Saying No Positively: Mountsorrel Relief in Need Charity

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 first article in the series comes from George Overton, Chair, Mountsorrel Relief in Need Charity.

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

Mountsorrel is a village of around 8,000 people. Among its population are pockets of deprivation and people in great need, with issues ranging from drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence, to physical and mental health problems, affecting from the very youngest to the very oldest.

Virtually all applications to us come from individuals or through referral agencies. In 2017 we received 123 applications and gave 98 grants. Commonly these are for debt relief, domestic appliances, decorating, carpets and so on.

So four out of five applicants are successful. We don’t have many hard and fast policies but deliberately leave it open. We employ an expert assessor, Rachel White, who visits every applicant. She is very experienced in dealing with social welfare issues and is trained in conflict resolution – we rely on her a great deal.

Trustees try to focus our funds on people in the greatest need, and we are concerned if people appear to be applying for something that they want, rather than something that they really need. If we think they can afford it based on the evidence of income and outgoings they have given the assessor, we do not make a grant. There are also people who repeatedly apply after waiting the six months we stipulate between applications. We don’t encourage these kinds of serial applications as we do not want to create a dependency culture.

Everyone first makes contact by email or phone, and it might be clear at this preliminary stage that the applicant is outside policy – requesting financial help for building work, for example, which we don’t normally support. Rachel is able to give advice and indicate if she thinks an application is unlikely to succeed, so the person might well withdraw at that point.

If they make it through this initial ‘gatekeeping’, Rachel visits each applicant, almost certainly in their home, to find out more about what they want and their circumstances, and to explain the process. Friends and neighbours can apply on behalf of someone else, which quite often happens, but the visit itself must be with the potential grantee.

It’s about expectation management at this stage. Rachel will make it very clear that it is the trustees’ decision. She writes a report on each one that we consider at the next board meeting – we have eight a year.

Where the trustees decide not to award a grant, Rachel will phone the vast majority to explain why, though sometimes if we think the circumstances might be sensitive our decision will be communicated by post. Most applicants accept the decision because the process and charity’s objectives have been made clear to them all along. We don’t give that much feedback, but sometimes Rachel might give a pointer, for example, if the person has a lot of savings or income.

We also give grants to organisations in the village who are meeting the greatest need, such as the youth club, a day centre for older people, organisations offering benefits and debt advice, and a food bank. We do expect a bit more financial information from organisations that apply and maybe some detailed project planning. The main reason we would reject an application from an organisation is that the project being applied for does not specifically benefit people in need, and we would feed that information back.

I became Chair in January 2018, after being a trustee since 2011. I am only the third Chair since 1971 and the trustees and I therefore see opportunities to modernise and better serve those most in need in the village. No doubt we could develop the feedback we give to unsuccessful applicants, but at the moment I hope we are getting things right on the whole.

George Overton
Mountsorrel Relief in Need Charity


Other articles in this series

Saying No Positively: CareTech Foundation
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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