When I was working for a big national Trust, I spent a lot of (very enjoyable) time visiting projects that were looking for funding. Of course, one of the main things I had to find out was an answer to the simple question – if we give you a grant, will you keep going for long enough to spend it?
Some groups had good unrestricted reserves. Some (very few) had contracts running with their local authorities and were in a good position to renew. A couple were somewhere near the start of major Big Lottery funding. One even had Samantha Cameron fundraising for them – well, if it works don’t knock it.
But an awful lot of them were more or less skint, doing the (metaphorical) scrabble down the back of the sofa, surviving on bits and bobs from small Trusts or just sitting and waiting for the funding axe to fall. And these were the visits I grew to dread, because even as I asked “well, how do you plan to meet your future funding shortfall?” I was braced for the worst possible answer. Shining eyes would be lifted to mine as they shared their great idea, and I would have to try my best to show a) surprise and b) joy as I was told, yet again, “Oh it will be fine – we’re going to open a cafe!”. A cafe, down the wrong end of a cul-de-sac. In space they actually needed for their activities. In a cold church hall with the ambience of a breezeblock. Staffed by untrained, unsupported, uninterested service-users. Well, I would write careful notes, smile and leave feeling very depressed indeed and thinking deep thoughts about false hope, and how much energy it wastes.
Until, one happy day…
The organisation and project were both good. Their church-hall venue on a deprived high-street was a bit bashed about but there was an unmistakable buzz about the place. But we had to face the elephant in the room – a big shortfall in funding for the next financial year and a titchy reserve, most of which was needed as a close-down fund. There were some good ideas in their funding strategy, but as is usual nowadays they were going to have to do a helluva lot of work filling in forms just to get small driblets of cash, and the two women in front of me looked cheerful but very, very tired. And then……Oh no, the C Word!
“We’re also planning to start up a business, a Cafe”. “Are you?” I replied, with an almost hysterical cheerfulness. “I don’t suppose you have a business plan…..?”
Oh yes, they had a business plan. They had cashflow. They had a separate funding strategy for the new venture.They had found a couple of big Trusts who would be interested in funding employment training opportunities for their clients, funding that would help a lot with meeting core costs. They had done some market research – they knew the average footfall past the Hall. They had found a mentor with business experience, who was working with the sub-committee of Trustees who were leading on the plans. A local company wanted to help with doing-up the separate room (with separate entrance) that would be their venue. The service user Committee had come up with the original idea, and they couldn’t wait to start training as Baristas.
I managed not to burst into tears of joy, but I tell you – it was close.
Try the Toolkit below for ideas if you are thinking about income generation. Making something like this work means detail, and this is a very good source of checklists!