Favourite funding sources – part two

It was pleasing to see how many readers had clicked through on the link to www.communityfoundations.org.uk last week to follow up my suggestion of accessing Comic Relief and Grassroots grants through your local Community Foundation.  If you’re successful, do let me know!

It’s impossible to discuss funding sources without mentioning the Lottery.   Now many of us remember when there was a plethora of different funding streams under that heading, a whole range of completely separate awarding bodies.  Is it good news that they’ve mostly merged into BIG Lottery and Awards for All?  I thought it was, but am now unsure because in April 2009 they moved arts, sports and heritage back OUT of Awards for All and returned them to the Arts Council, the Sports Council, and the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Some arts organisations complain that the benefits of Awards for All was that favouritism didn’t come into it, but now that applications go to the Arts Council smaller organisations struggle and feel discriminated against.  But that’s all wandering into controversial areas!  And we are where we are, and must write our bids accordingly!    

So there’s Awards for All, funding everything EXCEPT arts, sports and heritage, taking bids between £300 and £10,000.  Frankly it’s barely worth bidding for less than about £1500 simply because the paperwork is ludicrously disproportionate for smaller bids.  It is patently obvious to everyone who has ever filled in one of these forms, that the HUGE section on finance should be shortened to a couple of simple statements, with further information only demanded if the bid is agreed.   For those who haven’t attempted the marathon of frustration that is the Awards for All application process, here  are two reasons why I don’t think it’s worth it for small grants  …….

  • You have to supply original copies of three recent bank accounts.  If you are a small community organisation you may well have a Treasurers’ Account at a building society.  Nationwide BS does a very user-friendly one.  Awards for All require that you get every signatory to go into the branch and sign a form in front of the cashier AND hand over their passport for photocopying (however well the cashier knows you).  Our form sat behind the counter for almost two weeks before one Committee Member recovered from a hospital stay enough to climb the rickety steps to the branch.  The branch had to confirm each signature, then stamp the form.  This form also had to have each signatory’s date of birth and home address – whether or not they wish to share this information with the other signatories.  You will find that not all branches have come across Awards for All forms and do not necessarily wish to co-operate.  Oh and don’t forget you have to have had your bank account for three months before you can apply to Awards for All. 
  • The referee.  Yes I can see it’s a good idea to have a letter of support from someone independent of the bidding organisation.  But shouldn’t it be down to us to decide who the most appropriate person is to supply this?  But no – Awards for All are ruthlessly prescriptive about who you can use.  A friend submitted an excellent bid for an arts project (before the arts were excluded) which was about photography and public participation and social inclusion and all the right things.  And they had a referee who was (is) an internationally-renowned landscape and portrait photographer who knew personally the people leading the arts project and curating the exhibition.  Awards for All rejected this referee.  Yes they agreed he was “of standing in the local community” as required, but he failed to be suitable because he is a company.  Well of course he is, he’s a major exhibitor and seller around the world.  You tend not to achieve his level of skill and renown in between some supposedly more “worthy” job like being a GP or a magistrate.  It’s his job, so he’s a company and he makes a profit.  This apparently makes him unacceptable to comment on a photography project.  Sadly, this bid was submitted and re-submitted for so long that it became too late to wait for the pen-pushers at Awards for All to recognise the fundamental value of the project (we don’t think they ever read the actual bid, they were too busy rejecting the slightly smudged building society stamp and arguing over the worthiness of a famous artist) and they withdrew the bid.  One that I submitted was sent back once because the Treasurer had helpfully provided copies of an additional bank account (the one she keeps for projects) AS WELL AS the bank account for the main account.  This confused them so much that the whole lot was sent back, losing us the 6 weeks they had sat on it, and almost costing us the project.  Yes I know we should have started the process months earlier than we did but it really did take ages waiting for that last signatory to be well enough to go to the building society after his operation.  I also had a phone call from Awards for All rejecting our referee because I had described her occupation as “Retired Youth Worker” and they said we couldn’t use someone retired.  I explained that Dorset’s voluntary and community organisations are run almost entirely by retired people and that if they couldn’t be referees it wasn’t surprising that rural Dorset was so under-funded by Awards for All.  I managed to come up with a “worthy” role she still held, chairing a county-wide partnership, which fortunately satisfied the A4A officer who let it through despite my inability to hold back a sarcastic comment pointing out that the form did ask for “occupation” which to many of us implies paid work rather than often-more-relevant voluntary roles. 

The bid was eventually successful and we go the £4,900 we asked for.  I would guess it took approximately 4 to 6 days’ work, which is why I don’t think it’s worth it for smaller amounts.  See “Favourite Funding Sources – part one” for ideal funders for £500 – £1500.

So that’s Awards for All.  It’s a great pot of money and gives out huge amounts.  But you will need some sort of stress-relief if you launch into the process.  Chocolate helped.  One plus is that A4A have agreed that they under-fund rural Dorset and bids from that area are now achieving a 50% success rate.    www.awardsforall.org.uk

The Lottery pot for bigger grants is currently “Reaching Communities”, still open for bids up to £50,000.  They will contribute to capital projects but the ceiling is still £50k and the total project costs can only be £200k, so in other words it’s OK for refurbishment or repairs, or for a small extension, but not for a new community hall.    www.biglotteryfund.org.uk

“Reaching Communities” is very keen on outcomes.  It’s absolutely no use fudging this bit or getting it wrong.  Their own guidance cards (why cards?  Why not straightforward guidance notes?) give good advice on how to fill this section in, and additionally you can scroll back to my blog “Ten Steps to the Perfect Funding Bid – step five” which explained how to understand and express your outcomes.  I have been asked to expand on this so watch this space.

The last thing to say about the Lottery is that BIG Lottery plan to replace the “Reaching Communities” stream with “Open Funding” at some point during 2010.  If you have slightly too much time on your hands, have a look at the BIG Lottery England Committee minutes from 2009 to see some of the discussions about how “open” the “open funding” should be.  You might need a nearby wall to bang your head against though.

You can justifiably complain that this blog is headed “Favourite Funding Sources” yet has ranted interminably about both these two Lottery funds which are clearly far from my favourite.  Yes fair enough.  But as I said at the start, it’s impossible to blog about funding sources without mentioning the Lottery, and it IS probably the biggest non-statutory funder of the UK voluntary sector. 

The next couple of blogs will look further into expressing your outcomes, and some charitable foundations that I really do like!

©  Tamara Essex 2010

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One Comment on “Favourite funding sources – part two”


  1. Thank you Tamara. It’s worth a rant by you, because it saves us getting into funding bids that would give untold stress and little chance of winning a bid. I value your comments, as I am a Luddite at bidding. (if that makes sense)


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