I spoke to Jenny Fitzgerald, Funding Manager for the Dormant Accounts Fund NI, to find out more about demand for the programme and the common pitfalls some unsuccessful groups are experiencing.
The programme has been running in Northern Ireland for six months and continues to be popular. We are delighted that we have been able to award £2,891,606 to 35 organisations so far to support them to build long-term capacity and sustainability. You can read more about the organisations that have received funding on our web page.
We have also had quite a few unsuccessful applications so we thought it would be helpful to share some feedback from our team about the reasons why some applications have not been successful.
Has there been a lot of demand for this programme?
We have seen a lot of interest in the Dormant Accounts Fund NI. Since the grant programme opened in January, we have received over 460 enquiries from customers who wanted to find out more and chat through their ideas.
From the programme launched in January to the beginning of July 2021, we received 254 applications, requesting over £21m. So this has been, and will continue to be, an incredibly competitive grant programme.
What are you looking for in a good application?
The key question we consider when we look at applications is how your organisation will be more resilient and fit for the future at the end of the project.
We look carefully at how each application meets the aim and outcomes of the Dormant Accounts Fund. It is really important that we understand clearly how the applicant has fully considered the challenges and opportunities in relation to its long-term capacity, sustainability and resilience.
We expect each application to clearly tell us about how the organisation will respond to those challenges and opportunities and what the long-term impact will be for the organisation if they receive support from the programme. We also want to know how the funding will help the organisation to deliver its aims or mission and we need to understand how the activity we fund will be managed.
We need to ensure that the funding available under this programme is evenly distributed, so we will also look at where organisations are based and if they are in urban or rural areas to ensure good geographical spread. We will also look at the type of work you do and the people you work with to ensure we have an even spread in the type of organisations we support.
What common pitfalls have you noticed in unsuccessful applications?
We know it can be difficult to understand why some organisations have received funding while others have been unsuccessful.
There have been some common themes in unsuccessful applications.
One pitfall was the lack of a defined plan that outlined how organisations would be more resilient or sustainable after their funding ended.
Other unsuccessful applications had no clear financial projections or detailed timelines that demonstrated how a particular piece of work would help them achieve long-term sustainability.
This type of information in an application is essential as it shows us the impact the funding will have on the organisation to address the challenges they identified.
Other organisations asked us for salary costs but did not explain what would happen to these roles once funding ended. We can consider salaries, but the posts should be temporary, or the organisation should have a concrete plan in place detailing how the posts would be continued without the need to apply for more funding. Applications should also clearly outline how the posts will contribute to the organisation’s resilience longer-term.
Some unsuccessful organisations also asked us to fund project costs that did not ultimately make them more resilient, sustainable or build their capacity for the future. For example, we received applications from new organisations seeking funding to support them to develop, improve or expand upon their existing services. We won’t consider this unless the organisation can show how the project would make the organisation itself financially sustainable or resilient.
As this programme opened during the pandemic, we spoke to quite a few organisations who were seeking to recover costs that were lost as an immediate consequence of COVID-19. We also had conversations with organisations seeking capital refurbishment costs for their venues. There may be other sources of funding that could cover these costs, but they wouldn’t be eligible under Dormant Accounts as this programme is more about making your organisation more resilient and sustainable longer term.
What advice you would give an organisation that is considering applying?
I would strongly encourage anyone thinking of applying to talk to the senior team within your organisation to ensure that they have been involved in the development of the project. For example, your Director, Board and even volunteers who know how your organisation operates.
The outcome of these discussions should form the basis of deciding what change you need to make. It’s important to say that one size doesn’t fit all – each idea will be unique to the organisation that is looking for support.
Successful applicants had carried out a thorough review of their organisation’s resilience, a business review or planning that informed their idea. Their project also reflected the current and future challenges being faced by the organisation and clearly outlined how their proposed activity would address these. Something to bear in mind when applying.
Consider costs carefully and only ask for the costs you need. Also remember that becoming more dependent on grant income (for example to secure funding for additional salaries) is not likely to make your organisation more resilient in the future.
Only one award will be made to an organisation through this programme, so I would urge you to really take your time to explore the key issues your organisation is facing while carefully considering what the best approach is for you to take.
Dormant Accounts Fund NI will not be suitable for every worthwhile project idea so it is also worth exploring other funding options like National Lottery funding or Community Foundation for Northern Ireland. You could also have a chat with NICVA or the Rural Community Network for funding advice and support.