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If you’ve recently been unsuccessful with a grant application, “what do funders want?” is a question you might well be asking! Although funders will give feedback – and if they don’t you should ask for it – the truth is that often feedback is quite general. If a funder has a lot of applications, yours might have been a strong candidate, but not quite strong enough. A well regarded Oxfordshire organisation that we were speaking to recently made the following observation after being turned down for a grant from a large funder:

The feedback was really the usual: many applications and others were more financially stable. I even had a talk with one of the Relationship Managers but I am still no wiser as to what we could have done or said apart from having more people in post and more funding, which was why we were applying!

Research carried out by the Good Exchange last year, found that that only two in five funding applications are successful 1 and nearly two-thirds of the funders they spoke to had seen a recent increase in the number of applications they receive.

Knowing what funders want is absolutely key. The same research from the Good Exchange also found that 20% of grant applications didn’t even make it past the first post because they didn’t satisfy the funder’s criteria. So, a complete waste of time and effort for the applicant.

The Good Exchange is trying to improve the situation by using technology. They provide a platform for charities and voluntary groups to post details of funding requirements and are encouraging funders to come on board to avoid fundraisers having to complete multiple applications for different funders. It will take time for this to reach the critical mass that makes it a real flyer but it is a step in the right direction and the more people who use it, the more effective it will be.

Our video of Martin Wilkinson from Oxfordshire Community Foundation’s (OCF) Step Change Fund explains what Step Change is looking for from its applicants. Many of his comments have general relevance and would apply to most funders, so it would be worth a watch.

Some interesting insights into the funding landscape for the Oxfordshire charity and voluntary sector can be gleaned by visiting the 360Giving website. 360Giving has persuaded 119 different funders to provide data on who they have given grants to and for how much, in a form that makes the data relatively easy to aggregate and to build a picture of the funding landscape in a particular area or for a specific charity or sector. All the big funders for Oxfordshire are giving information, including Oxfordshire based Oxfordshire Community Foundation and Oxfordshire City Council (but not yet the District or County Council) as well as the big funders such as the The Big Lottery and BBC Children in Need. The table below shows grants for 2018 (the last year for which full data from all funders is available) from the four largest Oxfordshire funders. The Big Lottery Fund dominates the scene in terms of the value of the grants that were given (more than £3.5 mn in 2018 and this excludes grants to schools and the University), whilst Oxfordshire Community Foundation dispersed more grants in Oxfordshire (we have excluded organisations outside of Oxfordshire) than any other funder, with a total value of just under £1 mn.

360Giving (GrantNav): Grants given by the big funders to Oxfordshire Charities in 2018
FunderNo. of GrantsTotal ValueTop 3 Recipients 2018
The Big Lottery Fund75£3,502,805Camerados, Home Start Banbury & Chipping Norton, Thames Valley Parntership
Oxfordshire Community Foundation (OCF)138£957,139 RAW, Ark-T Centre, OXPIP
Oxford City Council40£790,861Oxford Citizens Advice Bureau, Oxford Community Workers Agency, Rosehill & Donnignton Advice Centre
BBC Children In Need6£361,906Pegasus, Sunrise Multicultural Project, Together With Migrant Children

There is funding out there, so to avoid becoming one of those three in five or 60% of funding applicants that are unsuccessful, be sure to find out what your funder wants, before spending (on average) 8 hours completing a grant application. With organisations typically completing 33 separate grant applications per year, this equates to 264 hours spent applying for funding 1, time we would much rather spend with our beneficiaries.

1Interviews with 100 UK grant making organisations and 191 online responses from fundraisers.

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Martin Wilkinson explains what the panel of the Step Change Fund looks for in funding applications. Each fund has its own criteria but Martin’s comments about resilience are worth paying close attention to, as they’re common to most funding applications.

Step Change was set up in 2014 as a semi-autonomous fund sitting within Oxfordshire Community Foundation. The fund has granted over £1.1 million to over 30 Oxfordshire charities, many of which have also had a Charity Mentor. You can find out more about the Step Change Fund here.

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In each issue, we introduce you to one of our mentors by telling you about their experience and giving you their answers to 3 questions, to include their own ‘top time-saving tip’.

John May

John May

John is currently the Secretary General of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award; Chair of Trustees of Oxfordshire Scouts; National Trustee of Marine Society & Sea Cadets; Advisory Board member, University of Surrey Business School and Visiting Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University. Previously, John was Chief Executive of Young Enterprise and Career Academies UK; Director of Community Campaigning at Business in the Community, a former headteacher and youth worker. John’s previous non-executive roles include Vice Chair of the World Organization of the Scout Movement; National Board member of UNICEF UK, and Founding board member of Teach First.


1. What do you feel is your greatest achievement?
I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing people over the course of my career – and different teams have achieved a whole host of things. I’ve been involved in turning round under-performing schools; helped to increase child immunisation in rural Uganda; supported the launch of “Teach First” in the United Kingdom; been part of the set up of a number of education charities; volunteered on five World Scout Jamborees, each giving more than 30,000 teenagers some terrific experiences. But my greatest achievement was probably helping 11 year old Christopher learn to read in my first year of teaching, more than 30 years ago.

2. What do you like to do outside of work?
You know what they say, “if you can find something to do that you love and get paid for it”, you need never work again. That’s certainly true of my life. But in addition to working with and for young people, I love to run, sing, ski, go to the theatre (particularly the Oxford Playhouse) and cook for friends. At the moment, I’m learning to swim front-crawl, having only been able to do breast-stroke since I was five.

3. As a busy person what’s your ‘top time-saving tip’ ?

Worry only about the things that you can actually change. And then get rid of that worry by setting about effecting those changes.