As we approach the end of our first month as the Year 2 Arts Fundraising Fellows, my colleagues and I have already been given a brilliant insight into successful fundraising practices, through the programme’s unique blend of professional and academic training.
We recently attended an ‘Introduction to Application Writing’ at the Cause4 offices, and it was great preparation for what is going to be a challenging, but rewarding, year ahead.
Led by Ben Wilson and Amanda Rigali of Cause4, the session took us through the fundamental principles of application-writing, and whilst we focused primarily on Trusts and Foundations, it became clear that these principles underpin successful fundraising and advocacy in a much wider context. Here is some of what we learned…
The ability to communicate your organisation’s work in a clear, concise and engaging way is really important. Known in the corporate world as an “elevator pitch” we were challenged to describe our host organisation in just one minute. After only two weeks with our hosts, whose work spans a diverse range of activities, this was, at first, a challenge, but I suspect we’ll find our polished 60-second pitch comes quite naturally by the time the year is up.
Understanding the true essence of what your organisation does, and the motivations behind it, makes the task of fundraising much more likely to bear fruit. However, you can’t start planting anything until you’ve prepared the soil that is your fundraising database. A thorough and well-researched database helps you identify the Trusts and Foundations with which you share common ground, and to figure out how best to align your pitch with their priorities. There’s no shortcut to this knowledge, and it takes time, but the best fundraisers are invariably the ones who’ve put in that initial groundwork.
Once you’ve considered which funder you’re going to approach with your project idea, it’s time for the story telling. This is the part where you really bring your project to life, painting a picture in the reader’s mind of exactly what you’re going to achieve and how. You need to demonstrate that your project is going to help them achieve their charitable aims, and prove that you’re the best people to make it happen.
When you’ve checked, doubled-checked and triple-checked it for typos, and made sure you’ve attached all your supporting information, you can send your application on its way.
After all that work, you’ll probably be so convinced that your project application is perfect, it would be difficult to imagine the funder saying no. The sad truth is that although your project is probably great, the chances of it being turned down are high.
As local authority funding is squeezed, the increase in applications to Trusts and Foundations rises year on year, resulting in huge competition for every pound.
Bearing that in mind, it’s sensible not to place all your hopes on one funder, but rather to approach a number of different places that are likely to be interested in what you’re doing. With a pragmatic and flexible approach, the odds might just be in your favour.
We’ve now started putting together our first bids for our host organisations, and will be catching up at the National Fundraising School next month for an intensive week of workshops and networking with some of the UK’s best fundraising professionals. Exciting times!