Saying No Positively: Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

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 fourth article in the series comes from Harriet Stranks, Director of Grants Lloyds Bank Foundation England & Wales.

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

It’s not easy to give negative feedback, but just because it’s hard, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be good at it. Poor feedback is virtually useless, but objective and evidenced-based feedback can be transformational. Good feedback is not personal; it is specific and actionable.

Every two years we ask nfpSynergy to survey our applicants about the foundation and feedback is a key area for us. In our 2013 survey we identified a real problem in that charities who had not been awarded a grant felt that we weren’t feeding back enough. 44% of them received feedback and 23% said it wasn’t very useful. That improved in 2015 with 75% receiving feedback and 36% saying it wasn't very useful, but fell slightly this year to 68% and 27% respectively. We know that we still face challenges to ensure charities ask for feedback and that we need to work hard to make sure what they get is meaningful.

The key thing in telling people ‘no’ is ensuring they understand it isn’t personal. There is so much pressure on the person making the application – they feel if they get it wrong they have let down the rest of the organisation. It is never easy to hear that kind of information, but we try to be as objective as possible.

There can be many reasons for rejection. A significant proportion of applicants will not have read the detailed guidelines we publish on our website and will not meet our criteria. Other reasons can include governance issues or challenges to articulate their journey of change, not being deeply person-centred, or failure to make the connection between need and delivering meaningful outcomes. But there will also be very good applications that deserve to be funded, but that we have to refuse because of limited resources or commitments we have already made to that region or area of work. For example, a lot of our work is around domestic abuse, but one area may already have a number of funded refuges and services, so we are unlikely to fund another.

Next year we estimate we will receive around 1,000 applications for our Invest programme and from those make 150 grants. We recognise that this level of rejection potentially means a lot of time wasted both by the applicants and the foundation, and so we are committed to cutting down on that wastage.

Our grant managers visit those who fit within our programme. But quite often during a visit, the grants manager will know that the charity will not reach the benchmark, and can advise there and then on what the charity can do to improve its chances of success and re-apply – for example, introducing better monitoring or financial planning.

We believe that if an application gets through to the final stage, people deserve the respect of detailed feedback. The grant manager will write a letter outlining why funding was refused, what the charity could do to improve, or maybe guiding it to apply for a grant under our Enable programme. And as part of our commitment towards ensuring that the feedback is useful, the letter is signed off by the chief executive.

But sometimes the hardest thing about giving feedback is persuading people they want it! The explanatory letter always invites the applicant to contact the grant manager for more detailed feedback, but many charities don’t. Some of our very experienced grant managers have left or retired recently and this gave me the opportunity to look afresh at the skill set required for the role. Rather than focusing only on assessment and grant-making skills, I have looked for people who have worked in the sector and delivered capacity-building work themselves, so they are able to go into a charity and talk about the strategic plan, finances, governance and so on in detail. The ability to have that deep conversation is very important.

We are also looking at potentially changing the way people apply to reduce the amount of wasted effort and resources. In the future, the online application will only be required towards the end of the process, so we will force people to have a conversation with us from the beginning. This is a much easier way to exchange information than hours spent filling in forms. Of course, we will have to test it, but it’s a much more personable approach, and people can get their passion and enthusiasm across better in a conversation than on paper. Sadly we doubt it will cut down on the number of initial applications we receive because there are so many organisations struggling in the current climate – but it will allow charities and ourselves to prioritise time and effort on the charities with the best chance of success.

Harriet Stranks
Director of Grants
Lloyds Bank Foundation England & Wales


Other articles in this series

Saying No Positively: Mountsorrel Relief in Need Charity
Saying No Positively: CareTech Foundation
Saying No Positively: Buttle UK
Saying No Positively: Henry Smith Charity
Saying No Positively: Big Lottery Fund

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