With thanks to the NCVO’s Funding Central hub, here is a useful blog on How to build a relationship with funders.

Cultivating funder relationships has clear benefits for improving your success rate with applications, but it is just as important to communicate and work with your funders at every stage in the grant funding cycle.

Funders have their own priorities, aims, and restrictions on how they work (because of the size or where the money comes from). Yet at the end of the day, they all want the same thing: to use their grants to enable you to help others.

This grant funding cycle below identifies some of the ways you might consider working with your funder. We have broken this down into four key stages.

All funders are different and may not or can not be involved in every stage of your project. You will need to make a judgement about what’s appropriate for your individual funder. Most funders will also set out their expectations of you in an offer letter with terms and conditions.

Stage 1: Preparation

Tell funders what you need

Have you ever wondered how funders decide what they fund? Larger funders undertake research and consultations to inform their grant programmes. But you can also have informal conversations with existing and potential funders about the types of funding you need and what they fund.

Find out about funders

Keeping up with who and what current and potential funders are supporting and how their priorities and processes are changing is important. Our tailored weekly newsletter highlights funding opportunities and news to help keep you informed of developments.

Once you’ve identified potential funders, you will need to find out more about their specific organisation and how it works. Research their priorities, personnel and processes and the types of activity and organisation they fund.

Contacting potential funders

Making contact with funders so they are aware of your organisation before you apply can be helpful – from making a quick call or introducing yourself at an event, to contacting the decision-making committee.

Stage 2: Application

Pre-application support

You’d be amazed at how many applications are rejected because they are ineligible or incomplete. To avoid wasting your time, make sure that you access any pre-application advice, information and support. Most funders publish guidelines or other information for applicants. If in doubt get in touch with them.

Assessment

Assessment of applications can take many forms and invariably takes longer than you would like. Usually this can be anything between two to six months.

Most grants are approved by a committee, although staff are usually involved in assessment in larger funders. Some funders will visit applicants to talk to you about the application face-to-face, some complete the process purely on paper. You may be requested to supply additional information. Other funders employ specialist external assessors, or ask for referees. Some funding schemes have a two-stage process where an initial expression of interest is assessed before a full application is made – to avoid time being wasted on developing applications with little chance of success. Ensure that you are aware of how your application will be assessed so that you are prepared for a visit or to provide a referee if requested.

Rejection

Everybody gets rejected at some stage. Try to use this as an opportunity to get feedback from funders about how to improve your application in future. Not all funders can provide feedback. Many good applications are rejected simply because demand far outstrips supply. But asking why your application was rejected and how you could improve your chances next time can be helpful.

Stage 3: Receipt

Offer letter

The moment you have been waiting for – you receive a letter offering you a grant. The letter outlines any terms and conditions attached to the offer – and you may be required to sign and accept these conditions.

Meeting conditions of funding

Terms and conditions vary from funder to funder. You may need to adapt or create new business processes and systems to ensure that you comply with their standards. For example, for a major grant, your funder may require quarterly accounts that show income and expenditure on the project. You may need to adjust your management accounting systems so that you can extract and present information in the different headings and timescales required by your funder.

Ensure that you have understood what’s required and that you can satisfy the terms of the grant before you accept – as failure to meet these rules could result in having to pay back part or all of the grant. You might not feel that your organisation can accept the terms – in which case, you may need to negotiate or even decline the grant. Many funders publish their terms and conditions on their websites – you should take a quick look before you apply to avoid any embarrassment at offer stage. 

Acknowledgement

We all like recognition for our work and funders are no different. Most will require their logo or name to be used in publicity. For some funders who rely on public support to generate their funds (such as the National Lottery, Arts Council England or a fundraising Foundation such as Children in Need), it is particularly important that their support is acknowledged as it shows the public how their contribution is spent and helps them raise more funds in future.

Building capacity

Some larger funders offer the organisations they fund support and information as well as grants – this is often referred to as ‘capacity building’. For example, if a funder finds many applicants have difficulty managing budgets it might arrange a training course on financial management and invite you to attend. Attendance can be a condition of grant or optional. If you are offered capacity building, it can be a good way to meet other funded organisations and get to know your funder better – as well as an opportunity to develop your organisation.

Stage 4: Delivery on funded activity

You’ve managed to find the right grant for your organisation from the thousands on offer, it took weeks to apply and months to get a decision. You jumped through all the hoops of the terms and conditions, you put the logo on your website and finally it’s time to spend the grant and actually do what you’re best at – delivering your mission.

At the end of the day, having the right funding in place to deliver your charitable activities is what it is all about. But just because the money is in the bank don’t forget about your funder. Now is the perfect time to build on success and plan for the future – to ensure your project has a realistic exit strategy and to make your organisation more financially sustainable in the longer-term.

Monitoring and reporting

For many grants, you will simply be asked for a short report summarising what you did and how you spent the money. Other funders, and particularly for larger grants, will require periodic and detailed reporting often linked to a payment schedule. Before you sigh with relief that your funder has only asked for a short report and just send them the bare minimum, remember that you may want to ask for more funding in future and this is a prime opportunity to show them what you’ve done with their funding.

If you have a more demanding funder, you may well have had to submit an evaluation framework as part of your application or as a condition of the grant. Either way, ensure that you know exactly what’s required and when. It might sound like jumping through hoops again, but monitoring your impact can be extremely useful for your organisation – as well as a funding requirement.

What if the project goes wrong?

It happens – and if things don’t go to plan let your funder know sooner rather than later. Call your funder to notify them of any major deviations from your plan and to seek their approval if you need to change any aspect of how you spend the grant. You may be required to follow-up with a formal written request. Don’t wait until the end of the project and then reveal a problem – as in a worst case scenario, you may have to repay part or all of the grant.

Promoting success

You don’t have to wait till the end of the project to celebrate success, If there are any opportunities to promote the activity which is being funded, think about inviting your funder along or send them copies of evaluation reports and other materials.