Learning from failed bids
As a social enterprise, you’ll have to navigate a funding landscape that isn’t always clear. Most social enterprises have a mix of incomes, from more traditional commercial sales (e.g. selling some fairtrade chocolate), to investment (e.g. for those who can sell shares or take equity loans), to grants (e.g. for delivering services with high social impact but low or no commercial return).
At Impact Hub Islington, we’ve led or partnered on our fair share of bids. Sometimes you get ’em, sometimes you don’t. Grants are difficult because you’re often responding to someone else’s desired outcomes (which may or may not fit your current operation’s strengths and mission) and the time pressure can be enormous (most bids are published and open for a month, requiring you to put together detailed partnerships / budgets / plans).
At Impact Hub Islington, we also believe in learning from our failures. It can be harder to adapt learnings from what makes a bid brilliant – for example, maybe they just had a better idea – but we can always look back at what we failed at doing and how to improve for the future.
Here’s an excerpt of a rejection letter from RBS Inspiring Enterprise. Although it was a group message to all failed bids, we thought it was a great summary of the most common mistakes and a great checklist to run through on future bids.
From RBS Inspiring Enterprise:
Unfortunately we have received too many applications to give everyone tailored feedback, but we do have some general guidance that applies to all applications.
Firstly, make sure your application has clear enterprise outcomes, we are interested in funding projects which inspire or support people into enterprise or self employment. If the focus of your application is employability then that would not be something we are looking to fund.
Organisations that are able to demonstrate a history of experience in the field of enterprise will also score more highly.
Applications that describe the use of previous evaluations and how those evaluations have been used to improve programmes pick up points in at least 2 areas, so applications that did not do this dropped crucial points.
When describing the evidence of need, please remember that we are already aware of the national statistics. The most interesting applications are from organisations that are able to provide evidence from their own records as to the demand for their project or the barriers to enterprise in their particular location. What do you as an organisation know and how has this influenced your application?
Always state clearly how many people you are expecting to reach, applications that do not provide an estimate cannot score highly in the process.
We expect outcomes to be clearly detailed, again with estimated targets. If an application is aiming to increase confidence in enterprise that’s a great outcome but we would like more detail about how you are going to measure that increase and what your targets are.
The highest scoring applications link project outcomes to overall impact. Essentially we are looking to answer the ‘so what?’ question. To continue with the increased confidence in enterprise example, what will the impact be and do you intend to measure it to know if your project has been successful.
Finally all applications must include a governing document showing that your organisation does not distribute profits, and has objects which are relevant to the youth enterprise theme. A full year’s accounts is also essential, so if you have been trading for less than a year you will not be able to meet this criteria.
We’ve learned a lot from this, hope you can too.