Times are increasingly hard for the small to medium voluntary and community sector. The latest spending cuts, with massive reductions in public sector funding, are about to make things a lot harder and hardly a week now goes by without a charity closing down somewhere in the country.
Being a consultant who works to generate funding for my customers is therefore not easy.
However, success is possible. I work with a number of clients in a retainer basis, which means that I work with them for the equivalent of a day a week.
Operating in this way means that I can get to to know the agency really well including what makes them tick, the role of the Board or Management Committee, the issues and problems faced by their beneficiaries and the nature and effectiveness of their services and staff.
With my retained clients I have assisted them in developing or revising their business plan. The plan gives them a sense of where they want to go and how to get there, and allows BidRightBiz to analyse what development and funding opportunities might be available to them.
Two of our customers, both of whom have a homelessness focus and work with people who have complex problems, have done remarkably well in such a difficult funding environment.
Working with one of these last year, we raised over £250,000 from charitable trusts. This not only allowed them to survive when Local Authority funding (Supporting People) reduced but also to change direction completely in funding terms by developing a social Lettings Agency where income is earned through housing rent, management and support charges.
This year, so far, we have raised £44,000 to help develop the Lettings agency and £30,000 from the Big Potential fund to explore the possibility of using social finance to purchase houses. I am currently developing business plans to that end. The organisation, which had a turnover of around £150,000 when I can became involved, is on target for a turnover of over £600,000 by the end of next year.
With the other organisation, much smaller and with a twin focus on housing support and a furniture making social enterprise, we have also made great strides. Their business plan is based on generating as much of their income as possible through housing rent, management and support charges and revenue from their social enterprise, so that the organisation is not dependent on grants and contracts in the long term.
As a consequence, I have looked for funding which will help increase their capacity. To this end we have raised £180,0000 from charitable trusts, available over three years, to increase their housing management capacity and develop two additional furniture workshops. The trust funding is being used to increase the pace of development so that earned income is increased, providing the organisation with a long term sustainable future. Turnover has increased from £67,000 two years ago to a projected £257,000 in the current year. I am currently working on funding applications to help them develop their infrastructure by purchasing a Management Information System and developing methods of better measuring the social impact of their work.
Of course I also do one of pieces of work. I recently supported a third customer in raising £285,000 from the Homes and Communities Agency to refurbish a large house as a hostel for homeless young people as part of the ‘Platform for Life’ Programme.
What are some of the messages then for voluntary and community organisations trying to develop funding sources which will help their organisation survive and thrive
• Firstly, have a plan or business plan to guide your direction over the next couple of years (and be prepared to change it if circumstances change). It also helps give grant giver and commissioners a better sense of why you want their funding
• Secondly, there is funding out there from grant giving trusts if you have such a plan. Grant funding should be used to help the organisation develop a future for itself rather than just on shoring up existing services where funding has been cut.
Finally, and I know this is a big ask for many voluntary organisations, try to develop your organisation towards sources of sustainable funding which are not dependent on grants or contracts in the long term, using grant funding to help you get there over the short and medium term.