Negative feedback doesn't necessarily mean you should change yourself, says our columnist - you might just need to find another funder
I've been watching the BBC drama The Syndicate, which is about a group of five supermarket workers who win the lottery, and the changes to their lives that this surprise event brings about.
One storyline centres on one of the winners, a woman who is a bit overweight and plain looking. Her husband leaves her just before she finds out she's won the lottery. The reason he gives her for leaving - his 'feedback' to her - is that she has "let herself go". So she decides to use her millions for plastic surgery to make herself more attractive.
Then she discovers that her husband is gay and his leaving has nothing to do with her at all - and no matter how much surgery she has, that will never change. In fact, she's perfectly beautiful as she is.
For me, feedback from funders seems like a similar story. I suspect that the time spent on feedback often isn't all that useful. Funders can rarely make the feedback specific and you can waste hours, if not days, trying to change something on the basis of feedback that isn't really meaningful and relates to something that doesn't really need changing. I can hear the gasps of shock and horror from some readers! Isn't all feedback useful? Ummm ... no, it really isn't.
The feedback that's useful is whether it was your work or your application that was the problem. If it was the application, that's an easy fix. Buy it a new frock, give it a makeover and try again. But if it's the work you do that the funder didn't like, that's a far bigger issue.
In which case, move on - don't try to change what you are doing just to fit the mould set by a potential funder. There are so many grant-making trusts around that there is bound to be a better fit, and pretending to be something you are not in order to get what you think you want is as bad an idea for a charity as it is for the jilted lottery winner.
We ask for feedback to improve our applications so that we stand a better chance of funding from the same funder - or another - in the future. Fair enough. But here's the problem: provided you've got a decent proposal and you've got past the funder's eligibility criteria, what really distinguishes you from any other charity?
Most funders do their absolute best to be fair and objective. But funding decisions aren't a science - they're an art. There are myriad reasons why you might not have got the funding you wanted - but if you've got as far as the trustees, it's highly unlikely that you weren't good enough or even that you could have improved your application.
Tell your story so that it calls to the heart, provide the evidence that satisfies the head - then sit back and cross every available appendage in the hope the dice will roll your way.
And if they don't? Well, whatever you do, don't waste valuable time on the charitable equivalent of unnecessary plastic surgery to woo a funder who just didn't fancy you on that particular day.
Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change