A History of a Charity in Twenty Objects - #7

#7. Grant Applications and Rejections (2001 to… well, Infinity & Beyond!)

In 2004, we got stuck.

We'd continued to apply for project grants. There were rejections here and there, which always hurt, but we were mostly successful in securing grants for new projects.

The thing was, project grants could be used SOLELY for project costs. Nothing else. Project costs and that’s it.

If a project required a baby elephant to meet its objectives, then we could purchase a baby elephant*. 

But we couldn’t buy a stapler or a rubbish bin or even a ream of paper unless it was approved in the project budget. Don’t even think about paying for overhead costs like office space, utilities or salaries.

(In the interest of full disclosure, funders would provide funding for overhead costs within a project. It was called ‘Full Cost Recovery’. In your application, you could request ‘50% of overhead costs for the duration of the project’ and, if the funder decided that was a fair allocation, then you could pay overhead costs from the project grant.)

We were stuck, though, because we didn’t have staff or an office. 

Volunteers were running our organisation from a spare bedroom, using a shoebox as a file cabinet. It was a very fancy, very organised shoebox, but a shoebox nonetheless.

If we’d already had an office or staff, we could’ve included a Total Cost Recovery budget for it, but funders weren’t interested in helping us secure an office, or staff.

So, we were stuck.

We needed core funding.

Some people advised us, just keep doing your fantastic projects and eventually, you’ll get Arts Council core funding. None of these people, sadly, actually worked for the Arts Council.

In fact, the Arts Council was promoting financial sustainability and encouraging organisations in all sectors to figure out a way to fund themselves.

We liked that idea. 
We’d never thought of ourselves as a ‘worthy’ charity; our work was more likely to make people smile than to tug at their heartstrings. We’d always had this notion that, instead of begging for donations, we might use our creativity to generate income and fund our overhead costs.

As luck would have it, Kourtney had been spending weekends and holidays drawing all of London’s icons and landmarks. Her plan was to design and publish a London Children’s Map and then SELL it commercially.

We just needed £5,000 to pay for printing and packaging costs, and to fund a security deposit for an office space. 

So we wrote a funding proposal called ‘The Big If’:
“If we can get £5,000, this will help us start our journey toward sustainability…”
“If we can get £5,000 that is NOT tied to a project, we can invest in our organisation. And within five years, we will be funding ourselves…”
 “If we can get £5,000, you will never hear from us again…”
That was the ‘Big If’.

We sent it to a major arts funder.
They sent us a ‘Big No’.

We met with a grants officer at a City trust.
He met our enthusiasm with negativity.
According to him, the London Children’s Map would never sell. So that was another ‘No’.

We kept sending ‘The Big If’ to trusts and grant programmes. 
Many of them never replied. And that was that.

We’d love to finish this blog with a happy ending, but we can’t. 
Unfortunately, we have to leave you with the image of us, stuck in our tight spot, and Kourtney working feverishly on the London Children’s Map.

…to be continued! 

* Sadly, none of our projects ever required us to purchase a baby elephant, but boy oh boy, that would’ve been something to write home about!



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