Last week we announced the newest cohort of winners of the Weston Charity Awards. When a charity applies to the Awards, we always ask what they would like to get out of a mentoring relationship with senior business leaders.
There are a variety of things: confidence; an improved strategy; strengthened governance… But the one thing comes up above all others is money.
How can engaging with a group of people from outside the charity sector help you to navigate the specialist field of charitable funding? Here are three lessons I’ve taken from the charities we’ve worked with.
1. A funder won’t fund what it can’t understand
I get it – you’ve been talking and writing about your organisation for so long that you have your elevator pitch down. But do you really? Often we get so wrapped up in our own charities that our messaging is not as clear as we think. We are surrounded by people who know what we do so well that we don’t notice that what we say is full of jargon, muddled or overly broad.
This is where mentoring and coaching can play a life-saving role, as it provides an external viewpoint about how you are perceived. One example of this in practice would be when we worked with a charity that had not considered the importance of its mission and stated social objectives, taking it for granted that its work – in this case youth work – would be accepted as worthwhile. The charity’s team of mentors helped them to develop a mission which (crucially) differentiated them from other similar organisations, which in turn helped them better articulate the long-term goals of their projects. They saw their funding success increase dramatically, winning every bid they went for over the next year.
2. Know where you’ve come from
Part of the process of creating a strategy – which is, of course, a forward-looking piece of work – is to understand what has been happening up to this point and where you are going to go. It can be a very useful exercise to create a visual timeline, showing where your funding is coming from, when it is going to run out and where future funds might come from for those projects.
Having external input into this can be invaluable. I recently worked with a charity that did not realise the timescales involved with securing work until they did this exercise. It showed them that, although funding was in place for a particular period, it was unlikely to be renewed. This, combined with a long lead time on new funding sources, meant that they needed to act quickly. Now they are able to schedule their fundraising activities to best fit with the peaks and troughs of their work and money.
3. Step away from the day-to-day
You might feel like you don’t have time to engage in strategic mentoring. After all, aren’t you already spending all of your day writing funding applications? Well, put down the pen!
Application after application can only go so far. To be successful, they need to be part of a strategy.
Stopping to take stock can have wondrous effects. I don’t deny there is an opportunity cost, but long-term this will pay off. One of the charities we worked with was seeing most of their applications rebuffed, so during their time with us, they all but stopped writing them – realising the need to analyse why they weren’t having the success they had hoped for. Along with their team of coaches, they were able to create a strategy to focus their energies on a smaller number of projects and the funding sources that were most likely to yield sustainable funds.
So, while it can sometimes feel quite arduous to take time out of your busy day for mentoring and coaching, it can ultimately pay off, helping you be stronger and more successful fundraisers.
Find out how your charity could benefit from the Weston Charity Awards.
James Appleton is Project Manager at Pilotlight.
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