Hot tips on successfully seeking funding: recapping the CIRCLE webinar

Insert image here

Rural, regional and remote community groups need funding to deliver local improvement projects. But how do you go about this and what preparation is involved?

This was the subject of the second Creating Inspiring Rural Community Leadership and Engagement (CIRCLE) program webinar on Tuesday 9 December 2014. CIRCLE, which is funded by DIRD, aims to create capacity and enhance community leadership, tapping into local resources to increase confidence and skills of individuals and community organisations to tackle local issues with fit-for-purpose solutions.

This webinar was hosted by FRRR CEO, Alexandra Gartmann, and featured Our Community’s Patrick Moriarty and local community leader Fleur Anderson who both shared their insights with the 190 participants.

The following is a recap of their key points. There were a number of questions asked during the session, answers to which are below.

Where do you start?

“If you can’t explain what, why, who, how, when, where and how much, then you’re not ready to apply for funding yet,” Patrick explained. “That’s ok though, it’s important to take the time to prepare all the information you need to make the strongest grant application possible.”

FRRR nominates three things you should be able to do before applying for funding:

  1. Demonstrate the need;
  2. Support it with evidence; and
  3. Articulate it clearly and tell a story.

“In demonstrating the need for funds, clearly state what the issue is and what caused it. Supporting evidence could include local council letters of support or even letters from your community group members, showing their commitment to the project. Just make sure it is in their own words and the authenticity will come through,” said Patrick.

Develop a project plan

Step through a plan on how you will tackle the project and document it. The devil is in the detail! Break it down into stages and include what things will cost and who will do what. Make sure you include volunteering and in-kind support, as well as tradespeople or technical specialists.

Be realistic about timeframes and work out what you can actually do in 12 months, which is the typical timeframe for grant acquittal. This will help with your budget. Your budget should demonstrate all sources of funding: volunteer time, discounts from suppliers and any other local fundraising involved. This helps you convey the real value of the project to your community, which is often much more than the funds you are seeking.

Also, think about how your particular project fits into the overall strategy for your local community. “Demonstrating that our Revive and Thrive project was consistent with and supported the big picture plan for the Theodore, Queensland, community really helped us,” explained Fleur Anderson, who secured $50,000 for the Revive and Thrive project.

Where do I go for funding?

Funding solutions come in all shapes and sizes. “Being a relatively remote community, we had to look at who we could partner with and when. A local mining company provided us with access to safety management experts locally and in their interstate offices to help us manage safety on a bike ride. Having their expertise made the ride safer for everyone involved and reduced our costs substantially,” Fleur explained.

As well as developing partnerships with corporate organisations for funding support, consider local fundraising and sponsorship, and online/crowd funding and grants. Longer, slow burn options for funds could come from donations and bequests.

There is $60 billion in grants available annually in New South Wales alone. Tap into online local, state and federal government resources and nominate a ‘scout’ within your organisation to focus on this.

Get to know your funders

Developing strong relationships with your finders is critical. Alexandra Gartmann described it as being a little like courting ... slowly getting to know one another, recognising that not all funders want the same kind of relationship. Some will be looking for long-term partnerships while others may have a particular interest in one project or a component of a project.

“Show funders how you can help them achieve their goals and demonstrate alignment of values. This indicates to the funder that you have taken the time to learn about their business,” said Patrick.

Writing a ‘wow’ application

“Read the grant guidelines carefully - and read them again,” Patrick emphasised. “To make the strongest possible application, you want to fulfil all the requirements you can, so make sure you haven't missed anything.”

Consider using a standardised template, like the Our Community organisational template. Make sure you have all the relevant documentation for your group on hand. Plus, your application will need to discuss how you will evaluate and measure the outcome and success of the project, so start thinking about that right from the beginning.

Include qualitative and quantitative data to help tell your story, even pictures, videos or news articles help set the scene. Remember, that you know your community best but a grant assessor won’t necessarily be familiar with your local area. Help them paint a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve. Even simple information like how many people live in your area, how many are in your community group and detail about your location are useful.

And….don‘t be late! Plan a head and meet the application deadlines.

Try and try again!

Finally, the strong advice was don’t give up! If your application is unsuccessful, ask for feedback and try again. “Some funders are unable to provide feedback due to the sheer number of applicants, but seek it from those who do. FRRR welcomes contact from applicants,” said Alexandrea. “To put this into perspective, we recently celebrated a successful applicant who had previously applied to us thirteen times! They never gave up, they took our feedback on board and understood that in particular rounds, others' needs were a little bit greater than their own.”

More information

You can listen to the recording of the webinar (WMV file) - feel free to share it with your colleagues.

FRRR has also released a series of clips that step you through the grant application and preparation process, as well as a video of Ann Bichel, who shares her grant application tips having raised $1.5 million for her local community. They can all be viewed in the Advice for Grant Applicants playlist on our YouTube channel. You may also like to review the Writing Great Applications section on this site.

There were some great questions asked during the webinar and we have captured them below.

Next webinar – Maintaining momentum – late February/early March

Look out for more information in the new year about the third webinar in the CIRCLE program series. Kerry Anderson, Projects Manager – Community Leadership Loddon Murray, will share insights into what it takes to maintain the success within a community organisation. Together with a local community leader, she will discuss what leadership skills you need to have in place to ensure sustainability of your local group and the projects you undertake. 

Questions from the webinar

Simply click on the question to reveal the answer.

If applying for funding in stages, how can we demonstrate our sources of income / funds for the remaining stages?
Break down projects into steps and stages: a thorough project plan will help to give comfort to grant makers. Most funding programs have maximum and sometimes mimimum amounts you can apply for - so clarify the funding level up front. Even when fundraising via crowdfunding platforms and local fundraising campaigns, you need to state what your goal is and what can be achieved with those funds. Clearly plan out the sequence of stages in the project and the funding required for each. Think about the sustainability of the program and have a realistic plan. Tell all funders when you achieve your project - even the small contributors like to hear what their funds helped you to achieve. Stay in contact with your funder and provide clear communication about progress and who is involved in the project, remembering that the grant making world is relatively small and it could mean that one grant maker could trigger another step or stage. If any steps/stages become confirmed when your grant is being assessed, contact the other funders and advise them – it adds credibility if the other stages are being assessed and if it is a funder who was considering the same step or stage for funding will avoid them potentially doubling up.
Why do some funders ask for financial statements and / or bank statements with grant applications? What are the assessors looking for with these figures?
It’s about understanding the viability of your community organisation and doing due diligence. Looking at your audited accounts and your past account histories shows whether you have been successful in gaining funds in the past and whether you have managed them successfully. They are looking for indicators that your income is supporting your activities and that you are not over-stretching and compromising the existence of your organisation. But funders know that many groups operate on the smell of an oily rag and have been around for a long period of time. So lots of things are factored into the assessment not just the financial balance.
If successful with a funding application, does this affect future applications?
It depends on the funding criteria, which will be clearly set out in the guidelines. Some won't fund you again within a certain period; for others, depending on how you have managed the funding and the reporting requirements, previously funding you can be an advantage.Some will be happy to fund exactly the same project again, while others might only consider it if you are extending the reach or taking the project to a new level. For others, it may just depend on who else applies and how your applications measures up. So be sure to weave into your application just how passionate you are about your project and community, and your track record for delivering outcomes. Make sure you have the testimonials, case studies and on the ground stories to support the data. And have a really good project title - it will help with cut through and help bring your application to life.
What are your views on employing a submission writer?
Where possible, we recommend applications are written by people who are part of your organisation and part of your local community. Applications written by professionals stand out - but not always for the right reasons. However, if you brief a submission writer well, or if you know that it's just not your strength, then it's fine to use a submission writer. However make sure that your group still retains 'ownership' of the application - you are the ones who will be accountable for whatever is provided and committed. So don't outsource it completely.
What tips do you have about applying for funding outside of official funding rounds or applying directly to Government?
Most funding organisations have set windows for applications - particularly the larger programs, as they will have resources dedicated at particular times and will need to manage a fair and transparent process. But there are some organisations that invite applications or expressions of interest at any time. Consider exploring your options widely before contacting an organisation when applications have closed. Some funders do have access to fundst hat they can use for special projects they come across, from time to time, so don't rule it out completely. A phone call is perhaps your best course of action if you think that you are a good fit for the organisation. But remember to do your homework first.

In terms of accessing funding directly from Government, speak to your local members of parliament - both state and federal. They can actively champion a project. But again, make sure you have a compelling case. You'll probably only get one shot at an unsolicited application. So demonstrating the local support, the co-contribution your organisation and community can make to the project will help.
Why don't many sponsors provide grants for sporting groups anymore?
There are still some corporate sponsors who support local sport but, more and more, companies are looking to centralise their sponsorship budgets. But the key is to think laterally. Demonstrate how your particular sporting group is connected to the broader community and the impact it has. Think about what you are trying to achieve through the grant, not just what you want the grant for. That may open up the opportunity for more funding sources - for example, does your soccer club have an active outreach program to work with newly arrived migrants, and seeks to use sport as a way to help them integrate into the local community; or do you have a mentoring program, where people from your club work with ability impaired community members; does your facility get used by multiple community groups, thereby providing benefits across the community?
How often should you chase grants from the same funder? If you are successful one year, is it looked upon unfavourably if you apply the next?
Don’t expect ongoing funding just because you have been funded before. There needs to be more than just grants as part of your funding strategy. Look at the feedback from funders where you were unsuccessful and assess whether it is worth going back to them again. This comes back to building strong relationships with your funders and aligning your request with their interest areas and targetted outcomes. If there are limited resources and you have been successful previously then funders may look at putting the funds elsewhere.

Try and try again! Demonstrate that you’re taking feedback on board, amend your applications accordingly and try again. Look at the types of projects the particular funder tends to support and check that your project fits.
Do you let the funders know if you have underspent on their funds?
Generally yes. It will often be spelled out in your funding agreement. Most non-government funders will happily discuss how you can use the remaining funds to achieve further positive impact in your community within the overall aims of the original grant. It gives you a chance to show what else you can do in partnership with them. For others, such as government, the funds are to achieve an outcome in a particular area. If you have achieved outcome that but been efficient, returned funds can then be used to support another community. And sometimes a follow up audit, or a check of organisation financials will land you in hot water if you have not been honest.
How do you gain approval for items like earthworks, where a company is prepared to donate machinery and operators, but council won't accept it due to insurance issues?

If you’ve got great resources and support, experts in the field – builders, trades, lawyers, architects etc that you could access free of charge or at substantial discounts but the Shire or council says you can’t because its their asset, then you only have limited options.The workaround for this is for council to go to through an RFQ process and you can submit a response with your suppliers – assuming they hold the appropriate licences, qualifications or requirements. We recognise that this is an issue and is one that Our Community and FRRR will explore further to see if anything further can be done.

Is it possible to get grants to undertake planning?
Yes, with more than $60billion available in grants, there are bound to be grants that support this kind of project. In fact, some funders prefer to fund the exploration and planning of a project. Each funding source is different. Often the community investment in planning a project is what actually demonstrates community support and ownership of a project, and will help get the implementation phase a grant. So think about local fundraising and other avenues, rather than just a grant for this phase. If you do apply for a grant, like any submission you will need to clearly articulate why you need to get the planning done and what it will lead to. A strategic planning process could be a community capacity project.
Could Fleur explain the Revive and Thrive project?
This episode of Landline provides a good overview of the project, but in short, a $50,000 grant from FRRR / ABC Revive and Thrive program helped the community of Theodore to strengthen community morale and drive economic development. There were three elements:
  1. A Landlord's Fund - to help landlords of local commercial properties to paint their shopfronts to improve the overall look of the main street.
  2. A Skilled Workers Fund - to attract skilled professionals and tradespeople to the town through a subsidised rent scheme.
  3. A New Business Fund - to increase the mix of businesses in town by offering one year's free shop rental to any new business.
The project supported the Theodore Chamber of Commerce's 'No Empty Shop Front Policy'. They were acutely aware that for a community to revive and thrive, they way it presents itself and what it offers residents is critical.By creating incentives for shops to reopen and to attract skilled workers they had clear, targeted and measurable strategies for their small rural community.
How do you show evidence if you are a new organisations??
It does not have to be financial. Data that highlights the issue you are addressing and why you have formed is critical. Links with others in your community is also important – why form a new group when others exist? Show you are not duplicating what others might do. Provide minutes of meetings, a press clipping from your local paper about your group forming, or if advanced, provide your constitution - even if only in draft stage. Letters of support area also important.

Funders are also looking for a sense that whatever you are asking for can be delivered. So your evidence can be what people involved in the group have done previously. If the need is a local one that hasn’t been “tried” before - where has it “worked” before? If its a really new approach what is it based on – research? Feasibility study? a pilot?
What is the best way to make initial contact with a corporate? A formal proposal? Face to face? A business case? Is one approach better than another?
No matter which approach you take – make sure you have your request clear – what are you asking for, why is there a need, who are you, how will you deliver. There is no one size fits all solution. A phone call, if there is a phone number and person you can talk to, helps explore the possibility of an approach and who the best person is to send that to. At times there is only an email address, so keep it short and concise. A full business case should only be sent once tailored to their needs and interests – so not really ideal to send that without exploring their focus, interest and ability to support you first.


Privacy Policy

Website by CeRDI, in collaboration with JAW Communications and Twenty 20 Graphics