Does anyone truly understand what they are doing when they write their first grant application?

Does anyone truly understand what they are doing when they write their first grant application?

I paused before sealing the envelope. I did not know it then, but this would be a life-changing moment!

This was during a time when I had just about discovered email, but it was still the norm to spend two hours handwriting envelopes to send out information to clusters of schools!

The year was 1999, several years before I had succumbed to multiple email accounts, social media accounts, and could video call my Mum from my kitchen whilst streaming a blockbuster movie to my smart TV.

The envelope in question contained an application to a Grant Funding Scheme called Awards for All, which was part of the still relatively new National Lottery. Mystic Meg was the best way to predict the lottery results at that time and I could have really done with her help at that moment!

I was fresh out of University and had just begun a new job as a Rugby League Development Officer based in one of the games ‘out posts’ the North East of England. Fuelled on enthusiasm (rather than knowledge) and passion (rather than skill) I needed to find a way to develop the game in an area that was more known for its football. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing! I was a coach, a player, I was comfortable and confident on a rugby pitch, but this business of grant applications was a completely new world to me.

The envelope was posted, forgotten about, and I moved on to a fresh set of challenges, tasks and seemingly never-ending problems.

A couple of months later, a large white envelope arrived at my desk, ‘Congratulations’ it said. I’d secured funding to not only support the development of rugby league in the North East – I’d managed to wangle funding to set up a girls team – woohoo, Gateshead Thunderbirds were on their way to the next level!

With a feeling of huge excitement, I realised that I had discovered a way to make things really happen.

And so, began, a 20-year journey negotiating the often confusing and sometimes overwhelming grant funding landscape.

Of course, I moved to different jobs and new roles, and went through numerous learning curves, but the consistent element has been the capacity to generate income for a wide range of projects and activities through grant funding.

Working within a range of schools for the last 12 years has given me opportunities to delve deeper into the world of funding, explore opportunities for collaborative working between both partnerships and groups of schools, and by linking to community groups and other organisations.

Grant Funding has enabled these schools to employ Artists in Residence, to work alongside children and parents on a long-term basis – something that is often well outside the scope of the increasingly tight school budget. Collaborative projects such as Arts Festivals and Exhibitions, giving children from across differing schools and key stages an opportunity to work together.

But I still relate to those initial feelings; in this world of endless emails, zoom calls, social media, not to mention the challenges of social distancing, the thought of applying for funding can become even more overwhelming. We are inundated by information, requests, tasks and challenges and it can be all too easy to say, “I haven’t got time to sit and write an application”. “What if I am not succesful, I have so many other things I could be doing that will have guaranteed results”.

These dilemmas are understandable, but by setting up some simple systems, and working in a strategic and productive way, you really can increase your chances of success.

Of course, our current ‘Covid19’ crisis has really turned our world upside down. Many funders are only responding to grant applications that deal with the current emergency, some have paused altogether. Many schools, clubs and other ‘people focused organisations’ are working so hard to try and create new ways to engage, educate and enrich our communities. None of us know what the next few months will bring.

But we do know that money will be a central focus to ‘what happens next’.

There has never been a better time to become more confident, more knowledgeable and more skilled about the grant funding world.

Over the last few weeks I have worked with IVE (Arts Council Bridge Organisation for Yorkshire) to develop a range of online resources to support school staff to become more confident, more knowledgeable and more skilled at applying for grant funding. A series of introductory videos, along with a downloadable ‘Funding Toolkit for Schools’ and a series of live webinars. The resources have a leaning towards arts and creativity – but will also provide an insight to many other schools, clubs, charities and social enterprises.

Click here to head to the  Ive website, and to access the introductory guide to the world of grant funding.

And in the words of Paulo Coelho:

“Some people dream of success; others make it happen.”

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