At Work: Fundraising - Funding story - Financial planning

Radhika Holmstrom

If you want to apply for funding, some hard work on financial planning at the start can save you a lot of grief later on.

How much do you need? What are you going to do with it? And how much are you going to apply for? The 'ask' is frequently constrained by the grant-makers themselves, but a surprising number of applicants aren't financially clued-up enough to give an answer.

"The general level of financial training and expertise in the sector isn't the same as you might expect from an organisation in other sectors," says Graham Duncan, director of lending and development at CharityBank.

"That's partly because we don't appreciate the value of financial planning for getting as much 'mission' as possible out of our scarce finances. We don't have people saying 'we want to train 300 people - how do we do this as cheaply as possible?'"

Duncan has worked with Kate Schroder, chief executive of 4Sight (also known as the West Sussex Association for the Blind) on refining a successful £350,000 bid to the Hong Kong-based Bradbury Foundation, which is the giving arm of HSBC Bank in Hong Kong.

"I'm often asked to help organisations that are rejected for funding, and it's usually the financial planning that's gone wrong," says Schroder, who has won a number of financial awards. "Some don't even understand how much their business costs, or know how to define unrestricted and restricted costs. Even those with big bank balances might be facing closure."

Schroder dispenses with the usual divisions between core and project costs and recommends, instead, breaking down each activity into its constituent financial elements. "You need to work out the delivery pathway for each activity - give a place to every person and the complete value of that place," she says. "Then you work out exactly what outcomes come from each activity and the unit costs of each outcome. How on earth people budget properly without working all of this out, I don't know."

A merciless financial assessment can mean you abandon a bid long before you get to a funder. "If you haven't done your sums, you don't know if something will eat up so many of your people and so much of your resources that the amount of mission will be reduced, not increased," Duncan says.

It's a sobering thought, but a lot better than realising halfway through that you got the numbers wrong in the first place.

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