How to be “Organisation-ready” for funding

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Time constraints often prevent voluntary groups from securing grant funding for community-based projects they aspire to deliver, particularly in smaller groups where there are no fundraising teams or dedicated staff tasked with achieving this.

Oaks know this from experience of supporting community organisations of all shapes and sizes to realise their grant funding aspirations – from national governing bodies to volunteer-led sports clubs.

What we also know, though, is that even the smallest groups can take steps to better position themselves when reacting to funding pots which suit their own aspirations. This is the concept of being “organisation-ready”.

The grant funding landscape offers myriad opportunities from charitable trusts and foundations, statutory and lottery sources, or even private sector donations. According to Charity Financials, there were 14,500 organisations registered with the Charity Commission as of September 2015, with a combined annual expenditure of £2.4 billion, stating that they give grants and list no other operational activities.

Not only do the levels of available funding vary from three-figure to six-figure sums, but funders will have different approaches to how they distribute their funding. Some funders will restrict those who can apply based on geographical location while others are happy to fund groups from across the country. Most funders only fund costs for defined project activities (programmes of sport, training, events etc.) but there are some that look to support organisations with their day-to-day running costs (salaries, rent, IT equipment).


Many more nuances like this exist from funder to funder and yet uniformity can be found in the eligibility criteria for applicants. Understanding what funders expect from applicants – and more importantly, ensuring your organisation fits those expectations – is the first step in being “organisation-ready”. Some of the most common eligibility criteria amongst funders include:

  • Being ‘not-for-profit’ as an organisation, in that income is used to further achieve the organisational mission rather than line the pockets of shareholders;
  • Having a governing board (or equivalent) with at least three people who are non-related / non-cohabiting;
  • Holding a bank account in the name of the organisation applying for funding;
  • Producing your own set of annual accounts and financial reports;
  • Being within specific annual income parameters when grants are targeted at organisations of a certain size.

 Although these are common, this list is not exhaustive so checking a funder’s eligibility criteria prior to applying for funding is crucial. Furthermore, if the project for which funding is sought is a capital project (building works, equipment), additional eligibility criteria will apply, such as providing match-funding and having ownership or the lease for the land where work is proposed.


Once your organisation is set up in such a way to receive funding, the next step is to look internally at your own organisation to identify what your priorities are. This will require contribution from across the whole staff team to ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction, which may be difficult depending on the size or nature of your team. It is therefore worth considering holding a team meeting, or adding it to an agenda for the next scheduled meeting, to discuss how grant funding would best support your organisation.

Think about: what are the main aims of your organisation and how could funding be used to help you achieve these? What are the areas of need you currently work in and what areas of need do you want to tackle in future (e.g. mental health, disability, gender discrimination)? Who are the target groups you want to benefit?

By having these discussions to establish your priorities, you will spend more time pursuing funding that aligns to your aspirations and reduce time wasted on chasing funding that is irrelevant or unsuitable for your organisation.


Looking internally is then followed by the natural next step of looking externally to identify funders and funding opportunities. While it can certainly seem daunting to delve into the grant funding landscape without knowing where to look, there are newsletters, subscriptions or other organisations that can help to guide you. For instance:

  • Local councils often have their own funding pots or advertise other opportunities on their website;
  • There is a network of UK Community Foundations dedicated to distributing grant funding to groups at a local level;
  • Online databases exist that enable groups to search for local, regional and national funding opportunities (‘Funding Central’, ‘360Giving’);
  • Major funders, such as Comic Relief, Sport England and Big Lottery, circulate regular newsletters with grant funding updates to which it is free to subscribe;

To gain maximum benefit from this step, it is good practice to keep record either electronically or hard-copy of relevant funding opportunities you find. Create a database as you go which has the top-line details of each funder – such as the minimum/maximum grant value, what they will/won’t fund, the application process involved – and make this information readily accessible to build up awareness across your team (which also protects you from ‘losing ground’ in the event of staff changes).

Taking these steps will give you a head-start when new funding becomes available or you have a new project idea. It will leave you more time to plan your project and write an impactful application, boosting the chances of turning your project dreams into reality.

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