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Is your project needed?

04 April 2014

We have worked for more than a year with our architect to produce a plan for developing our church and centre for more use by people in the area. Now we want to move on to fund-raising, having spent quite a lot so far on developing our plans, but we think we are ready to move forward quite quickly.

ASSUMING that the bulk of your capital funding - and some, at least, of the revenue funding for running your building - has to be raised, you are probably looking at a large sum of money.

First, identify which, if any, of the big funders might be interested in funding your project - either in part or fully. Charitable trusts and foundations are a second stage, because they will not be interested in, for example, contributing £20,000 or less to a project that is aiming at £1 million, and has only ten per cent of this in place; their money would sit idle in the bank for too long while you raised the rest.

The rigorous questioning you will have to go through to get large sums of money will help to ensure that your architectural plans are based on real needs and demands; that your management plan is robust for the long-term sustainability of the centre; and that you are going to achieve your, and the funder's, targets.

There are fewer big funders than there used to be. The Big Lottery has a Reaching Communities fund that can cover buildings; the Heritage Lottery Fund may fund even larger sums for building works where the resultant community activity has a heritage agenda; and Landfill Community Funds may cover churches and community buildings, although they have less money than the Lottery sources. European Funding is being relaunched with new funding streams; some of them may apply to you. Local-regeneration funding may be helpful, although it is less abundant now than it was ten years ago.

All large funds should be seen as investments, and the decision whether you receive a grant offer takes into account the return on the investment. That is not a financial return, but the benefits in local lives - the benefits that you and your funder want to see.

Local demographics will give only an impression of need, as sources such as the neighbourhood-statistics website lists only need, not existing local provision; there may be many children in your neighbourhood, but there may already be programmes for them.

It is important to consult local organisations, professionals, and the people in need of the activity to ensure that you will have a sustainable and well-attended activity. A homeless project in a town that has only tens of homeless people is unlikely to attract enough users, unless you have actual evidence from your recorded experience, local agencies, and homeless people that your project is exactly what they need.

Too often, church projects present a high-quality building with excellent facilities without proof that those excellent facilities will quickly be used to their full extent. The initial concept may be based on perceptions of local needs, but the time- and attention-consuming process of planning building construction nearly always overwhelms parallel development of programme- and activity-planning.

A Statement of Need scratches the surface of this issue, and should lead to a thorough audit, and business and management plans. Your funders will expect these last items, and much more.

Questions to: maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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