Sustaining services, finding funding

Peter Keen, the head of performance at UK sport, talked recently about “looking the monster in the eye”. He meant that with less money, he was going to work out how to prioritise it – to back some sports for Olympic medals and drop others.

Real cut backs are an opportunity to see what really matters, stop doing things that don’t, and get creative about things that do. You have to start with three commitments: be honest, be smart, and be compelling.

Being honest – about what you are achieving, about what can be changed, about who really is making a difference – is the most difficult. I’ve been involved in, and read, more evaluations than I care to remember. The honest truth is that most of them overstate the impact of the programme they evaluate.

“Frankly Jeremy, we thought the whole scheme was bit of a waste of money, but when the consultants report said it should be funded again, I wasn’t going to argue, was I.” An example I can quote because it’s quite a long time ago. But too little has changed. So let’s stop that.

See how you get on with being really honest about three simple (but not easy) questions:

  • How much more impact are you getting with your project/programme/service than you would, if you simply shared the money out among the intended beneficiaries?
  • How do you know this?
  • How can you prove this to others?

And when I say prove, I mean prove – perhaps not beyond reasonable doubt, but certainly enough to convince a mild sceptic.

Being smart – about how you go about whatever you do. Actually there already is a large number, probably a large proportion, of front line workers across most regeneration and development fields, who are smart and effective at what they do.

The problem comes in the management and design of programmes and services. We need more people who can think the unthinkable. Who can free up resources to create a new approach that delivers more than in the past. As a first step, abandoning the dead hand of the inevitable partnership would go a long way.

For example I’ve been talking recently with a marketing agency that managed to persuade a Council to combine small separate pots of money it had to communicate with young people about health messages, activities, education and so on. On the back of this they now have a fantastic magazine written by and for young people. They train and put young people into employment and they earn income from companies who want to understand young people. And they get the Council’s messages over much more effectively to many more young people.

Being compelling is all about how you put your story over. I asked a group of people in a workshop recently to put together a short written case to potential funders for their project. Then we swopped so that people assessed each others. No-one got funded! It was quite easy to see that none of the cases was more than a begging letter.

Once you have your proof, and your creative approach to doing more with less, you’ll have to convince someone, maybe lots of people, of your case. You’ll have to show how you can deliver something they want. This means getting into the shoes of your audience, it means finding someone with some marketing and writing expertise. It means realising that you won’t get funding or backing or collaboration just because your ideas and plans are good. You will have to sell.

There are monsters about. They are big and nasty and uncomfortable. Try looking them in the eye. I suspect if you don’t they may just eat you up.