Write a star funding application

Julie Nightingale, Issue 42, p64-65, Summer 2008
The evidence you need to back up a funding application is important, but can be dull. Give it impact with strong images and a clear structure
GATHERING EVIDENCE

Compiling and presenting evidence is the most painstaking part of the fundraising process. Larger funders will require information to back up your initial application and, in some instances, to prove you have spent it effectively after the fact.

If you think putting together the paperwork is a tedious task, spare a thought for the recipients who find themselves wading through endless building quotes and statistics on visitor figure projections, and generally suffering a slow death-by-spreadsheet. This is why it pays to expend some of the creativity that is going into the project itself on making your evidence as interesting as possible.

Alan Horn, director of development for Culture and Sport Glasgow, believes establishing a narrative should be at the core of your presentation, at least in the early stages.

"Look at the story. Why are you doing this project? Why are you running this museum? What do your audience think of you? Why are you good at it? Is there a demand for what you are proposing and why are you the best people to do it?" he says.

One or two pages should be sufficient to sum up your vision. "As long as your narrative stacks up, you can add to it later," says Horn.

Your largest application will probably be the one that requires most work, but you can reduce the amount of information you gather, and enable a case officer to sift through the information more efficiently, through careful editing and formatting.

Stuart Davies, a former Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) policy adviser turned consultant, says: "With HLF applications, you have to do a lot of cross-referencing between sections or you end up with a lot of duplication. You need to cross-refer between, for example, access, audience development and business planning sections instead of repeating the same information."

Your report also needs clear chapter headings and well-written executive summaries - possibly one for each section as well as one for the whole application. "And make use of diagrams, which can say as much as five pages of text," says Davies.

This kind of writing and editing, which turns facts and figures into something accessible, if not as gripping as a Harold Robbins novel, is a professional skill so it can be worth getting an external expert in to help. Apart from editorial expertise, a fresh pair of eyes is often useful anyway, says Davies.

"[Applicants] do find it helpful to have someone looking at a bid who is a step back from it, especially when you have to bring the various parts together towards the end."

Davies also encourages museums to write something funders do not always ask for, which is a brief document stating the case for the project clearly and in their own words.

"It gives an overview that picks out the things that really matter and [introduces] a bit of excitement and passion. If you look carefully at [funders'] guidelines, there's not much scope for putting excitement and passion in there. You have to introduce it yourself.

"If you do it well, the case officer will love you, as it means they can just cut and paste and drop it into the report they do for the trustees. Anything you can do to make it easier for the case officer is worth it," says Davies.

THE MONEY TRAIL

Corporate sponsors who have handed over thousands to support an art exhibition will definitely want to see where the cash has gone once the event is over. Unlike foundations and other charities, what companies want to hear most is how successfully it has promoted their business.

It is not simply a question of counting up visitor numbers and calculating the "media reach" and column inches. "How many people have been exposed to the sponsorship through the marketing campaign is key," says Becky Williams, the development director at the Tate.

"We assess our marketing campaigns - how many posters we have placed on the Tube and adverts in newspapers. Editorial is good, and any funder of an exhibition will be pleased at seeing reviews but don't underestimate the importance of the [paid-for] marketing."

If your project or exhibition has an outreach element, whether it has involved working with schools, hard-to-reach groups, under-25-year-olds, or another specific demographic, it too should be added to the evidence you present.

Williams says: "Most of our [projects] have an element of outreach so we can report to sponsors on how many new audiences and visitors from different backgrounds it has attracted."

"They want to hear from people who have been engaged in the project - testimonials from individuals or reports from local schools. All of that evidence that shows it has had an impact on people."

The desire for human rather than statistical input is increasingly noticeable. One museum director, who did not want to be named, goes further, believing that funders are now automatically sceptical about museum statistics in general:

"I don't think any intelligent donor believes the admission statistics from free museums - I don't," he says. "People will look rather at shop sales and ticket sales, for example. And increasingly, they like feedback from customers."

What should you do when your evidence fails to present the rosy picture of success that you and your sponsors were hoping for?

Honesty is the best policy, suggests Williams, but ideally you should be alert to the problems before the evidence is in. This is where the relationship-building element of fundraising comes into its own.

"If your relationships with donors are strong, they should be based on trust, and trust gives you the chance to share things along the way if there is a good reason that things are not going as planned," says Williams.

"If you have taken a certain course of action and it is going awry, the sooner you can share that with them the better. It gives them the chance to be cross or unhappy but if you explain the reasons behind it, then sometimes the relationship can end up stronger. The worst thing you can do is to batten down the hatches," she says.

PRESENTING THE EVIDENCE


Gathering your evidence might be arduous, but it should never be hard work for a funder to read :

1. Provide an executive summary

2. Clear writing and a good structure are crucial; don't repeat yourself

3. Relevant diagrams and images will be appreciated by funders and case officers

4. Evidence of human impact is increasingly seen as painting a realistic picture of a project's success - include comments and testimonials from visitors

5. Convey what the project means to the team involved: a little enthusiasm will go a long way

6. As well as cuttings, include evidence of your marketing

7. Show the breadth and range of visitors to your museum

8. Be honest about any difficulties you have experienced.

(Image: the Stephenson Railway Museum, Tyne & Wear Museums)