This article first appeared in Pro Bono Australia.

To say the 2020/2021 financial year was a challenge for not for profits is an understatement.

Following the tragedy of natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen all businesses, not for profits included, rethink the way they deliver services, their operating structures, staff and volunteer working arrangements, employee assistance programs, and all the rest! 

Working with literally hundreds of NFPs across Australia and New Zealand, the Strategic Grants team has copious anecdotal evidence from the organisations we work directly with and those who attend our training and conference sessions. 

The good news is that many organisations have reported achieving their FY21 grants goal. In fact, some did even better than forecast! (And for an overall snapshot of how Australian philanthropy fared over the last 18 months, check out the newly released JBWere NAB Charitable Giving Index.)

Of those that have reported a decline, there is nearly always a consistent set of practices that have not been followed. 

It is in times like a pandemic, that the importance of best practice really comes into focus. Read on for our grants must do’s and don’ts for the new financial year.

So, what were the key challenges for NFPs and their grants programs in the last financial year? 

What has always been a dynamic landscape got a lot more dynamic, and there were a lot of COVID-19 specific funding rounds that were hard to keep up with! And with an increasing number of new grant rounds opening, those organisations who had not regrouped on redefining their new immediate funding needs, were left scrambling to meet deadlines. 

Certainly, those organisations that reviewed their strategic and operational plans in light of the restrictions and necessary operational changes, were more grant ready than those who were shifting in response to funding round announcements.  

And of course, it was a challenging time for funders too, as Lea-Anne Bradley, who was working with Equity Trustees in their emergency response rounds and is now CEO of The John Villiers Trust, tells us.

“Responding to so many new, immediate community needs saw a strain on available funding, coupled with initial uncertainty around funders’ own investments and projected income,” she said.  

“This led to an ongoing need to be reforecasting income and cash flow, and to reassess the ability to distribute grants over this period. 

“Those funders with multi-year commitments had to carefully assess whether they could commit to new funding agreements.

“Funders also had to reach out to applicants to see if the projects they had applied for were still applicable. And with the increase in applications, we needed to build even greater due diligence into assessment to determine the ongoing viability of projects and organisations.”

Overall, we witnessed a great rallying of support from funders who, on many counts, spoke to beneficiaries about what was needed.  There has also been a growing conversation from funders on flexible funding. But this requires trust and is most common from funders who have a long-term partnership with an organisation who has built trust in their competency and capability to deliver outcomes and report back on exactly how the funds were spent and the resultant impact. 

The biggest challenge though that has always existed and remains, with even more pressure, is that funders still report a percentage of ineligible applications! The waste on resources for both the applicant and funders is huge. It is therefore critical that not for profits only proceed with an application if they meet the guidelines and eligibility criteria and can provide strong evidence in their responses.

The key success factors moving into the 2021-2022 financial year 

The hardest decision made by a grant-seeker is to not proceed with an application. But sometimes, this is the right decision to make. 

Our top don’ts:

  • Don’t apply if your project doesn’t match the eligibility criteria.
  • Don’t apply if you can’t demonstrate the need with robust data and evidence for your project. You need to be seen as competitive.
  • Don’t apply if you can’t capture the outputs and outcomes of your funded project, collate evidence and results, and analyse and report on the project’s benefits.

And here are our must do’s: 

  • Do re-prioritise your project pipeline. This is a critical step. You need a current list of priority projects to be ready to respond to current and new grant rounds. This will look very different to what it did a few months ago.  ​​
  • Do speak to all your current funders. Are there changes to how your projects need to be delivered?​​
  • Do contact funders in advance if this is required or strongly recommended. Even if it isn’t, always try to discuss your organisation and project first, where possible. 
  • Do update your key messages. What is your business continuity plan through COVID-19 and beyond? What has changed? Funders want to be confident you have contingencies. ​
  • Do make sure your project plans are well thought out and you leave no unanswered questions in the funders’ minds. ​
  • Do continue best-practice project matching. ​​
  • Do ensure best quality applications are being submitted. Proofread and adhere to all the grant-writing must do’s. ​​
  • Do ensure your organisation is able to monitor and measure performance at both an organisational and project level.  ​
  • Do make sure you can demonstrate the difference the funding has made. ​​

And some wise words from Bradley, “Do remain focused on your core mission.”

Given the high volume of applications that funders are receiving, we certainly can’t guarantee that your application will be successful but following the above will absolutely give your application the best possible chance of not only making it to the top of the funders pile, but being successful in receiving funding.

Reach out to the Strategic Grants team for more ways we can support your grant-seeking strategy.

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