27 Aug 2014

Tricky business: 5 top tips for living with free money (grants)

By Glen

We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there ain’t no such thing as free money. Grants are hard to get and not for everyone, but they can form an essential part of the funding structure for ventures trying out new things for social good.

There will be reporting requirements, and data capture which can seem onerous but it’s all part of the landscape. Here are our top tips for living with grants:

Do what you said you would

This should seem fairly obvious, but don’t use the grant money to run off to the Caribbean (unless, of course, your grant is for enabling micro-enterprise in the Caribbean).
On a more serious note, there are specific reasons why the company gave you the money, and you should expect to see payments based on milestones for achieving those goals. Keep on track with your project plan and work towards those goals.
Things change all the time, though, so you might want to…

Keep your funders informed of what you’re doing

Talk to your funders regularly and fill in those monitoring reporting forms. The more you let them know what’s going on, as well as any interesting findings, the more you’ll stay at the forefront of their mind when they’re talking to other funders or potential partners. You want them showing off your app and bragging about you.
Remember, too, that it’s not just about money: your funder (whether grant or investor) should have loads of contacts that – I promise – you will look back on one day and think “that meeting was more important than the money”. Don’t be afraid to ask for things, from contacts to media support to help with a tricky spreadsheet. It’s best if they’re not surprised when you have to…

Let them know when it goes wrong

Things almost never go to plan. Talk to your funders about it, about the learnings, the outputs, what’s working, and what’s not. They may want to wind up the project, but they’ve really invested in you, so they may have the resources or support that you need to make a better go of it next time, or they can help you to readjust your milestones and expectations.

Keep track of your data

You’re likely to have a few different funders, some with monthly reporting, others with quarterly reporting. They’ll have funded you for slightly different purposes, so it’s important that you’re collecting your data in the right way. Keep your data in one place, in an organised fashion so that you can get the reports you need out on time to release the next tranche of funding.
The clever bit is when you can pull out the bits of data you need to give in a report to each funder. It’s an evolving process. Good luck with that.

Treat them like a customer

Remember that you have to balance the needs of your project with the needs and desires of the funder. There’s a reason they funded you to do your cool thing. It’s probably compatible with – though not exactly the same as – your reasons for doing your wickedly cool project.
Imagine that they’re your customer, but instead of selling them shoes or enterprise software you’re selling them positive social change. Tell them the benefits of what you’re going to do, and show them the outputs – but the ones they care about. You’ve probably got a different perspective from them on how things should work but your life will be easier if you can show them that you understand theirs and you can work with them.

Photo by Scott Patterson