By Paul Stepczak
Money is getting tight, not just for individuals but also for community groups. As someone who’s been involved in grant writing for most of my career, it’s fair to say that the amount of grants has reduced and the amount of competition has increased over time.
This has been a continued trend and doesn’t appear to be changing. However, one thing hasn’t changed, whenever I speak to a community group about how they are going to finance an idea, grant funding is the first (and usually only), response. This is not healthy.
Grants are a fantastic way to ‘pump prime’ an idea, but that is where it should stop in the majority of cases; too many times I’ve asked people “so what will you do when that grant ends”, only to hear the response “we’ll just get another grant”. So, what’s wrong with that?
Very rarely will a funder pay for the same thing twice (after all, you should have achieved your objectives in the first grant), and very rarely will a new funder give you money to pick up the pieces of some other donor’s project (neither want to enter into a debate as to who can take the credit for the project, whether it is successful or not). Unfortunately, the odds of getting that ‘other grant’ are far more against you than on your side.
In Wales, we’ve been relatively lucky with an abundance of grants over the years, but this has had its own detrimental effect by creating a grant-dependent culture while stifling the development of a more enterprising mindset; by being grant-dependent you are reliant on the decision (and sometimes needs), of others that are outside of your circle of control (government officials, funders etc), while being enterprising, you are in control of your own destiny, you can be flexible to change and are more sustainable in the long term. Community groups need to be enterprising first and use grants to support their vision, mission, and objectives, not drifting your group to fit the needs of any available grant. So why does this matter now?
Other places in the UK haven’t been blessed with the level of grants that we’ve had in Wales and so they’ve had to be more enterprising… and that is already having an effect on us in Wales; as more grants become centralised to the UK, Welsh community groups will be competing with these other groups that will have a history of using grants to add value to a service (rather than be dependent on them), they will probably have a more efficient project design, and a stronger guarantee that their projects will be more sustainable (as they will be cautious of spending their own money more wisely, rather than someone else’s).
So, what are the options to move away from being grant-dependent? I would suggest that there are two obvious choices that I don’t witness much of in Wales (they do exist, but it’s not prominent). These are income generation and donation platforms.
Income generation for community groups
As a community group, you will have a certain set of strengths that are completely invaluable to some organisations, you just don’t realise it. I only realised this when I stopped being a community development worker in a small community after 10 years. Being recently made redundant (due to my project not getting re-funded may I add), and at a loss what to do, I found myself getting asked (and paid), to deliver community engagement techniques to public sector bodies, conducting focus groups for charities and organising community consultation events for the Welsh Government. Why? Because I had 10 years of experience working at a grassroots level with members of the public and had facilitated countless community discussions… something every community group does day in and day out but something that these institutions are unable to do themselves. There are plenty of opportunities out there to support social prescribing, community engagement and consultation, you just have to know where the opportunities arise and/or let potentially interested parties know that you deliver such a service. My recommendations are to:
- Register on www.sell2wales.gov.wales
- Identify what type of support public bodies need and make connections in those departments
- Map your own strengths and abilities to ascertain what you can deliver and promote what you can offer.
I really don’t think we fundraise enough in Wales, especially using online platforms. According to Charity Digital, online giving doubled during the pandemic while the platform “goDonate” reported (from its data from gathering £40m), that online donations grew by 115% in volume and by 97% in income: (https://charitydigital.org.uk/topics/topics/extent-of-online-giving-boom-revealed-8841).
If you’re a community group and you’re not using an online donation platform, then these figures are something that is difficult to ignore. So where do you start? Charity Digital provide some useful tips here: https://charitydigital.org.uk/topics/topics/the-best-online-fundraising-platforms-for-charities-5324.
However, simply signing up to a donation platform doesn’t mean that the money will instantly come rolling in. Think of it like a website – people don’t visit it just because you have one, you need to conduct a lot of promotions to direct people to it. My recommendations are:
- Select your donation platform wisely. Do they work better with larger charities or small community groups? Do you have to pay an additional subscription or is that included in the donation? Do you have to pay for the administration, or conduct any administration yourself, or is that covered by the donation too?
- Don’t let it just sit on your website, promote it but without directly asking for money; put a value on a donation so the public can see exactly what their money will be spent on– which one of the following is more appealing? A) “Donate here”, or B) “Donate £5 to feed 5 homeless people for a week”.
- Never limit fundraising to your existing audience. If we’re using the “£5 for 5 homeless people” example from above, how about taking this ask to a corporate sponsor? They will have community benefit clauses in certain contracts, they will have social responsibility goals, and will very rarely shy away from a positive press story, and yet, with a simple and single transaction of £500 (a nominal amount to many corporations), they can claim that they’ve just contributed to feeding 500 homeless people.
- Get savvy with social media to widen your reach. From experience, most community groups with a donation platform would naturally go straight to their Facebook page to promote their donation. However, there is an issue here 1) you’ll only be reaching the people that regularly look at, like or comment on your page or recent posts (i.e. you are already preaching to the converted), and 2) in general, Facebook posts lose their impact after 5 hours. Unless it receives a lot of traction quickly, it’s unlikely that many more will see it. Therefore, you will need to devise some digital marketing strategy to reach different audiences on different platforms on a regular basis. For example, you’re more likely to find corporate businesses on LinkedIn and the younger generation on TikTok. You also need to consider which platform is the best to reach your target audience; Facebook is good for local fundraising because your reach is based upon your immediate contacts and their interaction with your page, but TikTok bypasses your immediate connections and shares with a worldwide audience, based on the subject matter or interest.
- Get filming! “We retain 95% of what we see and hear via video whereas we only retain 10% of what we read” (Jon Mowat of Hurricane Media at #BeMoreDigital 2022). Therefore, you will need a stock of professional-looking images and (very) short videos to promote your cause (there are plenty of free apps and websites that can help with this).
Hopefully, these ideas will help you look differently at generating income for your group and become less dependent on grant funding. If you would like any further advice on what has been mentioned here, please feel free to contact me, Paul Stepczak email@example.com