Transparency: funding tips for social entrepreneurs (and politicians)

After watching the Obama inauguration (flicking between various online video streams before ending up with the trusty BBC) earlier this week, I attended a Teach First Ambassadors event, at which SSE Fellow Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa was speaking. I won't eulogise Tokunbo and the work of his organisation, Catch 22: he gets enough of that these days, being a social enterprise ambassador and all.

I did, however, want to share some of his useful funding tips to the prospective social entrepreneurs / teachers and former teachers present, as there was some useful stuff. He pointed to some key areas:

research: the criteria, the grants / investments previously given, the size of organisations they were given to (to help gauge what you should go for)

relationships: use the "could you spare me 15 minutes of your time?" rule to get time with individuals at a funding organisation: the higher-up the better, but all staff can give you a feel for the culture / approach; nurture the relationships, and keep them up-to-date with progress; seek ways in; never submit a blind application without talking to someone

realism: about what you will get; about what you can deliver (the old "underpromise, overdeliver" rule); about the challenges you face; about the mission-money decisions (particularly in current climate)

transparency: (if only it began with 'R') be honest and open in your dealings with people; about your promises; and about the success (or lack of) of your projects; transparent reporting and accountability builds trust, and trust builds credibility…and credibility leads to more funding…

I'd add a couple of things to that (Tokunbo had more as well): one is don't take it personally, or think it's (necessarily) about the quality of the funding bid / project. It can be about the level of competition, very subjective trustee opinions or bad timing as much as about what you have written / your idea. The other thing is to be "always on" and don't silo fundraising into one person: everyone in the organisation can spot opportunities, build relationships and develop networks.

On the subject of transparency, worth noting that Obama emphasised it in his speech. Simultaneously, our politicians were trying to become less transparent by hiding away details of their expenses. Thanks to a great campaign co-ordinated by techie social entrepreneur Tom Steinberg and MySociety, this plan was reversed the day before it was meant to go through. Great congratulations to those campaigning, and to those who wrote to their MPs, joined groups, made calls etc. Shame it took such a campaign to make our politicians realise (as Obama does) that transparency builds trust which builds credibility…..

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