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How to run a community grants scheme

July 2015

Many Big Local areas are choosing to allocate funding for activities to groups, organisations and individuals through community grants schemes. This can be a good way to tap into local skills, ideas and networks and respond to the needs and opportunities in the area. It’s also a really good way to publicise Big Local and get more people involved.

Setting up and running a community grants scheme

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You might already be working with an organisation that has experience in setting up and running community grants, such as a community foundation or council for voluntary service (CVS). You could ask them to manage the whole process and report back to the Big Local partnership and locally trusted organisation. Or you could agree a process whereby the partnership or the community is involved in the decision-making.

When setting up a community grants scheme think about:

The purpose of the community grants
What is it you want to achieve with community grants? Do you want to raise people’s awareness of Big Local? Do you want to support and fund small local groups? Do you want proposals for how to address priorities in your plan? Are you looking for projects that bring the community together? Setting out the purpose will help you to draw up your selection criteria, including what you can and can’t fund. Also consider whether there is a maximum and/or minimum grant amount that people can apply for.

How people apply
The most common way to manage a community grants scheme is through an application process. Many areas use paper application forms, but you can also hold sessions for people to pitch their ideas in person, or submit entries on video. One way of making your scheme accessible to a range of people is to run free workshops to help them prepare. 

The criteria for selection
All proposals should be assessed in a fair and transparent way – against the selection criteria and in line with Big Local values and ethos. 

Who makes the decisions on what is (and isn’t) funded
This could be the organisation managing the grant scheme on your behalf, members of the Big Local partnership or the wider community using a participatory budgeting method, or voting online or by post. You will also need to consider the total budget available and if there is anything that you can’t fund.

Letting people know your decision and offering feedback
Think about how and when you will tell people if they have been successful or unsuccessful and what the next steps are. Announcing who has been awarded a community grant and what it will be used for can be a great way to celebrate and promote what Big Local is doing in your area. 

During the process of selecting who you want to work with on a particular service or activity, there are likely to be those that you decline. Think about how and when you will tell people if they have been unsuccessful. It is good practice to thank organisations and individuals who did show an interest for their time, give them an opportunity to hear feedback, and encourage them to stay in touch or share another opportunity for them to get involved. It’s a good idea to think about what feedback you can give those who are not successful, or any support you can offer that might help them succeed in future.

Opportunities
Some Big Local areas use community grants to reach new groups - for example, by attending some of their activities, or by asking their organiser to tell people about Big Local or hand out your promotional materials. 

Evaluation
Part of your terms and conditions for the grant might be for the individual, group or organisation to report back about the difference the grant has made to them and to the wider community - for example, how many people were involved, what feedback they gave and what was achieved. This is good practice; it also enables you to share positive stories about Big Local in your area, and may help you make decisions about other community grants scheme in future.

Things to consider

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Grants to individuals
Big Local money cannot be used for items that mainly benefit individuals, such as equipment that is not shared. So if an individual applies, think about how a grant would meet the Big Local outcomes and benefit the wider community. 

Attracting enough interest
Let as many people as possible know about your community grants scheme, through local events, websites, newspapers and other local media. You might also think about the application process and the criteria – are you being clear and fair and providing people with enough time and information to apply?

Attracting too much interest
You may get too many applications! In this case, you can either make your decisions based on your selection criteria within your budget, or you could consider increasing your budget if you have lots of good applications which will help address your Big Local priorities.

Examples from areas

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There is a range of ways to run community grants schemes and you can find out how other Big Local areas have approached this by clicking on the links below. You can also talk to your Big Local rep.

Fratton: http://frattonbiglocal.org.uk/index.php/community-grants/about-grants

Kingsbrook and Cauldwell: http://voluntaryworks.org/cvs/big-local and http://www.blcf.org.uk/grants/

Ramsey Million: http://ramsey.shapeyourplace.org/ramsey-million-partnership/grant-application/

St Matthews: http://www.stmatthewsbiglocal.com/#!grants-programme/c1u0o

Par Bay funding: http://www.parbaybiglocal.org.uk/funding/

Radstock and Westfield Dragon’s Den: http://www.westfieldparishcouncil.co.uk/dragons-den-2015/

Oldham participatory budgeting: http://www.pbpartners.org.uk/biglocal/

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