A cuppa and a catch up with Katherine Williams - fundraising consultant.
Katherine Williams works as a freelance consultant supporting charities and other organisations with fundraising and project development, amongst other things. In this blog post, Katherine offers some amazing funding application tips and advice.
Since 2011, Katherine has raised over £8million for charities and good causes.
Can you tell us a little about you and your business?
I’m a freelance consultant providing support to charities and other organisations with fundraising, project development, strategic planning and project evaluation. I’m also a mum and chair of a local charity. Working freelance allows me to fit work around other priorities in my life.
Many years ago I worked for Sheffield Wildlife Trust. My job was managing people, managing budgets, developing projects, representing the organisation, developing partnerships etc etc - a typically broad role in a charity. I moved to Northumberland in 2011 with a three year old son and I knew that I wanted to do something that would work around him and I definitely didn’t want to do a job which involved commuting.
As a manager, I loved project development/bid writing but often found it hard to prioritise these things simply because there was never enough time. I had worked with consultants/freelancers who had provided additional skills and capacity to areas where we needed some extra help - I could see the value of this and thought I could give it a go.
12 years later I have never looked back!
I have supported a range of organisations from small community groups to large charities and public sector bodies. I’ve learnt so much, dipping my toe into new sectors as well as building on my environmental and community background. My work has taken me to new places, put me in touch with new people and enabled me to learn from a wide range of organisations. I’ve made new friends, built professional relationships and, most importantly to me, allowed my family to grow while doing a job I enjoy. I provide support to develop project ideas, write funding applications and evaluate projects. I can also support strategic planning, policy reviews, skills audits, options appraisals - anything that requires a logical and strategic mind! I know not everyone loves spreadsheets but I really do and I think we should all play to our strengths. I don’t consider myself particularly creative but I am good at putting together a strong argument and working out budgets. I think I am good at asking the questions that a funder will ask and helping organisations to answer these. Ultimately, I know I am helping good causes and the icing on the cake is seeing projects fly once they have got funding.
What type of organisations do you work with and support?
I tend to work on heritage and community projects - that is my background and where I think I can add most value to a project. I work with a range of organisations - from small community groups such as village halls or after school clubs to churches, museums, charities and public sector bodies. I don’t have much experience of working with individuals or private sector business - I’m always happy to chat and share advice but I probably wouldn’t take on a contract like that.
Some of the projects I am currently supporting are Coastlands project development with the Northumberland Coast AONB partnership, evaluating Bailiffgate Museum & Gallery’s Out of Town Museum Project (Coquetdale) and legacy planning for the Hirst Park Revival Project in Ashington. How I work depends on what the client needs - I might be leading the project development at every stage or I might help them write a case for a support and funding plan and then hand over to them to submit the bid. I’m always happy to talk this through and agree the best way forward. I have 12 years’ experience of working with a range of organisations and I draw on this to provide the best advice that I can. If I cannot support professionally I am always happy to share what I know or point you in the direction of other sources of help. One of the biggest challenges is that I can never give any guarantee about likely funding success. I have an excellent track record but I have also worked on bids which have been unsuccessful. I hope that my time is never wasted - the work I do will always inform a resubmission or could translate into another bid to a different funder.
Working through a project and putting together a robust project plan should always be a useful process. I strongly believe it is good to take risks and sometimes we need to go for funding which is more of a “long shot”. Having said that, I will always discuss this with and I have turned work down before because I don’t think the application is likely to be successful.
How do you think the funding sector has changed over the last few years?
I find this question quite difficult to answer and I think that is because I try not to think too much about what I can’t change. I don’t think I am an expert in funders but I am good at responding to them and preparing applications which say what funders want to know.
One thing I have noticed is that funders are getting more robust - there are fewer easy wins these days. They want to be sure that their money will make a difference and I see far fewer funders giving money to projects which are not well worked up.
I think they are increasingly focusing on outcomes and change - it used to be enough to say “We will run x events” and I think very few funders will let you get away with that now. That can be frustrating at times but it can also be a positive - setting these things out in advance and articulating clear goals is not necessarily a bad thing.
Do have any advice for cultural freelancers or smaller organisations looking to diversify their income?
Above all, set out your own priorities, strategy and ambitions first and then look at which funding fits. Avoid the temptation to be led by whatever funding opportunity you have heard of. The same goes for pursuing charitable status - yes, that might open up some grant funding opportunities but that should never be the reason for being a charity. Put yourself and your reason for existing first! I find the Theory of Change tool really helpful - it works at every level and helps to set out why you do what you do. Start with what you are trying to change and work back from that. Then identify how you are going to pay for it all (and that might involve phasing things in or identifying different tiers of ambition). For organisations, understand your core costs and overheads - what costs do you have such as insurance, admin, premises, payroll etc which are not connected to projects? Once you understand this, you may be able to apply for funding which will support these costs (helping you to keep going as an organisation) and you can also apportion them to projects so that every time you apply for project funding you include a slice of your core costs. My top tips for writing grant applications would be:
1. Read all the supporting information, FAQs and guidelines. Ask yourself, do you/your organisation/your project really fit the criteria? Make sure you understand how much you can ask for, what information they need etc. Not all funders offer advice but, if they do, take them up on it and listen to what they have to say. You do not have to apply for everything - writing a funding application is a significant investment of your time, use it wisely.
2. Read the questions carefully and make sure your answers tell them what they want to know.
3. Focus on what will change if you get the money - how will funding make a difference to your organisation, your volunteers, project participants, your own development etc? Be clear about what is happening now and what will change if your project goes ahead. Make sure you can back this up with evidence.
4. Get someone else to read your bid before you submit. It doesn’t have to be a fundraising consultant like me - ask someone who doesn’t know your project too well to read the application and make sure it makes sense. By the way, I do this too - it is easy to get immersed in a funding application and not be able to read it objectively. I often get someone else to double check before I submit.
5. Be realistic. Remember you will have to report on your project so don’t promise things that you can’t deliver or you can’t evidence. Your ambition needs to match the scale of the grant too - you are not going to change the world for a couple of thousand pounds but you might give some people new experiences and inspire them to try something that they have never done before.