Beth Clarke circle

Beth Clarke

Programme Manager, CAF Resilience

How to ask for resilience funding from your donors

 

To step back and improve long-term sustainability

Most charities, especially smaller ones, know they need to invest in themselves to resolve weaknesses in their organisational resilience, to be prepared for whatever future challenges may come their way. Perhaps they don’t have a handle on reporting and can’t demonstrate their impact as well as they would like, or they’ve never had the opportunity to explore alternative ways of delivering their mission.

I recently wrote a report on the programme we ran at CAF supporting charities to be more resilient and followed it up with a challenge to trustees, charity leaders and funders. Yet these kinds of holistic programmes are rare and I’m often asked by charities how they can get funding to invest in their organisation to develop resilience for the future.

Resilience funding is money given to a charity that allows them to step back from the day-to-day delivery and address their weaknesses to improve their long-term sustainability. Without it, charities may continue on a path that isn’t the most effective or efficient. It’s harder to find funds for this kind of work than it is for direct work with beneficiaries, as funders can be reluctant to move away from direct delivery with a top-up of core cost contributions. This isn’t to say that opportunities don’t exist, however. Here’s how to find or, indeed, create these opportunities for your charity.

Who should you ask for resilience funding?

Some grant funders will pay for core or development costs and you can research which might be worth approaching through the Charity Excellence Framework or through the DSC directory of grant making trusts. However don’t forget to look closer to home.

Start with your major donors if you have them, as unlike more institutional funders, they have complete discretion over how they donate, so if you make a good case, you’re likely to be successful.

If an organisation or individual has already been funding you, they’re good candidates to ask as they already value and trust your charity. Start by mapping your current supporters. They may not normally provide this kind of support but if you present it well and show how it could affect outcomes, you stand the best chance of convincing them. There are no guarantees but I’ve known charities succeed with funders who, as a rule, don’t give this kind of funding.

When should you ask for resilience funding?

Don’t ask until you’ve done your homework or you could waste an opportunity. Start by clarifying how well you understand the issues your organisation is facing, where there are gaps in your knowledge and the solutions you wish to implement to resolve them. Speak to staff, volunteers and trustees to ensure you have properly mapped the challenges and gathered a range of perspectives.

It’s likely you aren’t yet in a position to identify the solutions and that’s part of what the funding could help with. You could ask for flexible funding to both help identify the solution and then implement it. Ensure you also provide evidence of what’s not working, such as numbers that show time lost on inefficient processes or referrals you can’t take on.

This stage might require bringing in pro bono support for an outsider’s perspective to ensure your business case stacks up. Organisations such as Pilotlight and The Cranfield Trust may be able to help.

Show funders that you’ve clearly scoped the issue, are serious about it and understand the resources needed. Establish if you’re asking for funding for staff time or external expertise, or both. Show too how the support you need fits into your strategy. It’s crucial you can show what difference it would make and why it matters. You’re asking for an investment in your charity rather than a traditional grant, so you need to present more thinking and legwork than you would for other grants. Ensure your trustees are involved, and if you’re successful, they’ll help prioritise the funds for this work.

Highlight the success of other charities who’ve been through this process. The CAF Resilience report gives some examples but you may already know an organisation that’s been where you are.

How should you ask for resilience funding?

Be confident about the difference your charity makes, and clear on the internal challenges you face in continuing to make that difference. If your funders care about the cause you work on, they should be interested to hear about your needs to ensure long-term, efficient and effective impact. You’re providing options to support a cause they care about, so approach it positively. It simply might not have occurred to funders that something other than programme costs would be useful. They won’t know unless you ask and if you present a well thought out request, the worst case is they say no.   

Have a clear ‘ask’ with data and a plan to back it up - the more detail you can provide, the more prospective donors will trust what you’re saying. Make it clear what this funding will enable to make your charity more sustainable for the long-term and how that benefits your cause. Highlight this link and keep returning to the impact.

Be realistic about what you can achieve and in what timescales. Organisational change is rarely quick so don’t promise fast transformation or you’ll only achieve something surface-level rather than permanent.

If you’re being specific about a solution you want funded, you need to show you’ve considered other options and explain why this is the right one. I’ve assessed grant applications where the charity wants a lot of money for something like an online portal and I question why they can’t get the same outcomes without an expensive platform. The charity may know this but without stating why they’ve ruled out alternatives, the funder may feel they’re being asked for money that could be better used.

There are many benefits to your charity being more resilient, not least reducing risk, being more efficient and effective, saving time and money, and being able to focus on the future rather than deal with immediate crises. Sell these to the funder.

Finally

Always keep an eye open for opportunities. Many charities fall into the trap of thinking that funders only want to give to programme costs so they only ask for them. A charity I worked with on the Resilience programme was approached out of the blue by a family foundation who wanted a proposal for what they could do with a £30,000 donation. Before the programme they would have asked to be able to expand their programme, which would have put more strain on their infrastructure. Instead they said that what they really needed was funding towards several back office roles to enable them to scale up their programmes using other monies. They were successful.

We see this at CAF too in our grantmaking function. CAF managed an emergency grants programme in 2020 where charities had the option to apply for staff costs, overheads and organisational development support. This is a rare opportunity but still around 20% of funding requests were for programme related costs, which could represent a missed opportunity. So think strategically about which funds you apply for and from whom.

The long-term health of your organisation is important for your beneficiaries. Make sure your donors know about it as well and don’t be afraid to ask for their help.