At funder gatherings or training courses, one of the top questions revolves around how many proposals foundations receive and how likely applicants are to be successful. It’s a huge concern – particularly for smaller trusts and foundations that may be managed on a part-time or even voluntary basis. It’s also one of the reasons that many trusts and foundations are wary of having a completely open application process or even of accepting any unsolicited proposals at all. But is the fear of being inundated by proposals and concept notes a valid one? Does being an open funder mean you will struggle to keep on top of a steady stream of applications from all manner of organisations?
One of Indigo’s principles is to make it as easy as possible for organisations to apply to us for funding. That’s why we allow applications to be submitted via email to our small team and why we don’t ask for everything but the kitchen sink when organisations want to apply to us. We recognise that putting together funding proposals can be a time-consuming and costly process, which is why we favour a light touch approach – we aim to make the process simpler and quicker for applicants and us. After all, we don’t want to spend a day reading unnecessary documents and accounts for an organisation or project we’re never likely to fund, any more than that organisation wants to waste the time crafting something that we’re likely to reject. So, is our approach working or are we just creating unnecessary work for ourselves?
Over the summer, we implemented a simple new system to track applications and where they were coming from, how much money they were seeking and for what purposes. Although we only have three full months’ of data meaning it’s a little too early to draw any firm conclusions, it’s possible to highlight some early findings and a few pieces of data. The first thing to note is that there is a degree of consistency in the number of proposals we receive in any month: July saw 29, August 25 and September 23. Since we first implemented the system in mid June we have received 107 proposals with a combined total of £2.09m. Of those, we have awarded nine grants totalling £122,720. 63 proposals, meanwhile, have been rejected with the remainder still going through our decision-making process. That means that for every proposal approved, we have rejected seven others.
For some, a 7:1 ratio may strike fear into their hearts. The thought of having to sift through seven proposals before finding the right one might seem daunting. But I read it quite differently. Firstly, although we maintain an open application process we always ask applicants to keep it short – 2-4 sides of A4 outlining the project, the organisation and a rough budget gives us plenty to think about – enough, certainly, to be able to say whether it’s broadly eligible for funding from us. Short proposals thus help make the process manageable and a series of follow-up questions or calls can give us any additional information we require. Secondly, while Indigo funds in a niche-but-growing area (i.e. tech in development), our geographic spread (sub-Saharan Africa) is vast. Put that way, 7:1 seems a lot less frightening when you consider the vast number of development charities working across sub-Saharan Africa. Finally, it would be unrealistic to expect every proposal to be an absolute gem, but being open about what you do and don’t fund and who you’ve previously funded is a tremendous help as it reduces the number of speculative applications you might receive from those who are clearly ineligible.
It’s probably too early to make any firm conclusions from the data we currently have, but if things continue as they have done, I think I can live with 7:1.