…


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