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How to plan your project for funding

Top tips from Alex Boys, who works for Age UK in Walsall

December 2014

The information shared here is available from many different funders. However Alex explains that one of the issues with funding applications is that the advice is usually not followed. One of the best ways for people to increase their skills is through a facilitated fundraising workshop; learning from examples and discussions. 

Projects follow a basic cycle with a few key steps. If you can plan your projects with these steps in mind then you are likely to be successful in making positive changes through your activities as well as attracting funding in addition to Big Local.

Funders use these steps to ask questions within their funding applications and to assess your submission. These questions are:

  • Why do you want to do your project? (aim and need)
  • What will your project achieve? (outcomes)
  • How will you deliver your project and how will you know it is achieving its aim? (activities
and monitoring)
  • How much is it going to cost to deliver? (budget)

Why do you want to do your project?

This is where you describe both your project’s aim and the need it is addressing. Big Lottery Fund defines need as:

‘a problem or issue, or situation where something needs to change to make things better, for a person, a group of people, an environment or an organisation’.

Your project’s purpose should be informed by the need you’ve identified.
You must show evidence that backs up the reason you have identified as a need. This should come from a range of sources which might include: 

  • Consultation with a range of people locally who you propose to attract to your project. Don’t rely on a consultation that is old and out of date.
  • Reference to other people’s research, plans and priorities to show that others have identified the same need in their work and to show how your project will help address these priorities.
  • Data and statistics to help quantify the need (illustrating the need through numbers). For example, using local Census data to show a high population of a certain community, or using NOMIS data to show levels of unemployment.

What will your project achieve? 

Funders want to invest in projects that are going to create positive change which they call outcomes. Without outcomes it’s impossible to know what the project might achieve.

Outcomes must show the difference being made, so use words which describe change in your outcomes (at least one change word in each outcome). Change words might include; more, less, reduced, greater, developed, increased, improved, fewer and reduced.

Make sure your outcomes are SMART:
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based.

Choose the right funder based on the type of change you are looking to create. Each funder has its own priorities and your outcomes should be linked to theirs.

How will you deliver your project and how will you know it is achieving your aim?

Once you’ve identified why your project is needed and what it will achieve, it’s time to start planning how the project will take place.

This is the point some people start planning their project. But often, projects which set out from delivering activities might not be the most appropriate way to meet the need and achieve the outcomes intended.

So, if you’ve already begun planning the activities, make sure you go over the earlier steps.

Key points when planning activities:

  • Activities should be relevant to the need and be the most appropriate way to achieve outcomes. If there’s no link between activity and outcomes – question whether you should you be doing it.
  • Funders like to see how the people the project is aimed at helping will be engaged in designing and delivering activities. Make sure those who take part in the project have the opportunity to tell you what they think would best help them. Where possible give them the opportunity to support the delivery, maybe as project volunteers for example.
  • Make sure your activities are inclusive. Think about what the barriers to people participating might be and try to remove them. Does your target group have any specific needs? Think about where your activities will take place and when, whether the venue is appropriate for the group (both physically and culturally) and whether additional support needs to be provided (e.g. transport or language support).

Monitoring is a key part of delivering a funded project. You should consider how you will monitor the project and keep track of how well you are meeting your outcomes. You’ll need this to report back to funders on progress. Monitoring is also useful for you to check your project is working well, or if something needs to change.

Key points for monitoring:

  • Plan monitoring alongside outcomes and activities to make sure it’s achievable.
  • Collect the right information – think about what you need to evidence to work towards your outcomes.
  • Be proportionate – don’t collect everything, only the things you need.
  • Make sure the methods are correct for the people – for example, babies are unlikely to complete questionnaires!
  • Involve project participants in the collection of monitoring where possible.

Further support on monitoring can be found from the Charities Evaluation Service website.

How much is it going to cost to deliver?

Finally, you are ready to put together your budget! The budget is an important piece of your project to show potential funders it is well planned and likely to be successful.

You should consider three types of costs in your budget:

  • Direct costs – the clearly identifiable things such as equipment, catering, room hire, staff and salaries etc.
  • Indirect costs – the less clearly identifiable costs that will still have an impact on your project. For example, if you run your own building, how much will it cost to keep it heated and keep the lights on during the time your project is being delivered?
  • In-kind cost – these are the costs that you are not asking anyone to fund, but should be provided to show the true cost of the project. It could include things such as rooms being provided free of charge or the number of hours volunteers are providing to your project. 

Key points when planning your project budget include:

  • Break-down activities in detail – to make sure you’ve understood all the costs
  • Read the funder’s guidance – some funders won’t pay for some items, which can result in your application being rejected if they are included
  • Be accurate – try not to guess at costs. If it’s possible to ask someone for a quote, do so. Remember to ask if VAT needs to be added.
  • Keep notes of how you worked out the costs – funders might ask you and you’ll need to be able to show you know where the costs came from.

Finding Funding is a useful website for searching for funding opportunities including grants, contracts and loans. 

Tips for searching for funding online:

  • use broad search criteria - you’re dealing with a machine!
  • read the exclusions to save wasting your time
  • look at the funding dates in order to plan your application
  • ring to clarify anything you’re not sure of
  • if unsuccessful – always ask for feedback.

Alex Boys

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