Sean Tully

Feb 9, 2022, 1:00 PM

High Value Grants fundraising: five big challenges in 2022

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the current grant fundraising landscape with eight Action Planning Associates, all highly experienced (and successful) in the field of fundraising from Trusts and Foundations.

We identified five of the big challenges facing charities in 2022 – issues that are not always fundraising-specific, but which are, nevertheless, important to funders and, therefore, need to be factored into the grants fundraising strategy of organisations across all fields.  

Challenge One: COVID-19

It should be hardly surprising that COVID-19 loomed large in our conversation. Funders have responded to the pandemic in different ways.

Our panel of Associates identified that some of their clients attracted high levels of grant support, arising from existing funding relationships, sometimes funding work they would not normally deliver. These charities may need to consider their exit strategies for this work and how to signpost new beneficiaries on to organisations that can support them in the long term.

Other charities missed out on the additional funding that was made available. These might need to look for opportunities for joint working with other organisations.  

Funders want to know how COVID has affected the lives of those we serve and how it has affected our organisations, both in terms of service delivery and in terms of fundraising and sustainability. Consider how your risk register shapes up. What about your safeguarding procedures – are they appropriate for working with your clients and beneficiaries via video calls, for example?

One of our Associates said, “Unchanged, pre-COVID safeguarding policies are going to sound very loud alarm bells for funders.”  

Very early on, the London Funders Alliance pledged a united stance of adaptability and support for the sector. Now almost 170 funders have signed up to the funding pledge. And today, funders themselves are working out their medium-term strategy, with some closing to new applicants for a period in order to continue to stabilise the charities with which they have an existing relationship.

The Institute for Voluntary Action Research has some great analysis, which can be found here.


Challenge Two: Lived Experience

Funders have long asked about “beneficiary-led involvement” in the planning and delivery of work. Lived Experience is the latest focus on ensuring that charitable activity reflects the experiences of those at the focus of a charity’s vision and mission.

As one of our associates put it, “If you can evidence that you are lived-experience led you have a significant benefit in the current funding environment. Pursue issues-led funding programmes because you will be ahead of the competition.”

NCVO has published a helpful paper considering some of these issues. You can read it here.


Challenges Three and Four: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and Climate Crisis

These are two very big issues and we barely scratched the surface of them in our discussion. Our panel homed in on a common factor: charities need to respond to EDI and the Climate Crisis in ways which go beyond the traditional (and inadequate) approach of simply having an Equal Opportunities policy and an Environmental policy.

Not to point the finger of “tokenism” at these approaches (or, as one Associate called it, “risking the usual claptrap”), but some funders are increasingly wanting to hear how charities are moving beyond equality of opportunity towards being proactively anti-racist; and how they are moving beyond “simply” recycling paper and ink toner cartridges towards taking appropriate action to reduce their carbon footprint?

The answers will need to be appropriate to your context, your work and your resources but it’s important to grant fundraisers because it’s important to funders. For some insights into these issues, have a read of the Driving DEI report, published recently by the DEI Coalition, and the 7 sustainability leadership principles arising from ACEVO’s climate crisis member working group.


Challenge Five: High Value

Our Associates were quick to point out that “high value” means different things in different contexts. A small-sized grant might be high value to a small organisation and truly high-value grants are extremely difficult to secure without an existing relationship with a funder. Prior contact with the funder before submitting a bid can help to build that relationship, but a previous grant is an even stronger positive factor. As with individual donor fundraising, retention is easier than recruitment, so – as always – we need to focus first on renewing existing support. 

The overriding message throughout the discussion was one that was true both before and in spite of all of the challenges mentioned here: “DON’T CHASE THE MONEY! Don’t be funder-led. Don’t let the tail wag the dog.” Avoid “plain and stupid mission drift”, which one Associate called “the bane of every good fundraiser.”  


Five Opportunities

Most of these are not new issues and they cannot be tackled by Trust fundraisers in isolation. But our team felt confident that Trust fundraisers are well-placed to be champions of best practice, creativity and vision within their organisations. Trust fundraisers should have the confidence to fight their corner and approach these five big challenges as opportunities. 

We’d love to hear your views on these five big challenges. Please share with us any resources that will help other Trust fundraisers to fight their corner, highlight some of the big challenges that you are facing and tell us if you disagree with these challenges or if we have missed any. 

If you need help to navigate the rapidly evolving Trust fundraising environment, why not contact Sean Tully for a no-obligation chat. We can support you to update or reshape your Trusts strategy, to identify funding prospects, and to plan and write strong funding applications. 

With thanks (in no particular order) to my fellow Associates Karon Phillips, Terry Ndee, Sandie Foster, Kathryn Kendall, Primavera Moretti, Nick Bussey and Linda Trew, for sharing their insights and experience.

Andrew Johnson

Sean Tully is an Action Planning Associate and a freelance professional fundraiser and charity consultant, specialising in Trusts fundraising, strategy and communication. Since 2008 he has worked successfully with the UK voluntary and not-for-profit sector, helping organisations to strategically plan for and pursue income from Trusts and Foundations, Lottery and Statutory sources.