Saying No Positively: CareTech Foundation

Refusing grant applicants can be one of the hardest parts of the job, but foundations that make it clear from the start what they do and don’t fund can cut down on the disappointment. In this series, we talk to a range of ACF members to find out about their application processes, how they say no to grant-seekers, and what feedback they are able to offer.

The second article in the series comes from Jonathan Freeman, CEO, CareTech Foundation.

This series first appeared in the July 2018 issue of Trust & Foundation News. Read the magazine here.

It is early days for us as we have only been fully operating for six months or so. We have three funds – big partnership grants, a smaller Family & Friends grants fund, and a staff match fund.

Our partnership grants are our biggest funding stream. We probably have to reject about half of applications straight away, because although we say ‘read the guidance’, people don’t. I really want to say that if you think you are having to force your project to be within the criteria, it is probably not going to be funded. We try to be really clear why we might reject an application and are happy to talk it through with the applicant, with a view to them re-applying if there is some chance of later success. But if it is not worth their time, we say so. We don’t want charities to be spending time applying if there is no chance they will succeed.

The best thing we have done is to be really clear up-front about what our priorities are. There are a lot of great projects out there, but some just aren’t right for us, some meet our criteria but just not enough, or two very similar projects may come at the same time. We really are looking at where we can add value. Our aim is to make something happen that wouldn’t otherwise. We don’t want to be the umpteenth funder of something ordinary.

Probably around half of the organisations who apply to us do make contact and talk it through before filling in our online application, which means they are much more likely to be successful. But we have been surprised by how many organisations just churn out a standard letter. What a waste of time, money and effort!

Once we receive an application, we do a staff assessment and go back and ask for any additional information if necessary before it goes to the trustees for a decision. Sometimes they will want more details, or decide that it is not suitable, but a much higher proportion get through at this stage.

If they are rejected by trustees we send an email explaining why and what areas the trustees found lacking. We also offer a follow-up conversation if the applicant wants it, and probably about half take up the option. A couple of people have been surprised to be turned down, but generally after you talk it through, they understand. Most professional fundraisers know it has to work for both parties.

Under our Family & Friends scheme, where staff members of CareTech plc can apply for grants on behalf of others facing significant hardship or for issues affecting local communities in which CareTech operates, we do have to reject applications. We have had some tricky issues with staff who find it hard to accept that we cannot support them as individuals but that is the role of the parent company as an employer. The main challenge is making sure we do not give commercial advantage to the parent company. Most of CareTech plc’s income is derived from statutory funding from local authorities providing support for individual service users. Staff and members of local communities fundraise for ‘extras’, which we would love to support, but it is just too uncomfortably close. So, for example, if a care home wants a particular piece of equipment that isn’t considered essential and is never likely to be funded by the statutory bodies, we as the corporate foundation cannot contribute. A competitor might say that we are funded by the company but are putting money back into the company. Protecting those boundaries is very important and the thing we have to explain most often. People might not like it but when we explain concepts like public benefit and charitable purposes, and the tax implications, at least they understand it!

CareTech plc has 5,000 staff, and there are some heart-breaking stories, so if we can’t help we do feel a responsibility to assist those people to find some other kind of support, be it other charities, grief counsellors or other sources of funding. Plus we have a good relationship with the company HR department, so sometimes we will talk to them. Company policy is not to let anyone walk away, because while we might recognise the difference of the independence of the foundation, the staff member may not. Just saying no, however nicely, is just not enough.

The clearer you can be and the more transparent, the easier it is to explain your reasons to people. You just need to be honest with them. If they have a project that isn’t going to go anywhere, you might as well tell them.

So far we haven’t needed to refuse anyone on the match fund where we will match their charitable fundraising up to £250.

Jonathan Freeman
CareTech Foundation


Other articles in this series

Saying No Positively: Mountsorrel Relief in Need Charity
Saying No Positively: Buttle UK
Saying No Positively: Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales
Saying No Positively: Henry Smith Charity
Saying No Positively: Big Lottery Fund

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