A recent article ‘Understanding the hidden costs of grant making’ really got to the heart of the charitable sector problem. Its shocking revelations concluded that it often costs more to apply for a grant than the money you receive! That is of course if you are successful; with most applications it seems you’ve got more chance of winning the lottery than being given the cash.
So much work goes into even small grant applications; reading the guidelines, understanding the questions, making up another budget, getting three quotes for small amounts of work, speaking to funders. Then you are rejected but with no explanation as to why. Understandably many charities don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them and an unequal partnership has developed where you tip your hat for any crumbs you can get.
The stark reality is, like so many small charities we will always need grants to keep going. Despite cutting our budget to the bone, it still costs £6,700 a month to keep our head above water. It’s a tedious hand to mouth struggle which makes planning for the future impossible. That’s why its so frustrating when you get someone telling us what we need to do to make us sustainable like tapping up business. Like we haven’t tried! Many businesses are happy to give you a team building day but no cash for organising it. We’ve been hunting for years in totally wired Brighton for someone to revamp our website but with no luck. School funding has been shot to pieces, disabled people’s services have been slashed, with new people being sent to us with the expectation that we can provide a free service. If we charged our true costs the people we set up to support wouldn’t be able to access our services. We’ve been busy in the summer holidays with visits by Moulsecoomb Primary youngsters, children from the carers centre and Into University. It’s income, the sort grant funders love, but it doesn’t really touch the sides.
That’s not to say they are not important. It’s why we exist! At our busy open day, parents from Moulsecoomb Primary booked up our free summer scheme course before we’d even advertised it. These are exactly the children we want to support, those who often miss out on these experiences for whatever reason. We organised a fishing trip for older ones that unfortunately had to be cancelled because of the weather. Getting parents to fill in consent forms was a logistical nightmare, so once again those that really need a break and the chance to do something different, miss out.
So while I’m filling in another monitoring report for another small pot of money I wonder why our annual report and accounts won’t do. I know the people on trusts means well, but they need to put themselves in our shoes and realise that they are often contributing to small charities drowning in paperwork and stopping them doing what they are meant to be doing in the first place. Just ask yourself, why so many questions and what do you really need all those monitoring reports for? As one young lad excitedly scoffed the raspberries, a fruit he said he had never tried before and hunted for newts, a pond creature he had never seen, we know that our work is needed more than ever. Funders need to rip up those forms and start again, go visit projects to see what they really get up too before there’s no small charities left to support.
* Like what we do? One easy way to support our work is to become a Friend of the Forest Garden. Currently we earn over £400 a month this way and it really helps with budgeting.
* Don’t believe us? Pop up one Friday to see what we get up to, share a meal with everyone and see how our little charity tackles some of the big issues head on – like loneliness, food poverty, education and feeling part of a community. We might even let you dig for some spuds.