If there is one skill that charity employees have to master, it's knowing how to write a funding bid. Bar the occasional unpredictable legacy, funding rarely arrives unsolicited.
But with funding from foundations, companies or public bodies becoming increasingly scarce, it's important that charity staff learn to write bids that stand out from the crowd. Sue Robinson, an approved trainer with the Institute of Fundraising, says: "Increasingly, it's the case that if you can't clearly state why your charity should receive the money rather than the cat and dog home round the corner, then you are much less likely to be successful."
There are generally two types of funding bids. One is an application for funding to foundations or companies, which requires the charity to explain why it needs the money and what difference receiving it will make. The other is a bid to a public sector commissioner, such as a local authority, to deliver a service. There, the charity must show it is able to provide the service at a competitive price.
Robinson says that the common mistakes that charities make when writing funding bids include lapsing into sector jargon and writing the bid in a tiny font size that can't be read. Another mistake is to assume that the funder is familiar with the charity and its work - but they won't necessarily be, even if the bidder is one of the sector's big names.
Alan Lawrie, an independent consultant who delivers training for the Directory of Social Change, says: "What surprises me is how little people who are commissioning actually know about the services they are commissioning. You must not assume there is a level of knowledge about what you do."
Funding bid training is available from a range of agencies. The Directory of Social Change, for example, offers a one-day course called Proposal Writing for Beginners, for bids to any type of funder, and another course specifically aimed at securing funds from trusts. Lawrie also teaches the course Contracts and Commissioning - Getting Money from Government, aimed at securing money from statutory sources. Prices range from £185 to £285.
From April, Robinson will teach a one-day course for the Institute of Fundraising on writing successful funding bids. The course is funded by the Office for Civil Society and is aimed at charities with incomes below £1m. "It's about selling your cause in writing and learning how to write a really concise document that explains what you need and how that organisation can help you," says Robinson. The course costs £20.
KnowHow NonProfit, the web-based knowledge-sharing and training site for the voluntary sector, offers the free online course Writing Winning Funding Bids. The course, which is filmed, is delivered by the management consulting firm PA Consulting Group and explains how to write bids to trusts and foundations. The course is the most popular one that KnowHow NonProfit offers and has had more than 10,000 page views since its launch in March 2011.
But with numerous consultants and organisations offering professional bid writing services, is it really worth the cost, time and effort of training your own staff? Not surprisingly, funding bid trainers caution against relying on the professionals. "Anyone can write a flashy bid," says Lawrie. "But the best bids are written by people who are actually involved in delivering the work. They know the clients, they know the community and they know what is good practice."
FIVE TOP TIPS ON MAKING A STRONG BID FOR FUNDING
1. Don't use jargon. "We talk a language the rest of the world doesn't understand," says Robinson. And the rest of the world includes trusts, companies and government bodies. So translate it into English.
2. Don't assume anything - especially that the trust or commissioner has knowledge of your organisation and what it does. Very often, they won't. You have to explain it yourself.
3. Do your homework. Find out what's important to the commissioning agency or foundation. Try to have some personal contact with it before you write the bid.
4. Produce your evidence. "It's not enough to do good work," says Lawrie. "You have to be able to show it." Collect case studies and feedback to back up your claims.
5. Make sure the sums add up. Ensure that you can actually deliver the service for the price you are quoting or that the budget for the activity you want funding for is sufficient.
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