How to get funded by the Big Lottery
All the UK’s top brass from the Big Lottery Fund (BLF) were in Belfast this week to brief sector representatives on their new approach to funding.
The presentations were well received, as to whether everyone fully grasps their implications is yet to be seen.
It will be vital that organisations wishing to get grants get the process right: old ways of working will not be supported.
The concept is simple, logical, easy to grasp and exciting.
This is how BLF sums it up: “We believe people should be in the lead in improving their lives and communities. Our approach will focus on the skills, assets and energy that people can draw upon and the potential in their ideas.
“We feel that strong, vibrant communities can be built and renewed by the people living in them – making them ready for anything in the face of future opportunities and challenges.”
Empowerment of people and their communities is at the heart of it, and the belief is that people know what their needs are, that communities can take control of their own destiny and that they should be supported in doing so.
In its simplest terms this will mean that schemes will only be supported if those who are to benefit from them support them and are involved in designing, developing and implementing them at every stage.
This is not, for example, how many government-funded schemes currently work, whereby a department decides what the problems are in a geographic area, or amongst people with particular challenges, devises a scheme and then invites organisations to tender to run it.
So charities who tender in this way for some contracts will have to radically re-think their approach before even approaching BLF.
Secondly BLF will be adopting a more flexible approach to funding, with more dialogue and engagement. This should help organisations currently bewildered by the funding application process and remove some of the advantage currently enjoyed by those with well-oiled tendering machines, where form filling ability becomes the critical factor in success.
Thirdly BLF is interested in supporting and disseminating innovation, another exciting concept often absent from funding processes. So approaching them will no longer be about painting a picture of misery about a particular social problem and then asking for money for an intervention that may or may not work.
Instead it will be necessary to fully engage with those affected, identify techniques that do work, with the full involvement of the community, helping that community to empower itself and become stronger as a result.
To aid this process Big intends to share and disseminate best practice from the many thousands of projects it has supported so that communities and those that help them can learn from interventions that have worked elsewhere.
Therefore sharing best practice with other communities and creating new ways of cracking old problems through partnership and collaboration, concepts some in the sector struggle with, will also be key.
This brings social innovation into sharp focus, and suggests that more in the sector should get involved in the Social Innovation NI initiative which will be launched next month. However hard times are this is not a moment to be circling the wagons to survive, it is about reaching out, sharing insights and expertise and collectively solving difficult issues.
Those that take this approach will have a much better chance of enjoying BLF support. Those that do not may find themselves out in the cold.
It is going to be a challenging time, not least for organisations who fall victim to government cuts. BLF is not able to fund work, however important, in circumstances where to do so would be to replace public spending, that is not what the Lottery is for. Sadly job losses are inevitable as austerity deepens but organisations will need to be aware that cutting and pasting public sector contracts that have been cut and submitting them as BLF applications will not succeed.
It is going to be a difficult transition to manage for BLF, many in the sector will embrace the new challenge and rise to it, some may not, and any that have been successful in the past with Big that fail to grasp the new approach will end up very disappointed.
The message seems to be that the closer to the ground you are, the more you include clients in devising and implementing solutions, the more you are prepared to work in partnership, to learn new techniques, and to innovate, the more you are likely to succeed.
And ultimately the real test lies ahead: the impact on communities and how they can be helped to be more empowered and resilient.
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