This is a guest blog from Gemma Pettman. Gemma has been involved in running our fundraising training courses for the past six years (time flies!) so we're delighted that she agreed to share some of her top tips from these sessions in the Lime Green blog.
According to research carried out by the Association of Charitable Foundations, grant-making grew to £3.7bn in 2020-21, a new high for the sector.
But while grant-makers are giving away more money than ever before, competition for funding remains fierce. We can assume a significant proportion of this total was allocated to organisations who applied via formal grants programmes, which gets you thinking about how many of us are writing funding bids at any one time.
A lot is riding on the strength of our applications.
We need to know our organisations and individual projects or services inside out. We must be able to speak confidently about the people we support and how this grant will make a practical difference. We need detailed budgets - and the ability to explain them. And we need to wrap all of this up in a way that meet the funder’s needs and demonstrates how, by backing us, they can meet their own charitable purpose.
With all of these requirements, is it any wonder our first drafts can end up a little dry?
Given tight word counts and even tighter deadlines, is there any point in adding some sparkle to our funding applications? Do we need to worry about our use of language or achieving grammatical completeness?
I think so.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person assessing your grant. They pick up the 26th application they have read that month, and it captures their attention from the first paragraph. It offers a compelling ask, backed up by some carefully chosen statistics, and paints a strong picture of the impact the grant could have. Now, I’m not suggesting wordplay alone is enough to secure funding, but it could certainly help your application to stand out and be memorable.
Writing skills are something I focus on when I’m delivering Lime Green’s Writing a Successful Funding Application short course and I’ve summarised some of the tips we share below. These are offered with the caveat that, first and foremost, you should follow the funder’s instructions to the letter. Whatever advice appears in their application criteria trumps the guidance we’re offering here. Think of these as general tips you can apply as and when appropriate.
1. Answer the question!
Perhaps the most obvious advice but it is very easy to write what you want the funder to know, rather than responding with the information they have asked for. Try also to avoid getting lost in the detail. Often there is only room for your headlines – the big picture – so think about how you can summarise your most important points. Frequently questions have multiple parts, so it’s important to make sure you’ve answered every part.
2. Don’t write to the word count (at least, not initially)
Self-editing as you write is difficult so I suggest you start by answering each question as fully as you can. Then you can go back and edit (and possibly re-edit) until you meet the word count. This helps you to concentrate on your key points and ensure that what you have written makes sense.
In my experience, it’s also worth checking what constitutes a word – I have come across forms where everything from bullet points to dashes count towards the word total. If you’re in any doubt, do check with the funder.
3. Every word must earn its place
Staying with the challenges of the word count, aim for simplicity in your writing. Remove unnecessary words and consider restructuring sentences for clarity. Asking yourself ‘so what?’ in response to the statements you make can help you get to the heart of what you’re trying to convey.
For more tips on editing down your written work, check out this excellent guide (with some cracking archaeology metaphors mixed in) by content writer Richard Berks.
4. Tell a compelling story…
Some funders are specialists in your field and will understand the unique problems you exist to address. Many won’t be. Think about how you can help the funder to appreciate the issues. Explain what it’s like to be in the shoes of the people you support; consider whether you have space to include a short case study, or even a one-liner from someone you have helped.
Remember, you’re communicating with a person (with emotions and empathy) rather than an organisation.
5. ...but avoid PR ‘puff’
If you’re of the vintage that remembers the Ronseal adverts, you will know what I mean by taking a ‘does what it says on the tin’ approach. If not, it’s shorthand for accuracy, brevity and something being as effective as it claims to be, so evidence any bold statements you make in your applications and clarify points that could cause confusion.
6. Write for the audience
Unless they tell you otherwise, assume the reader knows very little about your organisation and approach. Keeping this in mind will help you decide what information to include and what supporting detail will be relevant. Mirroring the funder’s language can demonstrate that you are familiar with their work and have read their guidelines.
7. Keep the reader’s interest
As I explained earlier, grant assessors may read hundreds of applications every year, so think about how you can make yours more readable.
I suggest avoiding jargon and internal shorthand (those descriptions we use that are meaningless to people outside our organisation), using quotes or bullet points to break up text, and varying sentence length and structure. That can be powerful. Impactful. Plus, if the format of the application allows, you could even add photos or graphics.
8. Check, check and check again
Accurate spelling, grammar and punctuation demonstrates attention to detail. I like to print an application out in a different font and colour, then read it forwards and backwards to pick up errors. Because your brain anticipates what words are coming next, reading it from end to beginning helps you to pick up spelling mistakes, in particular.
You can also use ‘read aloud’ software and listen to what you’ve written, rather than reading it. Finally, ask a colleague or friend – someone less familiar with the content - to read it for you.
These tips should not only help to make your applications more compelling but might also mean they are more enjoyable to write. If you have tips you would add to this list, we would love to hear them. You can leave a comment below.
If you’re keen to sharpen up your application writing skills, check out our fundraising and bid writing training courses via the button below.
It’s been eight years since we started providing trusts fundraising support to charities and social enterprises, alongside our strategy work.
In that time, we're thrilled to have raised millions of pounds in grant funding. We've had projects that have been a huge success, and projects that haven’t quite gone to plan. We’ve learned loads about what it takes to secure funding in a hugely competitive landscape, and what we need from an organisation to our job well.
Summer usually provides a rare opportunity for some down time to step back and gain perspective - whether that's while having a long walk in the sunshine (lesser spotted in 2023) or bobbing around in the sea on holiday (my personal favourite). So, this summer, we're reflecting on our top tips on how charities and social enterprises can work best with a consultant - whether that’s us or someone else.
These tips are focused on trusts fundraising, but many of the general principles apply to other types of fundraising too.
1. Be clear why you need consultancy support in the first place - is it capacity, expertise, or both?
It sounds obvious, but a consultant or freelance fundraiser can provide different things - they might bring valuable expertise or perspective that you don’t have in-house, or they might primarily provide extra 'hands-on' capacity at a time when, for whatever reason, you don’t have a staff member who can lead on the work.
Our work with charities and social enterprises can take many different forms. For example:
Asking yourself what you actually need - and how it fits with your existing capacity and expertise - will guide how long you need support for, the rate you should pay, and the exit strategy you’re working towards (see below). It may well save you money, if you realise that you only need expertise to help you with a very specific piece of work, or short-term support to address a capacity gap.
2. Understand - and provide - what we need to do a good job
When working with an organisation, particularly longer-term, it's so helpful to be able to roll your sleeves up and really immerse yourself in their work and previous trusts fundraising efforts.
It's vital that we can spend time looking through project summaries, budgets, impact reports, previous funding applications, complete records of all submitted applications (successful and unsuccessful) and end-of-grant reports. This helps us piece together an organisation's strengths, weaknesses to address, and key opportunities to focus on. If we're missing information, we won't know key questions that we need to ask, and risk duplicating work that you've done previously.
When you start working with a consultant, give them online shared access to as much relevant information as possible, and ask them what they particularly need to do a good job, and how far back in time it's helpful to go. If necessary, you can always redact sensitive information or ask them to sign a specific non-disclosure agreement.
3. Keep us updated on key developments
Sharing information at the start of a project is important, but inevitably your plans will change as time goes by. For example, winning or losing statutory funding can have a key budgetary impact, service user feedback may change how you intend to deliver a project, unexpected developments might bump a capital funding need way up the priority list, or meeting a funder at an event may open up a big new opportunity.
As external consultants, we may not be regularly involved in staff meetings - particularly if we’re working remotely - so it can be easy to forget to pass on important news to us. That's a missed opportunity, because we'll often be able to offer advice or adjust our approach in response.
4. Trust our judgement, but give us guidelines and even red lines
Specialist trusts fundraising consultants bring expertise on how to 'package' a project, present information in a budget and phrase things in applications. It's very likely that our approach will be different to your own, and may initially make you feel uncertain or even uncomfortable.
If you're paying for specialist expertise, you should avoid undermining that investment by micro-managing the work or shutting down new approaches. We've previously worked with organisations where unfortunately applications became vastly more time-consuming to write, not to mention weaker, because of well-intentioned meddling. As a result, we raised less money.
However, that’s not to say you should give a consultant complete freedom, particularly if it compromises your ethics and values - for example the way you portray your service users, use photos in applications, or who you're willing to seek funding from.
I'd recommend having an honest and open conversation about this at the start, being clear about any “red lines” that mustn't be crossed, and sharing written information about your values and ethical fundraising policy if you have it. As well as reassuring you, this will also give your consultant confidence and freedom to work within those limitations.
5. Always keep oversight and ownership of our work
One basic principle of good consultancy is to ensure that the organisation receiving support is in a better position by the end than they were at the start. Yet this isn't always the reality - we’ve seen organisations end up in a real mess when a previous consultant walks out the door, losing access to application content, records of applications submitted and even key contacts at funders.
This is why you should always ensure that you “own” - and have continuous access to - all the content and information produced on your behalf. Agreeing a regular meeting cycle, including key information to be provided in updates, also helps. A good consultant should appreciate the importance of this - for example, we always like to make sure we’re working out of a shared Google Drive or Dropbox folder, and encourage organisations to check files regularly and ask questions or voice concerns at any point.
Try to have a clear exit strategy in mind, for example, aiming to recruit and hand over the work to a staff member after 12 months. When are you expecting your relationship with a consultant to come to an end, and what do you need to know, have and feel confident about by this point?
6. Ensure you remain front and centre with funders
As well as owning your information, it's equally important to own your relationships with funders - they are funding you, not a consultant, and investing time in strengthening these relationships will help you raise more money in the long run.
When working with a charity, we'll always encourage you to take the lead on making introductory calls or attending meetings with funders. We'll tend to work in the background - briefing you on what you might want to ask or tell a funder, and supporting at meetings when requested - not because we don’t enjoy speaking to funders ourselves, but because we think that (with support) you’re the best ambassador and advocate for your work, and the right person to build that relationship. This ensures there's no disruption whenever you're ready to move on from working with us.
If you're speaking to a consultant who boasts about having brilliant relationships with funders themselves, always query how this has come about, and check that it's not at the expense of the grantee organisation being front and centre.
Are you a consultant or charity / social enterprise with your own tips on making things work well? Share your ideas in the comments below.
WHY DEMONSTRATING DIFFERENCE AND AVOIDING DUPLICATION IS VITAL WHEN WRITING TRUSTS & FOUNDATIONS APPLICATIONS
One of the topics that I currently find myself talking about frequently - when working with organisations on funding bids or delivering trusts & foundations training - is the need to differentiate your work and avoid the perception of duplication.
Why is differentiation so important when applying to trusts & foundations?
This isn’t a new issue, but is perhaps more important than ever. With such high demand for funding, and trusts & foundations so overstretched, one of the ways that funders can maximise their impact is by being really careful and strategic about not funding very similar organisations or overlapping services. From their perspective, if one organisation does something well already, where’s the benefit (or at least urgency) in funding another organisation to do it too?
Often, this is an explicit decision-making criterion for funders. They will assess your application not simply based on the quality and impact of your own work, but in the context of how many similar services exist - or they have recently funded - in any given cause area or geographical area. I've seen this frequently cited in feedback given by the National Lottery Community Fund, for instance.
While this makes sense, the issue is whether a funder's perception of the similarity of your work to others is really accurate. The last thing you want is to see a key application rejected because there are some key differences and nuances in your work that you haven’t explained properly.
So differentiating your work is important. And in a more general sense, being able to clearly and confidently explain your place in the local landscape - in terms of which service gaps you meet, and who you partner with or take referrals from - will always inspire confidence. This will not only increase your chances of securing funding, but also help funders to learn more about the complexities on the ground in your area of work.
Being different doesn't mean being unique, or better than other organisations working in a similar space
Firstly, differentiation doesn’t mean being absolutely unique. Nobody realistically expects you to be the only employability service in Lancashire, the only organisation educating young people about climate change etc.
What’s important is demonstrating why your service or approach is more accessible, more appropriate and more impactful for the specific people that you support.
This isn’t about trash talking what other organisations do. There may be perfectly good reasons why your user group would face additional needs and barriers when trying to access more generalist support offered by another organisation, or a specialist service set up for people in a different situation.
To give some examples from my own previous work, there may be a clear need for:
With all the above projects, there’s a risk that a funder could incorrectly perceive them as being surplus to requirements, or already covered by existing service provision. But a compelling case for support - clearly explaining how you're different and situating your work within the existing landscape - will significantly increase your chances of securing funding.
Building your case for support: how can you demonstrate that your work is different and urgently needed?
Firstly, it helps to have a curious and critical mindset. Put yourself in the shoes of a funder with no prior knowledge of your work and ask how they might perceive it. Why do you deliver activities in a certain way? What other services could the people you support choose to access? And why aren’t those services accessible or appropriate for their needs?
Once you've asked the right questions, seek out convincing evidence of how your work is different:
Centre the perspective of the people you support. Make liberal use of testimonials, case studies and survey data from your service users. Enabling them to talk about their own experiences, needs and barriers - and the value they see in your work - in their own voice will always be more powerful and compelling.
Draw on your own lived experience. Did you establish your organisation in response to a specific unmet need, or to prevent others from going through the same experience as you? Do your senior leaders, project staff or volunteers have lived experience that enables them to intuitively understand and address the gaps in local service provision?
Describe what is happening on the ground in your area. Did your local authority previously provide more accessible support that has been lost in recent cutbacks? Has the closure of another charity impacted the needs of the people you support? Has another organisation approached you to address a need they know they can’t meet?
Describe the evolution of your own work. Perhaps you've learned through experience that a different type of service is needed. Can you show how previous feedback and evaluation data has enabled you to hone and improve your work over time, and become more collaborative with other local services (e.g. through referral pathways, strategic partnership working)?
Cite independent research. You might be absolutely convinced that your work is different, but do you have third party evidence to back it up? Look for independent studies or local data that highlight gaps in local service provision, or examples of other organisations working in a different region that have successfully achieved impact by tackling a similar issue or gap.
Remember that your work doesn’t need to be completely unique or mind-blowingly innovative to be different and valuable. But don't take it for granted that a funder will understand that - you need to build a compelling case for support that clearly explains why your work is vital for your own particular service users.
In a world where funding is ultra-competitive, spending time carefully situating your work within the wider delivery landscape - and avoid perceptions of duplication - is an investment well worth making.
This blog is written by our Director, Mike Zywina, to share some tips for organisations that have high reserves or are in an unusual financial position for any reason.
In a cost-of-living crisis, it feels strange to be sharing advice with organisations that have the perceived luxury of having *too much* money. I know that the reality is very different for most charities and social enterprises in the current landscape. But some organisations are in a much stronger financial position (on paper at least) and this presents its own set of unique challenges. We've worked with several organisations with high reserves recently, so I wanted to share a few tips from a fundraiser’s perspective.
Firstly, why might a charity or social enterprise have high reserves?
Frustratingly, many funders still seem to insist that holding anything above 3-6 months’ running costs in reserve is inappropriate. Some organisations very prudently aim for unrestricted reserves that are a bit above this level. But for the purposes of this blog, by "high" I mean organisations that are sitting on - or are perceived as sitting on - substantially higher reserves, for a variety of reasons.
The first and most obvious reason is that they simply do have very high reserves. Maybe this has accumulated over a prolonged period due to excessive caution or even mismanagement by the Board, or maybe there’s a good reason why it’s prudent for a specific organisation to hold substantially more funds in reserve.
High reserves can also be circumstantial. A charity could have recently enjoyed a large unexpected fundraising success, or received a significant legacy, and hasn’t decided how to spend the money yet. Perhaps they’ve been saving up for major capital work, the launch of a significant new programme, or something else that can't be actioned yet. In these cases, while the high reserves might be temporary, they can still raise a red flag for a funder, especially if unexplained.
Alternatively, a charity may have high reserves because of the specific way it was set up and operated. Some organisations are established with a large endowment (i.e. gift of money) that can be relied on to keep funding its services for decades. However, eventually the trustees may realise that if they continue this way, they’ll eventually run out of money. So they want to start securing grants from trusts & foundations, but are in a tricky position - essentially not wealthy enough to continue on the previous trajectory, but too wealthy to look like a compelling cause for grant funders.
Finally, some organisations may just appear wealthy because they own property or major assets. Perhaps this has been the case for a very long time, or maybe they’ve recently been gifted property. Often this gives them vital stability and fit-for-purpose premises to run their services more effectively, and they’re extremely reluctant to sell up. While owning the property is completely different to having high unrestricted reserves, in my experience some funders will only glance at a charity’s accounts in a simplistic way and may still perceive them as being wealthy, even if it doesn’t translate into having money available to spend on services.
What can you do if you have high reserves or are in an unusual financial position?
1. Write template content to explain your financial position
This will be especially helpful if you're set up in an unusual way, own high-value premises or are temporarily holding significant funds in reserve, as explored above. Bear in mind that while more proactive funders may query anything unusual with you, others will go ahead and make a decision about funding you simply based on the information that is publicly available.
Think through any particular concerns or misconceptions that a funder might have when looking at your annual accounts, then explain the reasons or rationale why the organisation is in that position. For example, is there a specific reason why a large amount of money has come in but not been spent yet? Would selling property have a damaging impact on your service delivery? Use plain English and once you've drafted something, show it to others (including those with no finance or fundraising expertise) to check that it is clear.
One key learning point for Boards and management teams during the pandemic was how quickly an organisation can become financially vulnerable when a major external event cuts off several income streams. Many organisations now feel that having higher reserves is a strategic necessity to ensure stability for service users and staff. If you've made changes on this basis, this is something to explain concisely to funders.
You can then use your template copy in funding applications, either in response to specific questions or in those ‘Anything else that you want to tell us?’ boxes. If there’s something that you want to tell a funder but you don’t know where/how to include it, don’t hesitate to contact them and ask. You should also consider using any template copy in your annual accounts (see below).
2. Apply a fundraising perspective to your reserves policy and annual accounts
In my experience, organisations rarely think about grant funders when putting together their annual accounts, even though funders will request, download and examine the accounts more than most other audiences. Despite this, the process of finalising your accounts and writing explanatory notes is typically done by an accountancy firm in collaboration with an organisation’s finance manager and/or treasurer - people who collectively may not have any fundraising experience themselves.
The result of this is that your accounts may well unintentionally raise an avoidable but damaging red flag for prospective funders. For example, I've seen organisations show a significant level of unrestricted reserves on their accounts when in practice that money has been (or is in the process of being) restricted or designated for a specific purpose. Nobody has queried the decisions made about how to allocate reserves and how to present that information in the accounts, because nobody is considering it from a funder's perspective.
I'm absolutely not saying that you should write your accounts solely with funders in mind, or present information in an intentionally misleading way. But involving your fundraiser(s) in the process can be very helpful, particularly if your financial position is a little unusual.
3. Explore making contributions out of reserves to part-fund projects
While taking the time to clearly explain the reality of your financial position helps, sometimes you need to think about changing that reality too.
We're operating in a crisis funding landscape, with funders scrambling to respond to urgent social needs exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis, having had no time to recover from overspending during the pandemic. They receive urgent requests for support every day, so they’re unlikely to find it very compelling to fund you over another organisation for work that you could easily afford to do yourself.
One way to turn your high reserves into an advantage is by pledging to match fund any grants received. For example, if you’re fundraising a six-figure sum to refurbish your main building, could you pledge to make a contribution from reserves to cover 50% of the cost, with the remainder funded by grants? This requires careful discussion with your Board, but it might boost your application success rate, and open up funders that will only consider making a grant once part of the funding is already in place.
4. Consider the timing of your applications carefully
One challenge for fundraisers is that our organisation's financial information will always be out-of-date, due to the time it takes to finalise and file a set of accounts. If you’ve taken some of the steps above to reduce your reserves or structure/explain them differently, it may be some time before this is reflected in the information published on the Charity Commission website.
Where funders accept applications on a rolling basis, it might be prudent to hold off submitting a key application if your new accounts will be published soon. You might also be able to work with finance staff to finalise those accounts more quickly, where the new information is likely to have a major impact on how funders will perceive you.
We wrote this blog in response to questions asked by our mailing list subscribers and training participants. If you've got a topic that you'd like us to consider writing about, get in touch.
Despite encouraging moves in the right direction, transparency and simplicity aren’t as common as you'd hope in the grantmaking world.
We'd all love to think that funding is awarded based on the importance, quality and impact of the work taking place. Too often this gets confused with the quality of the application - which automatically puts some applicants at a disadvantage, including those whose first language isn’t English, or whose written English isn't as good, perhaps due to their education or background.
Worse, it’s not even always as simple as writing a quality application. Because, with some funders:
All this is inherently unfair and counter-productive to the aim of achieving the greatest social impact. Fortunately, there are movements starting to address various aspects of this unfairness, including two we’ve written about before: Modern Grantmaking and Fix the Form.
In the meantime, applicants who are well-connected or know how to play the system can still gain an advantage. Something I'm passionate about doing is trying to level the playing field for smaller and less experienced organisations.
So this blog is about two things: good reasons for initiating contact with a funder before applying, and useful information to probe for once you’ve done so, to give you an advantage too.
First, a few caveats:
With all this in mind, what are some good questions that you could reasonably phone a funder to ask?
Proposal length and format: some funders request applications 'in writing' without providing much more detail. It's reasonable (as well as beneficial to them) to ask for their guidance on the recommended length, format, or a list of headings/information that should be included.
Supporting documents: you might have important information that can't be included within the set questions or word limits on an online form - such as a case study, an infographic explaining impact data, or a key policy. You can ask whether these additional documents would be accepted, and how to share them - for example can they be emailed separately to a funder, if you can’t upload them to the form?
Technical eligibility questions: even when funders try to establish clear guidelines around things like reserves levels, match funding or legal structure, there are often organisations and situations that fall into a grey area. It might only be possible to confirm your eligibility through an initial call, and funders are often willing to help with this.
Once you’ve engaged a funder with one of these initial questions, what else might you be able to probe for?
I'll often ask if I can give a 30-second summary of the organisation or project, to explore if it's the type of thing they'd be interested in funding. These discussions often yield surprisingly helpful information, for example:
Clarifying key phrases: funders may use terms like 'national significance' or 'systems change' without a clear explanation of exactly how they define or measure them. An initial conversation can help you understand their interpretation, and how you can best evidence that you're a good fit.
Confirming focus areas: frustratingly, in practice funders sometimes have a more limited focus than they may indicate in their guidelines or charitable objectives. For example, I’ve heard: “Yes, in theory we do fund projects anywhere in the UK, but at the moment we're highly unlikely to support a project outside of Bristol, Bath and the surrounding area." Checking whether a funder is actually focusing on a narrower geographical or thematic area can save you wasting time on a fruitless application.
Considering how much to apply for: again, funders may provide broad guidance on their website, but share more helpful information on the phone, especially once they've heard a bit about your work. Perhaps they'd consider awarding a larger amount because it's a project very close to their heart, or a smaller amount because it's an initial pilot, or maybe there's a threshold where if you stay below it, the assessment process will be simpler or quicker.
Checking when to submit: I've had funders suggest that I hold back an application for a few months, either because they've been inundated with proposals in a particular funding round, or they've recently funded several similar projects and the trustees are unlikely to fund another one imminently. Equally, funders might give a reason why getting an application in very quickly is beneficial. This is almost never information that can be found on their website, but is incredibly helpful.
I think it's far from ideal that you need to press for this type of information – it's not a fair way of doing things, or a great use of anybody's time. In an ideal world, every funder would have a clear website which they keep updated as their priorities shift, or when they get enquiries from applicants that show something isn't adequately explained.
And, as I say, many funders are getting better at this. But in the meantime, probing for extra information is a key part of the job - because if you’re not getting and taking advantage of it, other applicants will be.
This month we're taking a breather from writing punchy opinion pieces or gazing into our crystal ball and focusing on something more straightforward but still vital - everything you need to know about the humble case for support.
What do we mean by a case for support?
A case for support is an internal document that you create to outline the problem your organisation exists to solve, what you do about that problem, and what you're going to achieve as a result. Quite literally, it's your case for why donors or funders should support your work.
A good case for support effectively acts as a comprehensive, well-organised filing cabinet of convincing content that you can pull out whenever you need it - for a funding proposal, a meeting with a donor, to create copy for a webpage.
It’s very unlikely that anyone outside your organisation will see - or would ever want to see - this full document in all its glory. But it should be the starting point for your external, donor-facing documents. It's never a case of just copy/pasting large chunks of content from your case for support into an external document and just adding images and a catchy title - the text will always need tailoring for the audience and context - but it’s still a brilliant shortcut.
(Just to confuse things, often organisations create a shorter, branded external document to 'sell' their work to donors and also call this a ‘case for support’, but that’s not what we’re talking about in this blog.)
Working with organisations to create their case for support is one of my favourite jobs. As well as it being a privilege to learn all about fascinating and important new causes, I love the process of asking a few targeted questions, rapidly building up an array of content on colourful post-its, then shaping it into a structured document.
And organisations always seem to really value having that outsider’s perspective - while they can supply all the passion, lived experience and raw content, a few ‘devil’s advocate’ questions from us can help to clarify details, tease out vital extra information and explain things clearly and convincingly for an external audience.
What are the benefits of developing a case for support?
Many organisations shy away from creating a case for support, because they don't feel they have time. I’m not going to lie, it does take time to create. But it will certainly save you time in the long run, and also increase your return on investment from fundraising.
A good case for support will equip you with:
What should you cover in your case for support?
There are many ways to structure a case for support, and they can get pretty long and complicated, but fundamentally you need to cover four key areas:
The need for your work:
Your expertise and credibility:
Where can you go for the information needed to create a strong case for support?
There are loads of potential information sources to draw on, but here are a few:
This can feel like a daunting process if you’ve never done it before, but it's important to stress that you don’t need everything to get started. As it's an internal document, developing a case for support can be an ongoing, iterative process - start ASAP, but make a note of what else you'll need to research, gather and add over time.
The best cases for support are never finished, they evolve over time. For example if new research is published that reinforces the need for your work, or if you've just written a brilliant answer (even if you say so yourself) to a specific funder question that you want to re-use in future, find a place for it in your case for support.
If you're now convinced that you need a case for support, what should you do next?
We’ve tried to write this blog as a stand-alone free resource for anyone wanting to get started on their case for support. Remember that you're the expert on your work and the reasons why you do it, and your case for support is just a way of laying all that out in a logical, structure way.
If you feel you do need some extra support, we’ve got a couple of options:
Have you ever found a funder that seems like the perfect fit, only to learn they don’t accept unsolicited applications?
If your work is niche or you’ve approached all the ‘obvious’ trusts and foundations already, then engaging a couple of these invitation-only funders can feel key to broadening your funding base. But there's an age-old question - how can we get on their radar, especially if they don’t even welcome initial enquiries?
Over time I’ve seen various organisations succeed in building thriving relationships with private, strategic funders. It isn’t quick or easy, but there are a few steps you can take.
Firstly, why might a trust or foundation decide to take the invitation-only approach?
Rightly or wrongly, there can be many reasons:
So...what can charities and social enterprises do about this?
1. Look for potential introductions within your network
If a funder relies on their expertise or networks to identify potential grantees, then a recommendation from the right person could make all the difference. For example, your existing funders or project partners will already be engaged and invested in your work – perhaps they know someone working for an invitation-only funder and would be willing to introduce you?
Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask nicely for an introduction, explaining why it’s strategically important to you – you might by how willing people are to help.
2. Engage (and if necessary improve) your Board
We’ve run countless network mapping exercises with Boards. The conversation often starts the same way: “None of our trustees know anyone / are willing to help.” But it’s amazing how quickly things can change if you explain that (1) you’re not looking for introductions for rich and famous people, just prominent people in your sector; and (2) you don’t expect Board members to open their address books willy-nilly and start asking for money, but simply make a couple of strategic introductions.
Trustees will know more people than you (and they) think. I’ve seen organisations build on such tenuous links as “I worked with them 10 years ago”, “I play badminton with them on Tuesday night” and “Our kids go to the same school”.
Try running a network mapping exercise with your trustees, or circulating a list of staff working at a target invitation-only funder to check for connections. And if your trustees really aren’t well-connected, this doesn’t have to always be the case. Explore why – does your organisation focus on recruiting trustees with particular skills and backgrounds in a way that prevents people with better connections from applying? Could you persuade your Board to set a strategic objective to recruit new trustees with funder connections over the next 1-2 years?
3. Engage invitation-only funders in new and more meaningful ways
Tired old introductory letters and emails are far from the only ways of making first contact. Trusts and foundations can and do interact openly on social media, attend funder fairs, speak at events or collaborate on things like research, policy or advocacy work.
Jumping straight into a direct approach about money often goes nowhere. Instead, do your research into where/how funders are actively engaging (e.g. social media platforms or events), find a topic that could be mutually beneficial to you both, then start a conversation accordingly.
4. Focus on thought leadership
I once met an organisation that was told by a funder that “everyone we speak to mentions you, so we thought we should find out what you’re about.” In their own words, they created so much “white noise” around a funder that they eventually couldn’t resist getting in touch.
Organisations that successfully build relationships with invitation-only funders often have one thing in common – they’re thought leaders. They might be known for their high-profile CEO, engaging blog, or policy work.
The term “thought leadership” sounds daunting, but you absolutely don’t need to be a large organisation with a big comms budget. If you work in a niche area, you’ll already be an expert in your field, with people coming to for advice. Sharpening your public expert voice takes time, but is a great way to get on a funder’s radar, and will bring many benefits beyond fundraising.