As everyone working in the voluntary sector knows, the nature of the sector and it’s tradition of short-term funding means that projects come and go, and advocacy projects are amongst those that can disappear. Having said that, there are voluntary sector projects that have been around for a long time. And it’s not just the bigger projects that make it through the tough times; some of the smaller local projects have the knowledge, contacts, skills and experience in the area that make them a very attractive opportunity to funders.

To give your project the best chance of longevity it is vital that the necessary preparation is undertaken before the project even comes into existence – laying strong foundations will make a good base on which to build an advocacy project which stays around for a long time.

Here are 10 easy steps you should take in order to give your new project the best possible start:

    1. Research what is else is available locally/regionally – funders don’t want to pay for duplicated services, and duplicated services are the first to be cut when the going gets tough. Can you provide a unique, specialist service that is needed and that no-one else can offer? Or provide a standard service in a more creative way? Funders like to fund new and exciting services – make sure that yours appeals to them.
    2. Make local contacts – talking to people, getting yourself known and knowing who does what can be invaluable in service development. Understanding the structures and processes of local statutory, private and third sector organisations can help you to consider how your plans will fit into and complement other services.
    3. Establish need and area of need – you will need to be able to prove that the service is required and will be used. Who needs it? Why do they need it? When is it needed? How have you established the need and how do you plan to meet that need? What will you deliver? Why isn’t someone else already doing it? What would the effect be if the service wasn’t provided? Answer these questions for yourself and you can give answers to the same questions when others ask them of you.
    4. Decide on your aims and objectives, vision and values – ensure that they are realistic, accessible, and appropriate to the service you are going to deliver. Aim high but ensure that the aims you set can be managed and achieved. Be sure that the vision and values you adopt reflect those that your client group would want for themselves – be person centred.
    5. Determine type of advocacy to be offered – there are many different ways to deliver advocacy; Issue Based, Crisis, Partnership, Self, Peer, Group? Will it be Instructed or Non-Instructed? Delivered by paid staff, volunteers or a mixture of both? Which is best for your client group? Is a mixture or variety of the methods appropriate? If so, what is it realistic to offer? Citizen advocacy is very powerful – but are you in an area where volunteers are easily available? Would paid advocacy be a more reliable option? From a funder’s viewpoint, what offers best value? And remember that any service must always demonstrate the advocacy principles of Rights, Inclusion, Choice and Independence; it should respect confidentiality, and be free at point of deliver
    6. Talk to other people about supporting the scheme set up – having a team behind you will always make it easier than going it alone. Share the load! Many organisations find that the people who develop the initial vision for an organisation then carry on to become its trustees or directors – and if they have been involved from the beginning they will feel a real sense of ownership of the organisation.
    7. Decide on the framework within which you will operate – should it be a Registered Charity? Unincorporated organisation? Company limited by guarantee? Community Interest Company? Different organisational status can involve different levels of cost to set up, and different funders may only offer funding to groups of certain types (e.g. registered charity status may be required) so this may need a lot of thought. Check out what’s involved in the different organisation types through the following websites: The Charities Commission; NCVO
    8. Think about the skills and roles required – job and role descriptions are essential for staff and volunteers to ensure that everyone understands who does what. Clarity about roles and responsibilities, boundaries, and lines of responsibility is vital. Getting it set in stone at the beginning will pay off in the long run
    9. Develop a Business Plan and Budget – there is plenty of support out there for tasks like this, and any funder will need to see one. Make sure it is achievable and reasonable. Ensure that the budget is sufficient and be realistic about costs; remember that back office functions, maintaining office premises, administration and management don’t come free – a budget cannot cover salary costs alone!
    10. Research potential funding sources – different funders have different priorities. Look for those who are offering support to similar areas of work in which you are interested. Completing funding applications is hard work; put the effort in to those that have the best chance of success. Aim to obtain at least three years funding for the initial project so that you have some real evidence of the value of your work when you need to begin the next round of funding applications!

 

Then submit the applications, and make sure that you are in a position to go when funding is obtained. Ensure that in all bids you are clear about the aims and objectives of the project, and the proposed outcomes and impact.

The time funders take to process applications can vary widely, but some of the larger funding bodies and grant making trusts can take up to nine months from receiving an application to approving it. Many funders now have a process for considering applications that may include telephone discussions about the finer detail of the application, face to face interviews, and presentations. Make sure you have copies of your application and make sure you know what you are talking about; it is useful to identify a named person in your application who will be available and willing to respond to funder’s queries. Funders need to know that if they give you the money it will be in safe hands, and that it will deliver a service that will assist them to hit their own targets.

Use the information from this site to develop the policies you need to ensure quality of service delivery. A new scheme is unlikely to need all we offer from day one, but it is sensible to have basic policies such as Health & Safety, Equality, and Induction adopted from the start of your project (and funders will often have their own requirements in respect of policies they expect)

Hopefully the ten steps set out above will give you and your new scheme the best possible start on the road to success

Good luck!