Grants: walking the financial tightrope

Working to an overstretched budget may not be specifically mentioned in the job description but it’s something that SBMs are all too familiar with. However, there are many ways of boosting the coffers; here we take a look at grants as a viable funding option and how to make sure you secure them

Times are tight and schools are in desperate need of additional funding. “We are tasked with doing more and more with less and less and the prospect of any improvement to education funding looks increasingly unlikely,” Val Andrew, ASCL business leadership specialist, observes. Schools are exploring alternative avenues of income generation, from fundraising to lettings; however, one area remains largely untapped: grants.

There are roughly 7,000 grant-making trusts and foundations in the UK and, according to FundEd, they give out approximately £4bn annually. But to be eligible you first need to apply – something which requires time and planning. So, where do you start?

Down with the grant grind

First off let’s do some myth-busting. “It’s a common misconception that grant funding is an option available only to registered charities,” observes Ryan Green, managing director at Pebble. In fact, there’s a plethora of grant opportunities awaiting your application, from the very small – for sporting equipment, for example – to larger grants – for sports facilities, perhaps. Funding opportunities can be difficult to find – and even more difficult to secure – but this is nothing that organisation and planning (aka effective fundraising) can’t overcome. A ‘spontaneous’ application will be unlikely to achieve the desired outcome so consider a formal fundraising policy or strategy which sets out key objectives and which can be adapted as required. “It’s essential that a robust strategy underpins the process in order to focus on initiatives which link directly to objectives within the school development/improvement plan,” Val advises.

To optimise your effectiveness, it may be necessary to have one person responsible for co-ordinating your grant strategy. “This, ideally, should be someone with financial experience – for example the SBM/SBL, bursar, or finance manager. S/he should, preferably, lead a working group which gathers together people with relevant expertise and interest from within the school and governing body,” Val says. “Some schools have identified their students as their most innovative bid-writers and have targeted funders who give priority to student-led initiatives,” she adds.

Be aware of the statutory regulations, urges Val:

“You must understand data protection and the mandatory steps necessary to adhere to this legislation. There is a Code of Fundraising Practice available from the Institute of Fundraising and other useful information about the legal aspects to be wary of (www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk).

“Ensure you understand the specific regulations which apply to your establishment – for example, academies will have to comply with regulations governing company and charity law.”

Meeting the funder’s eligibility criteria

“Grant-giving trusts have objectives and priorities; your success will be based on how your project meets these, so do your research,” Nikki Burch, editor at FundEd, advises. You’ll need to take a close look at the criteria outlined by your targeted funder – Val warns that two-thirds of applications fail on this alone. “If the funder does not have specific guidelines endeavour to check any geographical preference the trust may have and note the types of projects (and amounts) that have been awarded funding in the past,” Nikki suggests. “If the trust or foundation states that they are willing to offer advice then contact them to discuss your proposal.”

“It’s important to understand any additional requirements – such as an accompanying business plan – so that these are identified in advance to give you time to prepare and also to ensure that match funding, VAT implications and inflation factors, for example, are all taken into account,” Val says, and attributes 80% of fundraising success to this stage of the application. It’s a time-consuming and often complicated process so, if you don’t have the resources in-house, don’t be afraid to consider external support; there are many organisations offering advice, help and bid-writing support.

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Aim to succeed

“Successful grant applications are those that can demonstrate how the project fits into the big picture and how it will deliver a better learning experience for students,” Ryan points out. “Writing a project narrative is a clever method of teasing out the ‘why’s’ of a project so that you can better explain it in your grant application.” There are certain questions you’ll be asked for each application – for example, why you need the funding, what impact your project will have, and upon whom, and how you’ll know your project has been successful – these can all be included in your project narrative and the information collated here can be adapted for use in multiple grant applications.

In addition to this, Nikki prescribes that you build grant fundraising into your wider income generation plan as this will show that you’re attempting to meet costs yourself. “Employing a multi-faceted approach to income generation brings with it additional benefits; by using a mix of event fundraising, corporate sponsorship, crowdfunding, etc., you spread your risk, have the potential to exceed your funding target and raise awareness of your project among a wider group of stakeholders.”

 

Rowena Thomas, sales, policy and project manager at ESPO, highlights five things to remember when applying for a grant:

  1. Make sure you understand what the grant provider is seeking to support and focus your application on that area.
  2. Do your homework so that you know what options are available in the market and how the grant will be used to maximise the benefit to your own school.
  3. If appropriate, support your application with genuine estimates and quotes – this may improve the credibility of your application.
  4. The funding may only be available once so it is really important that you spend it wisely and get goods or services that are fit-for-purpose and value for money.
  5. Think about how the purpose of the grant will integrate with your broader objectives and budgets. There’s little point in spending a grant on a new football pitch if none of your students want to use it or if you can’t afford the staff to maintain it.

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