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Applying for Social Enterprise Funding

Published: 3 October 2011

Applying for funding as a social enterprise can be confusing for social enterprises and funding providers. Funding schemes available to social enterprises generally fit into two categories: those that will find business-focussed projects; and those funding community-focussed projects.

Because of this the advice on applying for funding is divided into these categories. Depending on the type of grant you are applying for you may wish to take both sets of advice into account.

Business Focus
There are a number of things to consider before making a grant application.

Finding out what grant schemes you are eligible for is only half the battle.

There is no such thing as free money and your application will require anywhere from a few hours to several days or even weeks for the bigger schemes.

Here are some useful tips to consider before you decide to proceed:

1. Have a chat with the grant provider organisation about your chances of success before doing too much work.

2. Don't pin your hopes on starting the project immediately. Even if you're successful, it'll take a while to come through and you are unlikely to be reimbursed for payments you make beforehand.

3. Prepare a good project plan to back everything up with research and figures. The plan may form part of the application so avoid writing them on the backs of cigarette packets.

4. Find out more about writing a business plan.

5. Find a project you want to do rather than pursue one for the sake of a grant.

6. Ensure you can commit enough time to the application and that its worth this investment.

7. Don't pin all your hopes on getting the grant, as the application processes are often competitive.

8. Make sure you can actually deliver the project, as the grant can be withdrawn if you don't achieve agreed targets.

9. Consider getting involved in partnerships. Public/private sector partnerships can be strong and sometimes essential, particularly for European schemes.

10. Consider how you will match fund the grant, as it will rarely cover more than 50% of the cost of the project.

11. Read the small print, and get someone else to check your application for clarity and any mistakes.

Community Focus
Fundraising is not something you can ignore. People don't get involved in voluntary activity because they want to do fundraising and so, all too often, one or two people find themselves called "The Fundraising Committee" while the rest get on with the "real" work.

If this happens it's likely that the "Fundraising Committee" will get depressed and give up, the organisation won't have enough money to do the "real" work, so other people will get depressed and give up, and nobody wins.

Getting the money to do what you want to do is a central part of a group's activity. If everyone takes it seriously, thinks about getting money well in advance of needing it and then puts some time and effort into getting it, the chances are that you will actually find yourselves with the money and the time to get on with the real work.

So what do you do?
The first thing is to make a shopping list. This may turn out to look like a budget for the next financial year but it is not necessarily that, and it is not the Treasurer's job. The Treasurer keeps track of the money but the group should decide what's needed. Put down everything you might need. This might include:

  • Rent of a building.
  • Rates and insurance on a building.
  • Money for electricity, gas, phone.
  • Wages or expenses for volunteers.
  • Cost of publicity material.
  • Cost of equipment.
  • Hire of a hall or room.
  • Cost of stamps and stationery.

There may well be other things! Work out what each of these is going to cost and add it all up. It's then a question of working out who to go to for what. Ensure that you plan ahead.

Whatever you do will probably take longer than you imagine. Some government grants and other schemes happen once a year and you may need to start planning 18 months in advance. Some trusts only meet once a year. Think ahead.

Be realistic
It may be better to grow slowly and develop in the direction you want rather than go all out for any money that's around and find yourselves having to cope with a whole lot of bureaucratic red-tape in a game where someone else always makes the rules.

Keep records
Keep a note of which bodies you've approached, when you approached them, and what the result was. Then you'll know who to go back to, and when. And you won't lose all the precious information about funding organisations that you've painstakingly built up previously.

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