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How do you fund a fundraiser?

Charity Fundraising work on blue background

I want to expand on an element I mentioned last week, the chicken and egg syndrome. In this blog, however, I want to apportion the term to the role of fundraiser for a charity. So, what came first: the chicken or the egg? And what comes first when you need to raise income for your charity: funding or the fundraiser?

In the early days of a charity, funds will largely come from the public, through fundraising or individual donations. At some point, however, you will realise that there are grants out there, i.e. ‘free’ money you can apply for. Money that doesn’t have to be paid back. Money that can help you further your cause and deliver your support.

However, to access said funding, you need to write a compelling bid. This can involve anything from a few questions to pages and pages of information, your financial accounts and future forecasts, your policies and governing documents, and your inside leg measurement (okay, I’m joking about that last one, but it can sometimes feel as if you’ve given them every other bit of information that exists).

You don’t have to be Shakespeare to write a good bid, and the founder and/or trustees are probably the best people to write them, as they know the charity inside out.

However, this assumes a lot of things:

  • That the founder or trustees would have the time to research and write bids

  • That the founder or trustees would feel comfortable writing bids

  • That the founder or trustees can effectively explain what the charity does, what it needs the money for, who it wants to help, and the impact this support will have

Though the intention to apply for grants in-house may be the cheapest solution, I’ve seen this task slip to the bottom of the list of priorities when the charity and its representatives are busy. Most of them are, as small charities can often be run by founders and trustees who are still working their day jobs. Bid writing isn’t rocket science, but it is an art, and squeezing it into a spare hour here and there just won’t cut the mustard—you need more time than this to do a bid justice. It’s not just about filling in an application form, it’s to give yourself the headspace to consider your responses properly. You have to shape your answers so that they meet the fund’s criteria (and that’s after the time spent finding appropriate funds in the first place), so that they offer up as much evidence as you can muster that your support is both warranted and effective; so that they demonstrate due diligence and sound financial decisions. Rushing your application because you only have a small window of time is counter-productive; you won’t win the grant money and you’ll have lost a precious hour or so of your time. Much better to strategise with that hour, to find solutions that will afford you more time to spend writing bids or which will allow you to outsource this.

You will know that trusts and foundation fundraisers exist, as employees and as freelancers. Anyone who has struggled with bid-writing in-house will have looked at this as an option for their charity. Many then decide against bringing someone else on board believing either or both of the following myths:

  1. If I employ a fundraiser, I have to find a full-timer’s income

  2. A freelancer or agency will be way out of my budget

This is where the chicken and egg scenario seems appropriate. Your cause needs to bring in more money than you and your resources can raise, but you can’t afford the solution to achieve this. Your chicken and egg dilemma: you need money in order to make money for your charity. You need a fundraiser to raise funds, but you need funds to pay a fundraiser.

You do, but not as much as you may think. You don’t have to employ a fundraiser within your charity on a full-time wage. Plenty of people have portfolio careers nowadays, with some roles only four or five hours a week. If you don’t want the hassle of employing someone, and all the paperwork this entails, you could engage a freelancer or agency for the same results. Whilst this may be more expensive, in comparison to the wage of an employee, it still might not be as much as you may think.

Don’t forget that a fundraiser exists to bring in money, so any spend of this kind would result in a much greater financial accumulation. The industry average for a fundraiser is roughly seven times their cost, i.e. for each pound you spend on their remuneration (whether freelance, employed, etc.) they will raise £7. Therefore, if you spend £300 a month on a part-time fundraiser, they should bring in around £2,100 income into the charity. Multiply this as many times as you like; as with anything in life, you do have to speculate to accumulate. If you can’t find the time yourself, be prepared to outsource the task of fundraising, but don’t see it as a cost—see it as an investment, as any spend will be multiplied many times over.

For those charities that simply can’t raise the funds for someone part-time, there are some grant-making organisations that will fund a fundraiser; however, these have never been abundant and they’re not even few-and-far-between at the moment. It’s worth trying to find an appropriate fund, regardless.

Never forget that you’re not just getting time from your fundraising employee or freelancer, you’re also getting their skills and expertise. They will know how to frame an application, the keywords funders are looking to see in responses, the right amount of evidence and statistics to include. They will also have one thing you won’t: the headspace to focus on a funding application. That’s worth its weight in gold.

Given that grant-makers have seen the number of applications rise fifteen-fold since pre-Covid times, there’s more competition than ever to secure grant awards. Every application is a worthy cause, and to someone who sees plea after plea, your application will be nothing but a collection of words on a screen/piece of paper to them. Emotion alone will not sway them…you need a descriptive yet succinct, well-researched, well-evidenced application that ticks all the funder’s boxes.

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