Last week I attended the West Midlands RCO funding learning event organised by David Hirst, the Basis Project Organisational Development Officer for the region. It was great to see such a diverse mix of RCO communities coming together to share, network and learn more about fundraising.
There was a choice of four workshops which looked at, practical fundraising ideas, finding evidence of need for projects, meeting the grant funders’ demands and understanding contracts and commissioning.
All of the workshops were very engaging, but for me, one of the most interesting workshops was ‘finding evidence of need for projects’, where RCOs had to swap roles, and pretend to be funders!
The first part of this session focused on understanding funding language. One of the terms discussed was, ‘anecdotal evidence’ – which is a great opportunity to express and prove a project’s needs through stories, or ‘anecdotes’ and not statistics. For individuals whose first language isn’t English, it can be very challenging trying to express why their project is needed, and how it can meet funders’ requirements. One RCO said that she can express the need for their project very eloquently in her own language, but translating it into English is difficult and just doesn’t seem to adequately convey the great work that needs to be done or that is being done.
The next activity gave RCOs the chance to be funders! The groups were given two ‘fake’ funding applications to discuss and assess, focusing on evidence of need. RCOs found this activity very challenging, but it made them more aware of the importance of providing evidence in funding applications. Our RCO funders were very sympathetic it has to be said! The key learning points were to: be specific, provide statistics and supporting information, and prove their knowledge of their local environment – prove there is a gap and a need!
In the ‘practical fundraising ideas’ workshop, RCOs got very animated discussing practical ideas for fundraising. Suggestions were: trading; fundraising events e.g. selling home made products; workshops with other organisations/schools; membership subscription; sponsored events e.g. marathons; and hiring out their premises. The key points that RCOs learnt were: the need to have a fundraising plan; to ensure your organisation has enough capacity and volunteers to help out; that sometimes a licence is required to do certain things, e.g. organising a lottery; trading can be done, but you must seek advice; and the need to be creative with fundraising ideas.
David Lane, from the Institute of Social Entrepreneurs based in Birmingham gave an informative presentation on commissioning (the process of working out what is needed in terms of services) and procurement (buying the service to meet the need) in the public sector.
Although, most of the RCOs at this session were not at a stage to compete with other organisations to sell their services to the public sector, it was useful information to store for the future. Some of the key points learnt were the need for organisations to: understand what they can offer and the impact it will make; to understand regional priorities (get involved in Local Area Agreements); ensure you get quality marks that are relevant to the sector; prove how you will ensure quality of service delivery; have insurance in place; ensure you are legally constituted; have the appropriate policies in place e.g. equal opportunities and health and safety.
It was a really enjoyable and useful day, and most importantly, everyone there took one piece of information away that they didn’t know before. Organisational development is a slow process, but more events like this can only support RCOs to achieve personal success. The overriding comment from RCOs at the event was: “looking forward to more similar events.”