Covid-19 has caused financial difficulties across the board, but the good news is that different types of financial support are now becoming available.
For leisure-time music groups, new or repurposed pots of grant funding are the most viable. There are a whole range of funds to apply for and different amounts available, and a little money can go a long way to making a difference.
Before you start looking at what funding is available, it's important to think about what you want the funding for. Grant funding can undoubtedly be part of your group's financial health, but you must also consider the role it would play.
If you have serious, ongoing financial problems, it is better to try and address these in a more sustainable way. Funding can help bridge a gap, but if you do not address the more fundamental problems, the gap will always be there, and sooner or later the funding won’t be.
We think it is best to view grant funding as a way of solving a short-term problem or to fund a specific, one-off project.
Writing a grant application
In order to get grants, you will often need to complete some form of application. This may seem intimidating, but writing an application can be an extremely rewarding process. Often (but not always), there will be a limited pot and many other people competing for the fund. In order to give yourself the best possible chance, here are some tips to guide you through the process.
Most grants will define who is eligible to apply for them. Some funders will only support charities or properly constituted not-for-profit organisations. Others might be more wide-ranging. Some might have different grants that only support organisations in a certain postcode, or of a certain size in terms of turnover (small or big). Make sure you're definitely eligible for the grant before you embark on an application. If something is a little vague and you're not quite sure what it means, then contact the funder and ask. It's always better to get clarity before you invest time in an application.
Read and follow the guidance
Before you begin your application, sit and read all of the guidance that comes with it, from start to finish. Then re-read it and make sure you follow it! It's a good idea to print it out and have it by your side as you work on your application and keep referring to it. If you follow everything it says, you'll undoubtedly improve your chances of being successful.
Write a checklist of all the parts you need
Every application will ask for a few different things from you. They will require some written answers and perhaps some attachments (a budget, a copy of your bank statement, a letter from your chair, or perhaps a short video). So write a checklist of everything you need, and then immediately start work on those on the list that might appear simple, but will, by their very nature, require more time. For example, some grants require proof that you have two signatories on your bank account - which might mean you need to get a document from your treasurer, or even your bank. Put those requests in now, so they can be gathered while you're busy writing the main body of the application. That way, everything will arrive in good time for when you need it.
Write your application somewhere other than the grant portal
Often you'll submit your grant through some kind of online portal. Perhaps you'll have to enter your answers into an online form, and then upload additional attachments one at a time. Online portals don't usually save your work as you go, or they might 'time out' before you've saved, leading you to lose some of your work. Or you might close the window on your computer by mistake and everything disappears. So it's always best practice to log in and copy the questions from the portal into your favourite word-processing software, or use a tool like Google Docs and write out your answers there. Then all you need to do is copy and paste them into the portal when you're ready to submit.
Allow more time than you think
Grant applications always take longer than you think. Perhaps that's because there's a word limit (or character limit), where you'll need to edit and re-edit to pack all the information into your answers. Perhaps you'll need to create or gather various supporting documents, like a budget, company accounts, letters of support or marketing material. Perhaps you'll want to read, re-read and finally finesse your application before you feel confident enough to press 'submit'. If you allow plenty of time, you won’t feel frustrated with the process or need to cram things in at the end.
Stay within the word (or character) limit
Most applications set a word or character limit for each answer. Usually, the portal will tell you if you've gone over this limit - but not always. Every word processor also counts things slightly differently - for example, some count the spaces between words, while others don't. Use a free tool like Character count online to help check your count. These tend to get the figure more accurate, so you'll have less editing to do when you make your final submission.
Use bullet points
If you've got a lot to say in an answer but only so many words to do so, then use bullet points. It might not feel as eloquent as well-built sentences, but it will help you get lots of information across in a small space, and that's what you need to do to ensure you hit every point of the application.
Constantly collect evidence
A great way to tell your story is to have others help tell it for you. You know those lovely comments you get from your members, the audiences or your local community about the work you do? Jot them down and keep them because they are wonderful to have to hand when you come to write a grant application. Keep digital copies of some photographs of your events, or copies of your favourite artwork. They'll often help bring your application alive.
Keep things organised
Set yourself up right from the start and be organised. Create a folder - with some subfolders - for all the different documents that will go with the application. Have one subfolder for all the guidance, help notes and any templates you have to use. Have another for all your workings-out, notes and drafts. Keep different versions of your narrative saved as you move along - it's worth saving different drafts rather than typing over previous versions, just in case you change your mind about something. Then have a folder with all the final polished versions ready for upload. All this will help you as you work through the application.
Budget for contingency
If you're having to write a budget for your application, then allow a line for contingency - because however much you prepare, there may be costs that are different to your projections, or there may be a cost you forget all about. Putting in a 'contingency' line gives you a little cushion. Putting 3-6% of the overall budget as a contingency line is good practice, depending on the size of the grant. Some grants help you with this and remind you to include contingency in your budget, but others don't.
Upload attachments as PDFs (if you can)
Unless the application specifies otherwise, then upload or submit your attachments - such as budgets, letters of support or marketing examples - as PDFs. You will most likely be working on one computer using one piece of software, but the person downloading your application will be on another machine using something different, and may be emailing it to many assessors all on different platforms. If you share Word documents or Excel spreadsheets as they are, assessors may not have the same fonts or printer margins, or countless other formatting differences that mean your nicely presented document comes out odd at their end. If you save your attachments as PDFs, you can check they look as you'd like them to before you upload them. This is a handy trick which not many people consider.
Submit before the final deadline
Sometimes portals don't quite work as they should. Or if it's a particularly big deadline, they crash on the day. If you can submit your application before the final deadline, you'll have more time to tackle any issues as you upload, and you'll avoid everyone else piling in on deadline day.
Is your group currently seeking financial support? Find a funding opportunity
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.