As a community radio station you cannot earn more than 50% of your revenue from commercial activities and advertising. You cannot receive more than 50% of your income from a single funder. You will be very lucky to access all the money you will need from grants and donations. So the chances are you will need to do all of these things and more in order to survive and thrive.
In other words, community radio is forced into a mixed economy. Typically, a station’s finances will be kept afloat by some combination of the following:
- Advertising and sponsorship;
- Other commercial activities;
- Local fund-raising, support in kind and donations;
- Contracts for services (see Chapter 15);
- LSC-funded training (see Chapter 13);
Grants are the principle source of income for most community radio stations. There is an endless list of trusts, charities, local, regional, national and European government pots, and innumerable other funders who may be willing to grant you small or large amounts in return for agreed outcomes. They range from the enormously wealthy and powerful (European Social Fund, Lottery Commission) to small local memorial trusts.
Funders don’t throw money at organisations because they feel sorry for them, they invest in projects that they believe will get results. Your relationship with your community and listeners opens up unique opportunities for social and economic regeneration funding, educational funding, health, community cohesion and social welfare funding and much more.
It is one thing to know that the money is out there. It is another to identify precise grants that may be available to you and persuading the funder to give you the money. Good fund-raisers develop an intuitive sense for where money might be available. The process of identifying and applying for funding can be so time consuming that you could spend every minute of the working day doing it, so it is crucial that you are smart about identifying which grants are worth applying for.
As a general rule, you are unlikely to find many funders that will pay you simply to make community radio, but you will find funds that will pay you to do many of the things that you need to do in order to make community radio – training, community development, youth work, tackling joblessness etc. Such project funding should include a contribution towards your core staff salaries and other overheads. Most of your activities should be highly appropriate for grant funding, and if they are not you should really ask yourself some questions about the nature of your activities.
Some starter tips for finding funding:
- Visit your local voluntary sector umbrella group – they should have someone who advises on fundraising who will talk you through your options;
- Sign up to e-mail lists, newsletters and bulletins, such as the Charities Information Bureau, NCVO’s funding newsletter, Artsnet, Mailout magazine etc.;
- Think about how you could tailor your activities to make them more attractive to funders;
- Network with/talk to individuals involved in awarding grants and funding;
- Talk to the liaison or outreach workers employed by larger funding bodies. It is their job to find people to give money to and they will be delighted to explain how your project could fit into their funding criteria.
Making the right contacts
At local levels, many decisions about funding are made by a relatively small number of local VIPs, including councillors, executive officers and other local dignitaries. Winning the favour of these people will be useful for identifying potential sources of funding – it’s not uncommon to find out about grants from conversations that begin ‘have you heard about the new…’ Such networking may even help your grant applications through. Although most grants are awarded on a tick-box scoring system, at some stage there may well be a human value judgement made about whether one project is more worthy of funding than another. If the people on the committee know your station and are already convinced of your worth, that must help.
Of course you must stay within the rules of fair play and honesty. You won’t do yourself any favours by plying committee members with gifts or sending them bottles of whisky at Christmas. But there is nothing wrong with inviting key players to visit your station and wowing them with the energy and activity on display. Nothing sells community radio like seeing it in action. If you are clever you can find out what particular interests your visitor has (youth work, public health, community arts or whatever) and draw particular attention to your activities in those areas.
Little touches – for example, sending your councillor or MP a congratulations card (and invite to interview) on their re-election, regardless of their (and your) political allegiance – are entirely legitimate tactics in getting your project noticed and remembered.
Politics with a large ‘P’ is of course to be avoided at all costs. Your station could get in deep trouble if it is perceived to be too closely tied to one political party at local or national level. One of the dangers of ingratiating yourself with political players is that they may sometimes try to bring you onto their side in their own political battles. This must be avoided.
But playing politics with a small ‘p’ – negotiating, networking, bridge-building, conversing, cajoling and persuading – is an invaluable skill for those who run community radio stations. It is all about building your reputation and building confidence in your ability to deliver, and can reap great rewards.
Core costs versus project funding (revisited)
As we noted earlier, it is relatively straightforward to find project funding – money you are paid to carry out specific projects which achieve particular outcomes. Finding someone to pay you simply to run a community radio station is much harder. There is little point in bringing in £100,000 in project funding if you still have no money to pay the electricity bill or the wages of your station manager.
Some core funding is available. The Government has established a Community Radio Fund which exists for precisely this purpose – to provide general financial support to new community radio licence holders in running their stations. This is welcome of course, but the amount of money available at the time of writing remains disappointingly small in comparison to the size of the emergent community radio sector (£500,000 for the current financial year, with perhaps 100 new stations being licensed in that period.)
Your local authority might also be able to help you to cover your running costs – some of them maintain specific core-funding budgets for voluntary organisations. But we have never heard of a community radio station that covers all of its core costs through direct core funding. The gap must be filled by a combination of other commercial activities (advertising etc.) and/or by squeezing money for core costs out of project funding.
In budgeting grant applications for specific projects, it is reasonable to expect that around 15-20% of the money should go towards your fixed running costs. Or, put the other way round, you should add 20-25% to your project cost total to cover your fixed running costs. To justify this core funding, a degree of creativity is sometimes required on the application form. It may be that the grant-awarding body will not pay for core costs if they are described as such and just added on to the cost of the project as a fixed percentage, but it will happily pay for a few hours a week for the time of each member of staff – if it is demonstrated that the administrator, station manager and producer will all have some input into the project. Or it may be that funders won’t pay a contribution to the overheads of the station, but will pay rent for facilities used by the project. The end result is exactly the same, it is only the wording that needs to change.
There is nothing fraudulent or dishonest about this approach – you will deliver the promised outputs for the funder in a manner that matches their rules, and the money you claim will be spent on delivering the project. Indeed the liaison or outreach workers employed by the funder will often happily talk potential applicants through the best wording to achieve the desired results.
Many funding bodies (e.g. Big Lottery Fund) understand that voluntary sector organisations need a contribution to their running costs to deliver a project, others specifically rule out such funding (e.g. the Heritage Lottery Fund). If funders will not contribute to your core costs, you should consider whether it is really feasible to run their project, even if their funding would allow you to buy some new equipment and employ a new project worker. Although it may be painful to turn down the possibility of money, sometimes it is necessary to do so. Think of core funding as the foundations of a building, and project funding as the bricks and mortar above ground. If the bricks are built too high and the foundations aren’t deep enough, the building will blow over at the first huff and puff from the Big Bad Wolf.
Successful form filling
Your community radio station has been established with a particular mission, to improve your community and provide access to the airwaves. Funding bodies have their own mission, to provide the finance required to achieve particular aims. The place where those missions overlap is where a successful bid will be born (Figure 14.01).
The Grant Applicant’s Venn Diagram
Before beginning to fill in an application, you need to be sure you are quite clear about what the funder’s needs are. Usually the fund will have been established to achieve very clearly defined goals. The exceptions to this are usually smaller charities that can be rather vague about their aims and are merely looking for good ideas. Even with these, you need to work out what type of projects they like to fund and push the right buttons.
Every grant application needs to be unique, carefully tailored to the nature of the funding on offer. Nevertheless there are some golden rules:
- Read everything before you begin: the form, the documentation, the guidance notes and the website;
- Talk to the liaison or outreach officer at the funding body, if there is such a person. They are employed to help you access the money and will be only too happy to help;
- Find previous successful bidders to that fund and ask if you can read their application. (But don’t then use un-edited chunks of it in your bid!);
- Put yourself in the shoes of the person reading the form. You are not feeding this information into a sausage machine, someone will be opening your envelope and reading the contents. Take care with your presentation, spelling etc. If there are word limits, stick to them. If there aren’t, don’t waffle. Bear in mind this person will have a stack of envelopes to wade through. It is your job to get yours to the top of the pile;
- Don’t presume knowledge;
- Tell them about the most impressive parts of your project early on. Catch their attention. Where it asks you to make an introductory statement, sell yourself as enthusiastically as possible;
- Don’t think you have a right to any funding. You might be performing the most valuable function in your community. Your community might have been oppressed and repressed for generations, but that does not give you any right to the funders’ money – they can only operate by rigid criteria. However worthy your project might be, unless you tick the right boxes it counts for nothing;
- Don’t get carried away with claims and ambitions. You may have to restrain your passion for the project and be clinical and realistic about what you can achieve;
- When your application is being judged, this is often done through a scoring system, with each answer being given a certain number of points. Some funders will tell you how much each box is worth, and if they do, use that to guide the detail and care you pay to each answer;
- Don’t leave it to the last minute before the deadline – post gets lost and e-mail servers crash;
- Get someone who doesn’t know your project to read through your application. But give them plenty of time to do it;
- Write in plain English – never presume knowledge but don’t treat them as idiots. Don’t try to prove how clever you are with long words;
- Use a clear layout for the longer parts of your application (e.g. using bullet points or bold to highlight) – this won’t score you extra points but will help a reader to follow your argument;
- Double-check that you have included everything needed (accounts, documentation etc.) and that the form is signed and dated.
In all your applications, bear in mind that grantawarding bodies really do want to give their money away. They will think they have failed if they do not receive any applications that they can accept. Your applications should always be framed in terms of the opportunity you offer the funder to achieve their stated objectives.