Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Why Funding Guidelines Matter

If there is anything I have learned over the past three weeks, it is that tiny babies don't come with a set of guidelines. Sure, there are many - MANY - how-to's out there, from ultra-regimented Gina Ford to the very cuddly Baby Whisperer. But guess what - turns out that every baby is unique and what works for one baby makes the next one scream bloody murder. How amazing would it be if, along with the baby and the goo, a neat little pocked-sized manual would pop out, complete with optimal feeding times, specific rocking frequencies for falling asleep and a rational explanation for just exactly why a small baby thinks of nappy changing as the worst thing in the world. How much easier would life be.

Which is why I still cannot believe that I once received the following question from a potential applicant to a grant scheme: "Is there any point in reading the guidelines?" Excuse me?!

It is true that over the last few years, the nature of trust fundraising has changed somewhat. Rather than the old 'us' and 'them' stand-off between funder and fundraiser, the focus is increasingly on working in partnership. However, this does not mean that the fundraiser can solely rely on his or her personal relationship with Trustees in order for a bid to be successful. And of course, there are many instances where it is much more difficult to form such a relationship anyway, for example when you are approaching research councils for funding.

One thing that is important to understand about funding guidelines is that they exist not only for the benefit of the applicant, but (primarily?) for the benefit of the funder. Funders have a limited amount of both time and money available, and they do not want to waste their time over applications that do not fit with their priorities, are not specific or are badly put together. This is why funding guidelines usually fall into one of two categories.

1. Content: is the project a fit for the funder?

Funders often have a clear set of priorities for awarding funding, which can be fairly flexible or incredibly specific. Guidelines can therefore be invaluable for working out whether this particular grant scheme fits with your proposal as it stands, whether you can tailor your proposal to improve the fit, or whether putting in a detailed application will be a waste of both your and the funder's time.

Just like you should tailor your CV to every job you apply for, so you should rewrite your funding proposal - as drastically as necessary - for every funder. Submitting the same application to different funders is a no-go and will almost certainly get you nowhere.

2. Style: can the applicant produce a well-written, properly laid-out proposal?

Sometimes, style guidelines can feel a bit like jumping through arbitrary hoops. However, they do create a level playing field and there is really no excuse for not following stylistic guidance to the letter (or point size). A shoddily produced funding application is just as damaging as submitting a badly formatted CV, forgetting to include a covering letter or turning up for a job interview in shorts and flip flops: it appears to show that you are not taking the funders seriously. Paying due attention to the layout - from a properly designed front cover for a hard copy document to inserting paragraph breaks at regular intervals in an online form - will really make your application stand out.

I am a great fan of good guidelines, because they make the fundraiser's job a lot easier. Sometimes, though, you have very little to go on and will need to rely on previous experience and your gut instinct. As for me and my three week old, we will eventually figure each other out - I am just grateful there is no deadline.

1 comment:

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