How can funders make life easier for their applicants, grantees and themselves?

Ben Wittenberg, DSC's Director of Development and Delivery, explores ways that funders can change to meet the current climate.

The funding environment is always tough, but the last year has seen huge rises in applications as charities try to plug the gaps caused by increases in demand and drops in income. Funders we’ve spoken to have talked about programmes that used to have a 1 in 6 success rate shooting up to 1 in 30 or even lower, just because of the increased number of applications they are now receiving. Naturesave, who typically gets 80 applications per round, received over 500 for their latest funding stream!

It’s easy on the grant-seeking side of the fence to focus on what charities can do to increase their chances of securing funding as competition skyrockets (and there’s a lot you can do, check out all the things DSC can do to help here), but there are also some pretty simple things that funders can do to improve the situation for everyone, including themselves. Take a look:

Publish clear information about changing priorities

Many funders that we’ve spoken to over the last few months are dealing with increases in demand by simply not accepting applications from any new organisations, therefore choosing to focus their limited resources of supporting the charities they already fund. You can argue whether this is a pragmatic and sensible approach to manage limited funds, or a short-sighted pulling up of the drawbridge to save time on admin, but either way, not telling anyone that’s what you’re doing isn’t helping the hundreds of applicants putting time and effort into applying.

Whatever changes funders are making to manage increases in demand really need to be communicated far and wide if they’re to reduce the workload for everyone else as well.

Look carefully at processes – and their impact on both successful and unsuccessful applicants

The main problem with most application processes is that funders rarely hear the truth about them. However much the best and most proactive funders try, they are unlikely to hear what most of us are saying about their unintelligible forms, ridiculous word (and in some cases character) counts, ambiguous question headings or requests for additional information that are wildly disproportionate to the level funds being applied for.

Setting all of that aside, the question funders should be especially focused on right now is “Does the process we established when we were getting 100 applications a year still work now that we’re getting 1,000?”, and if that clears up some of the things that never worked in the first place, even better! If it used to take three months to assess applications but now takes nine or twelve for example, let applicants know – preferably in advance, or at least on receipt of their application.

Find out as much as you can about the world your applicants are trying to survive in

We’ve worked with a huge range of funders recently, and there are a few main ways that the most pro-active of them are keeping plugged in to the changing external environment so that they can provide the best support possible.

Some run regular forums or discussion groups with their grant holders, some ask for feedback and use grant reporting to inform their work, and others are directly embedded in their sub-sector, attending events, strategy meetings and other events designed to share intelligence.

For those funders that are seeing a huge spike in applications, it’s important to understand what is driving that, where established priorities may no longer be the most important thing for their grant holders and applicants, and how the overall environment is changing.

We’ve done loads of fantastic work supported by Forces in Mind Trust to increase understanding of the Armed Forces charity sector – click here to find out more.

Give more than money

One of the things DSC has been doing much more of recently is helping funders to support their grant holders with more than just money.

We’ve been helping grant holders with funded bursary programmes, course and conference places, copies of our amazing publications, access to Funds Online, and much more – all free to them but paid for by their funder. It helps grant holders to get the support and advice they need to make the biggest impact with their funding, means the funder can be confident that their grant holders are supported, and that even if they can’t give more money, that can help what they do give to go further.

We’ve got loads of examples of the things we’ve been doing in our Funder Hub, click here to find out more.