Grants don’t grow on trees

Where do grants come from?

Do you care? You would if this knowledge were to help you write a convincing grant application, especially if the grant round is heavily subscribed.

How many times have you heard the saying ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’? Yet, when it comes to grants, people don’t even consider where the money comes from. If they did, then they would probably write the application with more alignment to what the funder really wanted the money to be spent on. Some funders will make it clear in the guidelines where the source of the funding comes from, and even then, people don’t see it or don’t use this to get a clear understanding of the objectives and intended outcomes. Let’s face it, why would anybody give money away as a grant without any strings attached?

There is always a reason for issuing grants. Here are three:

  1. A values-driven business may have social responsibility as a key value and/or as part of its Mission. It wants to contribute to social change and is limited in the amount of on-the-ground impact it can make. It may seek to partner with grass roots charities that have the capability and ability to make change happen. It selects these charities through an application process, where the applications closest aligned to the funding brief, will receive funding to deliver projects as per the application.

  2. A philanthropic trust which has been set up with bequests to support a specific purpose such as relieving poverty, assisting children experiencing educational disadvantage or alleviating homelessness.

  3. A government or public sector entity that has a Policy Direction and Action Plan to implement. These have Global Priorities and Outcomes but neither the resources nor on-the-ground expertise. The intention is to use grants as the financial mechanism to contract with legally constituted bodies (e.g. business and not-for-profits) to carry out services that contribute to achieving the entity’s high-level outcomes.

Working in a Departmental Unit of a University that promoted funding from the European Union to UK organisations, I checked the daily Agence Europe newsletters to identify policy changes, green papers (consultation), white papers (proposals that if adopted become blueprints), legislation, Vade-Mecums (guidelines) and when the grants were likely to be promoted. We would then organise conferences and training workshops, inviting the desk officers from the European Commission, UK government and peak bodies to guide participants on the latest funding opportunities. Little did I realise that I was getting a strong insight into how grants work.

Much later, working for a funding body in Australia, I quickly adjusted to Ministerial Statements, Strategic Plans and Actions Plans. I used to look forward to the Ministerial Statements so that I could dissect them and pre-empt the priorities for funding and how we could facilitate a process with the organisations we funded to be ready to apply when the opportunities became available.

Today, I still refer to the Ministerial Statements and other documentation mentioned in funding guidelines, looking for the priorities, objectives and outcomes that I can refer to in the application. I also use this knowledge to help clients develop a strategic approach to applying for grants. Jere’s how it works.

Scenario 1 – Local Government Funding

Every council has a plan of sorts. In Australia, the overarching plan is the Council Plan, which has a life of four years (updated in between). There are also other plans relating to areas such as arts, environment, health and wellbeing (may be included in the Council Plan) and community action plans. These plans should not be overlooked because they include vital statistics and evidence that can be used to prove the need for funding. Every application for local government/council funding should relate back to at least one of the Council plan documents. This is the language council staff and councillors speak. Everything councils do is within these documents.

Scenario 2 – other Government and public sector entity

It doesn’t matter what level of government or public sector entity (e.g. quangos in the UK) we are talking about,