A Beginner’s Guide to Statutory Fundraising

My career in fundraising started by a rather circuitous route. I’d been planning to open a cultural centre in Sheffield at a time when The Crucible was a lone beacon of the arts in the city. My plans for a multi-disciplinary centre, funded by a tapas bar on the ground floor, were thwarted by the request for a significant bribe to secure a change of use for our desired property and I suddenly found that I rather urgently needed a job.

Having just completed a Masters Degree in Contemporary Writing, a role at Rotherham Training and Enterprise Council as a Labour Market Analyst, wasn’t perhaps the most obvious move. My nine months in that position did however teach me two things, which I’ve kept firmly in mind for the last 20 years: the GCSE pass rate at the time for Rotherham was 14%. When I went into schools to speak to students about their future, I suddenly realised what an alien concept higher education was; the link between the idea of succeeding academically and succeeding in employment simply wasn’t there. However, Rotherham was, at the time, reaching the end of a period of significant investment as an EU priority region and I soon found myself developing and managing multi-million pound European funded initiatives, which enabled me to rapidly build a knowledge of the statutory sector.

Within two years, I would take up the role of Head of Trust Fundraising at the National Theatre; in part I’m sure because I had successfully applied my knowledge of statutory funds to my next, fundraising position at the RNID opening up significant new income avenues for the organisation. For me, both fundraising and the role which culture can play in society, were part of the social fabric I was brought up with; my mother was an artist and designer who also taught art in schools and I organised my first fundraising event aged eight. So the idea that the arts fulfil a range of needs and have different types of value, with the first and most important being the art itself, was a consistent theme from childhood.

The increasing dominance of this concept in the cultural funding agenda is leading cultural organisations to consider a broader base of statutory sources. Whereas previously an international festival may have established European partnerships to apply for funds to co-produce a major new work, now the application of these different value systems is leading a range of cultural organisations to look at opportunities, which they might not previously have considered relevant. So which are worth considering and how do you go about applying?

Statutory as a term essentially means governmental funding sources; in common parlance it is applied in the broadest sense to mean European Union and Commission, national government, lottery and even some charitable organisations, which act like statutory bodies.

The source we are all most familiar with as cultural organisations, is of course Arts Council England funding. Given that familiarity, I won’t dwell on ACE funding here other than to say that for those less familiar with ACE my colleague, Cerian Eiles, has written a very helpful article looking at how to apply for Grants for the Arts for the first time.

It’s also worth noting that the British Council, which was previously the go to source for international grants, has significantly less resource under an austerity budget than it previously had and as a result, international work has become an increased priority for ACE.

International cultural institutes, such as The Goethe and Cervantes Institutes, have some limited resources to promote the respective national culture in the UK, but these are usually small sums for support of important national artists.

Larger potential exists in lottery funds, which as I’ve noted, are not strictly speaking statutory sources at all, but are often referred to as such, perhaps because they are assessed purely against a set of criteria, as opposed to trusts where relationships are usually a factor. Having said that lottery sources are meritocratic, it’s still worthwhile establishing a relationship with a grants officer to talk through an application and any queries you may have, to ensure the bid is the best fit possible and it’s submission is anticipated.  Where organisations are in receipt of large lottery grants, officers are allocated to help manage and ensure the development of the projects and relationship.

Awards for All is a great place to start exploring lottery funding as the form is quick and easy to complete and as long as approached in the right way, has a very high success rate and is applicable to most cultural organisations with some kind of community engagement programme. (One common stumbling block to watch out for is to ensure that you have enough signatories to make a bid, I’ve seen a surprising number of charities prevented from applying on this technicality). When making an approach for lottery funding the key point is to ensure that you use the same frame of reference as the funder. This sounds obvious and is something most fundraisers are used to applying to a degree when writing trust bids, but the absolute change in context and approach can be hard to understand and even harder for senior management to appreciate and it’s often at this level that I see lottery bids blocked. For Awards for All you are essentially looking at a social agenda, culture simply becomes the delivery mechanism for the problem you are addressing. This challenge in this kind of shift in approach is often exemplified when cultural organisations with listed buildings look to funders, such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, for support for capital campaigns. It’s essential, but as I’ve found often extremely hard to communicate to arts organisations, that for this funder their value primarily lies in the built heritage and it’s that they are potentially supporting, not their role as an arts organisation; that’s the job of the Arts Council.  If you want both sources of funding, you have to demonstrate your value to both bodies.

The second issue is that statutory funders tend to look for a degree of rigour in monitoring and evaluation, which can be beyond what some cultural organisations are used to, so it’s essential to also consider not just whether you can make the bid, but whether you can deliver every aspect of the project they are looking for.

This principle also commonly applies to organisations looking for EU funding for the first time; many cultural organisations have been overwhelmed the intricacy of the financial management and reporting they have been asked to take on and I would always recommend honest reflection on your financial management systems before considering such a bid. You don’t want an EU audit of your organisation, it will take up inordinate time and energy and can cripple fundraising for years to come.

I would also strongly recommend attending one of the training days, which are run around the time of the EU funding calls. Remember, the forms you will be completing have been translated and as a result the language used and what is actually being looked for is sometimes not immediately clear. I’ve successfully applied for many large European Union grants and I still think it’s worth attending the workshop every time, because you simply can’t keep up with the specific details of the eligibility criteria, how priority countries are ranked, the meaning of an oddly translated question etc. etc. otherwise.

The structural European funds look primarily at employment and economic regeneration, which it’s usually best for cultural organisations to look at being partners in a wider consortium in making an approach to, or accessing this funding at a regional level once a successful bid has been made.  Your LEP (Local Economic Partnership) and local authority should be a good source of information on opportunities and how to position your project in line with regional priorities, such as cultural tourism. However, there are also a range of cultural programmes which require a number of international partners (usually between 4 and 7 countries) to make an approach. These programmes focus directly on culture and can be invaluable income sources. However, the overhead levels allowed are usually very low (around 7%), the projects are time consuming to manage and have stringent match funding requirements. As a result, I always recommend that cultural organisations only consider EU funding for projects that they had already identified and are committed to developing. They are not an efficient way of widening the income base per se.

One of the commonly overlooked sources is European Commission funding. These funds include those focusing on culture, education and youth. Usually trans-national, these funds tend to focus on opening up engagement opportunities in culture. Regularly checking websites such as Europa is essential as new opportunities are released all the time.

Finally, foundations such as The Wellcome Trust (which is the largest charity in the UK) are often considered as being rather like statutory bodies in that they are driven by a specific set of clearly set our criteria, and so appear meritocratic in nature. Whilst I would always argue that trusts are a tax efficient vehicle for achieving certain aims and are always informed by the individuals responsible for their governance to a degree, and that it is always worth trying to build a professional relationship with those individuals, there is certainly the opportunity for high quality projects to stand on their own merit when being assessed by such organisations.

In short, statutory funds can be a very useful complement to other funding sources where your focus as an organisation is established and the fit is achievable.  As with any funding source, it is rarely a good idea to fit your policy entirely around them.

Caroline McCormick  |  April 2015