At worst you’ll be left facing the loss of a vital service. At best a roadblock to your plans to help more marginalised people be heard.
But there are some really achievable things you can do to reduce your chances of rejection. Based on the Big Lottery’s most common reasons for rejecting proposals, here’s what you can do to avoid becoming just another failure statistic.
1. Not meeting the aims of the funding programme
To have any chance of success your aims have crystal clear alignment with your funder’s.
Most funders explain their aims very clearly because their programmes depend on it. Your own aims can be trickier to pin down though. The best way of thinking about them is as the changes you are trying to achieve – what you hope to make different from the way it is now. For example if your aim is to increase access to mental health services then you’d do well to find a funder that looks to improve people’s health or even their mental health, or better still their access to services.
The trick to making your aims stronger and more congruent throughout your bid is to link them really clearly to your outcomes. Your outcomes should mirror your aims. For example if your aim is to increase access to mental health services then your outcomes should be something like XX [number of] people report better access to mental health services.
2. Not demonstrating enough of a need for the project
You know your project is needed. Your users know it’s needed. Your funders may even know it. But unless you vividly show the need in strong and no uncertain terms then your bid will fail.
Because the need is so apparent to you it can actually make it harder to see how it will look from a funder’s perspective. They may well have an awareness of the problems you want to solve but you shouldn’t make any assumptions. They will still need convincing that when compared to all the other needs they are being asked to help tackle, your need is truly the greatest.
Show them the pain of the people you work with and show proof of this pain from other people’s perspectives. For example, show what happens when people aren’t heard, how it damages their quality of life and inhibits their ability to move on, or worse. Show them that other services, initiatives, policy and research strongly agrees with you – a range of sources strengthens your case.
Lastly, show them what will happen if the need continues to go unmet. What will your community look like? By this point if you’re at all uncertain that you’ve not demonstrated the need then you probably haven’t. Keep going until there’s no longer any doubt.
3. Poor value for money
Imagine this: You’ve cracked your bid, moved funders with your need and showed them a really powerful way to tackle it, all within the aims of their programme. Only you’ve not put the same effort into your budget and have over-costed. Or worse still you’ve costed it well but have done a poor job of showing the changes that the funding will lead to.
How gutting would that be?
Fortunately there’s two things you can do to mitigate against it.
Be scrupulously realistic. Every funder is trying to make their funding go even further. Every bit of your budget should be finely calculated, scrutinised and challenged. In the back of your mind you might be thinking, sure, it’s nice to generate an underspend and find ways to use it to bolster other services but would you want to risk your brilliant bid’s success on it?
Likewise, spend time refining your outcomes until they capture the real change that you will create with the funding. Outcomes are all about the changes, benefits, learning or other effects that happen as a result of your work. Show your funders just how far the money will go in terms of impact on your clients, their families, their communities, local policy and practice, even people in other areas if you’re disseminating your learning.
Do both of these things well and you’ll be on your way to showing that your project offers great value for money.
4. Not enough community consultation
You may have shown a really strong need for your project. You will probably have shown what your users have said about the need for your services. But that’s not the same as getting out into the whole community (users, family, other services) and talking to them about the best way to tackle that need. If you can’t show a rich range of views then you’re hurting your bid.
Surprisingly, given their focus on increasing people’s involvement, advocacy services tend to be no better at community consultation than the rest of the VCS. Whatever the reasons for this don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you talk to your clients every day you know their views on your services. In fact, because you’re an advocacy organisation its going to look even worse on you if you don’t get this bit right. That can send a powerful negative message about your organisation’s values and advocacy practice.
You should be talking to people who use your services about your plans. Better still they should be leading their development. They and you should then be talking to those who don’t use your services, those who are harder to reach, people’s families and the other services who you will depend on to help make the project successful. If you can talk to them, and show how you’ve taken their views on board in your project planning then your bid will be much stronger. What’s more your project will also be far more achievable!
5. Lack of management experience for your project
It’s easy to be optimistic about how you’ll apply your organisation’s experience to delivering a new project and meeting a need you’ve not tackled before. After all, you’ve most likely always found a way to do it before.
But there’s a temptation, especially for small specialist advocacy organisations to diversify and try to become masters of more trades. This is fine but managing an IMHA or inpatient mental health advocacy service requires different experience to managing a service for people with learning disabilities. Similarly if you’re used to delivering services to a range of adults do you have the experience to take on a service that works with children.
The other temptation is to try and create something that is too complex, risky or unnecessarily creative for your own good. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for innovation but to do something new and potentially ground breaking requires really good change management experience.
Consider sticking to what you do best, then max out on that.
So, that’s the top five. But if you’ve been turned down for funding for other reasons it would be good to hear about it in the comments below. I’ll do my best to suggest how you can avoid it happening next time.