Funding has always been a major concern for charities, but in these unprecedented times, the need for reliable funding has never been so acute. Institutional funds can help charities access money that isn’t subject to unforeseen circumstances such as the Covid-19 pandemic, but for many charities, accessing these funds isn’t as simple as it should be.

When it comes to funders and charity applicants, both set out with the best of intentions, but just because they want to do good, it doesn’t mean the current system shouldn’t be overhauled.  According to research published by the Smarter Grants Initiative (SGI) and funded by the Localgiving Foundation, charities are unwilling to call out poor practices by Foundations for fear of ‘biting the hand that feeds them.’

The majority of charities have difficulties finding funding, with specific difficulties varying according to the charity size, age, geography or sector. For example, charities younger than ten years old are affected disproportionately, while larger charities struggle to access the larger grants they need to carry out their work. Add that to the fact that there just isn’t enough money to go around from individual funders, despite the good works being carried out by charities, and we have a major problem.

A complex process

The business of giving and applying for grants is currently a massively complex undertaking for both parties, with what should ideally be a level playing field being fraught with lumps, bumps and obstacles.  

For example, research from the University of Bath states that funders require a mean word- count of 1622 for qualitative responses. To arrive at this mean figure, they discovered that the disparity between funders’ requirements is significant, with one funder requiring 380 words and another asking for 6060 words. The research also revealed that the time a charity can spend on a grant application can vary from 2 hours to 175 hours, with many funders placing, ‘unrealistic expectations on delivery and disproportionate complexity in the application process’ for larger grants.

Greater clarity and better communication

The SGI report found that grant-makers are crying out for greater clarity from funders and that many only have out-of-date funding guidance for applicants. It’s also often unclear as to exactly who within the funder organisations they should contact, with 83% of respondents highlighting that having clearer, more accessible points of contact would greatly improve the process.

Having gone to the time, expense and effort of making their application, charities would welcome more detailed feedback on their submissions, which is particularly important for larger charities who often pay professional grant application writers, so the stakes are high on all sides.

Charities can feel misunderstood within the process and feel that they are negatively affected by a lack of understanding and that perhaps funders have preconceived views of certain charitable endeavours.

In addition, over a third of those applying for grants worth more than £25,000 believe that their expertise isn’t respected by the grant-makers they apply to. In fact, 57% of charities applying for bigger grants believe their complexity isn’t properly understood.

In terms of meeting those expectations, one of the key findings of the report was that the application process itself falls short. ‘Efficiency and simplicity (or lack thereof) of the process continue to be a disappointment to charities, as does the lack of adaptability and an inability to make changes throughout the process.’

It works both ways

The difficulties lie on both sides of the grant-making coin, however. Grant-givers can feel frustrated at the high volume of ineligible applicants and say that many applications are sub-standard. Where this is the case, the charities themselves recognise that they lack the in-house skills to navigate this difficult, complex process. According to the report, 67% of respondents found their in-house skills lacking.

A more streamlined future

The SGI report is clear that it doesn’t seek to point the finger of blame in any particular direction, but merely highlights a process that is frustrating, costly, inefficient and time-consuming on both sides. The hope is, that by shining a spotlight on this important part of the charity sector, we can all work to ensure best practice and make the changes that the sector so badly needs.