The game is afoot! The Big Lottery has launched their first tranche of ESIF applications a.k.a. Building Better Opportunities (or 'BBO'). Organisations across the sector are furiously working out what they can go for, who to partner with, and how they will deliver outcomes.
71 opportunities, £175m in funds, 25 Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas, 22 pages, 8 sections, over 40 questions, and 2 months to do it in. The Big Lottery's ESIF funding round has begun. You are no doubt working harder than ever to put together a competitive model for delivery, trying to bring together a credible, robust partnership, and thinking about the difference you will make to the lives of those most in need in your local area.
The first stage of BBO will be highly competitive in most, if not all, project outlines. Your application at stage one should be as good as it can possibly be, which means you should not be thinking "it is just the first stage". You should be thinking "we have to win this!" But before you go too far, have you invested the time to understand what will help you win at the first stage?
Planning with the end in mind
It might seem obvious to say, but defining the end result is essential. When you plan to go somewhere, you don't just open the door and start walking. You decide where you want to get to, and the best method of getting there. Bidding is like any complex project in that you need to be clear what the end result is going to be. If your team just heads off without a clear destination or agreed approach then you will end up somewhere, but perhaps not where you needed to be.
The place to start is the application pack (the application form and project outline). You should go through these forensically and early to understand what will make a winning application. This is what all your work will be judged on, and this is all that the Big Lottery will see. Your history, experience, passion, social impact, innovation, amazing partnerships, need to be geared towards scoring points in your application.
Plan around the document and you will not go too far wrong.
Benefits of planning in this way
- Focus on the customer - One of the most important benefits is that it "gets you into the zone" of thinking about what the commissioner / funder is looking for. The customer is king. The earlier you start thinking in terms of what the customer wants (as opposed to what you want to deliver), the more likely they are to award you the funding.
- Focus your efforts on what matters - Too many bid projects focus resources solely on making a service operationally and commercially viable. These are obviously crucial, but you should know in advance what proportion of the award decision is going to made on these aspects. Some funders take it largely as given that you will do it for the price and follow a certain process, and they may want to explore other aspects (see the examples below).
- You can ask questions - Big Lottery will provide lots of help and support to bidders. If you are not sure what is required, then just ask them. If you start early then asking questions will resolve uncertainty and help you focus on what is actually needed.
- Avoid nasty surprises - When you get to the end of the project and realise that you missed something vital, you run the risk of wasting all the effort and passion your team has contributed. Suddenly you find there are days (or hours!) rather than weeks left. Plan Early, plan well, and this can be avoided. (But if you do end up in dire straits, we can always help out!)
A quick example: Partnerships
Just to illustrate the importance of starting with the documentation, let's take question 21, "How were the partners identified and selected?"
This question is asking you to describe two processes for selection: one for the lead (that is the organisation submitting the application) and one for the other partners. It is also asking you implicitly to describe the criteria for selection. The question is referring to the rules around procurement for public funding and to Big Lottery's partnership requirements. You project also has to relate to the local LEP European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF) strategy and sit within the context of mainstream provision to ensure that everything you and your partners do is additional to existing services.
This question seems straightforward, unless you have spent two months building your partnership in a way that does not comply with the rules. Or in a way that does not give you a high scoring answer to the question.
Give yourself a head start on the competition and start planning with the application form in mind.