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Frequently Asked Questions

Click on the section headings to see frequently asked questions and answers.


Can you give us some funding?
We can't, but we can help you to find organisations that might! SYFAB supports voluntary and community organisations to find funding from other sources. We aren't funders ourselves.

Can we come and see you or can you come to us?
Our day-to-day contact with groups is over the phone and by email. We also run training courses, Meet the Funder events and local group support sessions where you will be able to talk to staff. If it is difficult for you to access our services any other way, we can come out and visit you.

Where does SYFAB get its money from?
SYFAB's work is currently funded by Sheffield City Council. We also raise some of our own funds through selling services such as training and consultancy.

Setting up an organisation

I'm confused, how do I start?
You need to have certain things in place as a group before most funders will consider you. One is a constitution, which sets out what your group does and how it is managed (see 'What is a constitution and why do I need one?' below). Another is a bank account in the group's name, needing at least two signatories. Lastly, you need to know what you want to fundraise for (this is called 'the project'), and how much you need. When you've got this information, you can go onto our website and start searching for suitable funders. There are lots of resources on there to help you.

What is a constitution and why do I need one?
A constitution is a written set of rules which includes the aims and objectives of your organisation, a general description of how these will be carried out and the structure of the management committee. Groups can operate without a constitution but they are then considered informal groups and will find it hard to apply for funding. While a constitution is probably the most common type of governing document in the voluntary sector, there are other types available depending on the legal structure of your organisation (see 'Which is the right legal structure for me' below).

Which is the right legal structure for me?
There are a range of legal structures available for voluntary and community sector organisations and it is important to get the right advice on the best type for you. For example, there is little point setting up as a Community Interest Company if you don't have a service or product that you can sell to anybody. Your local Voluntary Action or CVS should be able to provide this type of advice to you (there may be a charge for this service).

I'm not a registered charity, can I fundraise?
Yes, many smaller organisations are not registered charities and operate as constituted groups. If your income is below £5,000 you cannot register as a charity but can still be considered charitable and apply for funding. If your income is above this level, you should register with the Charity Commission to become a registered charity. Many funders will only fund registered charities but some will also fund constituted groups. SYFAB's Funding Search allows you to select funders who will fund groups not registered as charities.

Deciding on a project

What is a project?
'Project' has a very clear meaning in a funding bid. It's the bit you want them to fund. Many people will use the word to refer to their whole organisation, so it can be confusing at first. Be clear what you are asking for - your project could be one activity, a piece of equipment or a particular job. It could also be a year's worth of activity, in which case the project and organisation descriptions can be very similar.

When funders ask for evidence of need, what do they mean?
You might have a brilliant idea for a project, but the funder will want to know whether it will be successful - is there a demand for it and how can you demonstrate this? When money is tight, they will want to fund projects working in areas where need is greatest. If you want to improve people's health, you'll need to show that it is particularly bad in your area, and that there aren't other people offering similar services already. You need to make your case by researching areas like deprivation statistics, Council or Health reports, information from national bodies and so on. We have an information sheet on useful sources of statistics [LINK]. It's also important to include local information - have you researched what's currently available, and what the people you want to help would like to see (see 'how can I consult with my users?' below)?

How can I consult with my users?
It's a good idea to ask the people who use, or may use, your group or service what they would like and what is important to them. This helps to show funders that it's not just you that has had a bright idea for a project, but that potential users are behind the idea or have had input into developing it too. You could survey your group members or the local community - doing this at a meeting or event could be a good idea as then you can get the surveys back straight away without having to rely on them being posted back to you. If you have email addresses, you could devise a simple online survey to send out to your users or potential users. You could also talk face-to-face to your users or the local community, again at an event or meeting or by setting up a stall where people are going to be such as at the local health clinic or supermarket (with permission of course) and recording the answers.

I've got a good idea but the committee aren't behind it
That's why many funders ask for two contacts to support a bid! The committee has overall responsibility for what the group does, so they need to agree what bids are going in. If a bid goes in without their knowledge, it could prevent them applying to that funder for a year, so it's vital that they plan and agree what they are going to do. You need to talk to them and find out what their concerns are.

Identifying funders

Where can I get money for my project from?
There are several sources of funding - you can run fundraising events, charge membership or admission, sell goods and services (individually or as part of a contract). You can work in partnership with the private sector, or wealthy individuals. There are also grants, given by charitable trusts, the National Lottery, or (in decreasing amounts) by Councils or health bodies. Each type of funding has its own pros and cons. Decide which ones are best for what you want to do.

Can I have a list of funders?
There are directories listing thousands of charitable trusts you could apply to. They will have different priorities, will fund in different areas, give different amounts or fund only certain types of organisation. It's better to search for ones which are likely to fund your particular project (see 'How do I pick the right funder?' below).

How do I pick the right funder?
You can use SYFAB's Funding Search tool! On our website you can do a search of possible funders, based on the people you are helping, where your project is based, how much money you need, and what you want the funding for. This search will give you a list of the funders best suited to the project you want to fund and the type of costs you are looking to meet.

What sort of funders will be interested in my project?
The ones that share your organisation's aims and motivations. Look for specific links to the work that you do - for example, 'we fund children's activities'. Use our Funding Search to check for funders that fit in terms of client group, grant size, and geography. It's also good to get clues to a funder's vision - one funder says 'we want to address the needs of people in society who suffer the effects of institutional injustice'. Look at the language they use, to see whether they share your passions.

Who will fund computers?
Lots of funders - use our Funding Search based on who you will be helping. Most won't say 'we fund computers', but if you want to help local unemployed people by offering IT classes, or need a computer to keep your group's accounts and membership records, it will be seen by the funder as part of the necessary costs of your project. Don't forget to include the extras such as broadband connection, software, printer ink and insurance. And a lockable cupboard to keep it in.

Can I have contact details for XX funder?
If it's a big national funder or a local South Yorkshire one, yes - enter their name on our Funding Search, and it will give you links to their website, as well as email, postal address, and phone number (if available).

How do I find out about and keep up to date with funding opportunities?
Our Funding News emails give you the latest new opportunities, covering all sorts of different funders. It's also worth scanning local papers and Council mailings.

Planning a funding bid

We need to fund an event next month, can you help?
No, but we can help you decide who could fund it next year, and help you to plan when you should be preparing applications.

How long does it take to get money?
We would recommend allowing at least six to nine months to fundraise; you need time to complete a good application and funders only meet at certain times of the year, some quarterly, some only once a year. For a major capital project, or substantial running costs, you need to allow more time to fundraise. There are some funds which are designed to be a quick process, however. For example, BIG Lottery's Awards for All scheme aims to give you a decision within 30 working days of receiving a completed application. So do check the funder you are applying to for specific timescales.

How many funders should I apply to?
It's always a good idea to apply to several, as it increases your chances of success. Use our Funding Search to select suitable funders, pick out those with the best fit in terms of priorities, deadlines and grant size, and send off the bids. Around half a dozen is a respectable number. This is established practice - funders know you are likely to be doing this, and may well collaborate if they see you have written to a neighbouring funder.

What is a business plan?
It sets out how you will get from A to B. The first stage in writing a plan is to decide where you want to go. Suppose your organisation currently offers an outreach service and, having looked at its environment, current trends and plans within Council and Health bodies, decides to change to offering telephone or online support. A business plan will set the current scene, and describe the thinking behind the change. It will set out the practical steps needed to make the change happen - staffing implications, changes to premises, IT and phone system requirements, how the change will be communicated to users. It will detail the costs involved, any fundraising required, the risks, and the planned timescale. You may be asked to provide a business plan for large bids - it shows the funders you have rigorously analysed what you are wanting to do.

Can I do building work if I don't own the building/land?
Yes, but a funder will want to see some form of 'security of tenure'. This would commonly be a lease, which guarantees your use of the land or building. The funder doesn't want to see the new building they've just contributed to torn down to make way for houses after a year. How long a lease you need will depend on the cost of the project - check each funder's guidelines as they can vary. As an example, Sport England needs a 10 year lease on buildings getting grant between £50,000 and £100,000.

Can I pay myself a salary from the funding?
It's possible, and depends on the structure of your group. For an unincorporated association or registered charity, you can't if you're on the management committee or Board of Trustees, as these are voluntary roles. The committee that makes and/or authorises the bid must employ someone else to carry out paid work. Companies limited by guarantee and co-operatives could pay themselves, provided they meet the eligibility criteria (for example, the Big Lottery Fund requires a minimum of three directors), and provided you can be clear why one of the directors is best placed to deliver the services. Funders often insist that any funded post has an open selection procedure. Regardless of your set-up, though, any funder will want to know that your motive for applying is to benefit the community/cause rather than to pay your mortgage.

Why won't they just give me the money?
Many charitable trusts are only able to fund around one in ten applications, because they receive so many of them. They have to choose between applications, so they need to know what you're doing, who it will help, and what difference it will make. All funders have their own priorities, so they also need to know that the work you want to do fits the work they want to fund. Finally, funders want to know that the organisations they are funding are capable of doing the work they have described, so that the money isn't wasted.

Writing funding bids

Can you help me with my application?
Yes. Writing a funding bid can be a daunting thing to do, especially if you're new to it. Look at our Funding KnowHow resources to help you, and get in touch if you get stuck. We run an application checking service where you can send us your draft applications and we will suggest comments and improvements. Get in touch with us to see how we can help.

How much should I apply for?
As much as you need. Don't go for the 'gold plated' option, but equally, don't try and do things on the cheap. If you need toys for a playscheme, funders will understand that they need to be good and strong - cheap ones will break and need replacing sooner. Don't include special offers in your costs - they might have finished by the time you get the money. Groups are often scared of seeming greedy - but if you know what you need to do the work, that's what funders want you to ask for.

What are in-kind contributions?
They are goods, services or even time that help your project, but aren't money. Examples are free use of a community room, photocopying done by a local firm, or the time volunteers give to run activities or manage the organisation. Some funders won't give 100% of the costs of a project, and will ask for match funding. Often, some of this can be 'in kind' contributions as well as other money coming in, and once all volunteers' time is counted up, this can be a high proportion of the cost of the work.

How do I prepare a budget?
We have resources that can help you with this - please see the KnowHow section of the website. The basic steps are to identify what you want to do, list all the resources/items involved, and work out a cost for each one. It's important the costs are realistic - don't go for cheap equipment that won't last, or special offers that might end. Equally, don't go overboard - if you need a laptop to keep accounts and minutes, it won't need a top of the range graphics card. There are things that often get left out of budgets, so don't be caught out - items like VAT, insurance, consumables and storage are sometimes forgotten. If your project is running for longer than a year, you will also need to factor in the cost of inflation for certain items - will that room hire charge have increased in twelve months' time?

What are capital and revenue costs?
Capital costs are one-off costs for things which will be long-term assets, such as buildings, equipment or vehicles - for example, installing a playground, or refurbishing, buying or constructing a youth centre, or purchasing an IT system for your organisation. Revenue costs are those associated with running your projects - for example, salaries, consumables, publicity, venue hire. Some funders prefer capital costs, as they only happen once, whereas revenue costs will recur each year. It's always important to check each funder's definition, and their own guidelines on the costs they will consider.

What are core costs?
Core costs are sometimes called overheads or running costs. They are the costs associated with the running of your whole organisation, that cannot be accounted for by one single project. You might be running a community centre which holds a lunch club, a youth club and an adult education class. You manage all three projects. The cost of your salary is a core cost, because you work across all the projects. The cost of heating the building would also be a core cost, as all the projects use the building. The cost of the lunch club worker, however, would be a revenue cost as that person only works on the lunch club project.

How do I apply for funding for our core costs?
There is guidance available on ways of apportioning your core costs so that each of your projects takes a fair share - see, for example, BIG Lottery fund's guide to full cost recovery. Some funders don't fund core costs at all, some are happy to consider them, and some will fund a reasonable proportion of your core costs in addition to specific project costs. Check each funder's guidance for this. If you are looking for funding for core costs on SYFAB's funding search, ticking the box marked 'core costs' will generate a list of funders who will consider them.

Can I get funding from the same funder twice?
Sometimes. Read the guidance - funders are usually very clear about whether you can apply to them again. Some will say yes, perhaps for a different project. Others may say you can't apply again within a certain timescale. With charitable trusts, it can be very useful to build up a relationship with them which may lead to further funding. Recent research showed that a lot of trusts are only funding people they know - they regarded bids from new groups as risky compared to funding groups they knew would deliver.

Getting the results of your funding bid

What if two funders offer us the money?
You've done very well! It is often possible to negotiate to keep the money, but you must be open with each funder. If you've asked for something that can only be a one-off, contact the funder most likely to be flexible (this would be a charitable trust, not the Lottery or a statutory grant), and ask whether you can use the money for something similar. There's a good chance they will say yes - if they like you enough to offer a grant, they would rather you keep the money. If you've asked for something that can be expanded (for example, running activity sessions for twelve months rather than six), it's worth checking whether this would be acceptable. The golden rule here is - talk to the funder.

My bid has been rejected, what can I do?
If possible, ask them why your bid wasn't successful. Smaller funders may not be able to give feedback, but larger ones, particularly the Lottery, can offer helpful advice on what would improve a future bid. Because competition for funds is so tight, it's important to apply to several funders at a time to improve your chances, so hopefully one of the bids will be successful. If you want to re-apply, check the funder's requirements. Some will let you put in a modified bid straight away, but others may ask you to wait before you can apply again - possibly for up to a year.

Why won't anyone fund my project?
If your application for funding isn't successful, try to get feedback from the funder if possible. There could be several reasons for a lot of rejections - while your project may be very dear to you, perhaps funders don't see it as being workable, or of value to the community. Ask someone who can be honest with you what they think. Are you a properly set up group? Perhaps you're applying to unsuitable funders, or not presenting your project clearly enough. SYFAB may be able to help you too - read our tips for writing good application forms in the Funding KnowHow section of our website, or consider using our application checking service (see 'Can you help me with my application?' above).

Contracts and tendering

Should I be looking at public service contracts?
Possibly. A lot of things that Councils and local authorities do are now open for organisations to bid for, so if the activity fits with your group's aims, and it's something the committee agrees is right, then you could look into it. Only incorporated groups (companies or CIOs) should consider this, as the group would need to sign a contract. Things to be cautious of are the costs involved - make sure you price your services fully, so that you at least break even on the work, and ideally make a surplus. Also consider the commitment needed - don't try and do too much; if you're a local group, is it realistic to bid for borough-wide work? If there's a voluntary sector consortium in your area, it's worth considering joining. They do the bidding process, then allocate work out to members in more digestible chunks.

What is commissioning and procurement?
It's the term for how large organisations get goods and services. It can involve simply ordering pens from a supplier, or putting big pieces of work out to tender.

Faith groups, schools, councils, political organisations and overseas work

Can I get funding for my church activities?
Many funders specifically exclude funding for projects which promote religion or are aimed at people from one religion or congregation only. However, funders will often fund churches and other religious organisations to run projects which benefit the whole community such as youth projects, lunch clubs, homelessness projects or will fund church facilities, such as halls, which the whole community can use. The two tests are: is the activity open to anyone in the community, not just church members, and is there no promotion of religion involved. Historic churches may be able to get specific heritage grants for the fabric of their buildings.