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Amy McKie Amy McKie, Marketing and Communications Officer

Here at Newcastle CVS our Support and Development team has four Infrastructure Officers who are dedicated to providing specialist support to charities, social enterprises and community organisations to help them be successful.

As you can imagine this is an immensely varied job and not without its challenges and sometimes unexpected turns. Luckily, our Infrastructure Officers are experienced in handling a variety of queries and supporting all kinds of projects across Newcastle and Gateshead.

I caught up with Barbara, Debra, Emma and Nicola to ask them what they get up to on a typical day and find out if they have any advice to offer on what makes a project successful.

Barbara Hind Debra Lagun Emma Warden Nicola Dale


How do you help charities and community groups?

Debra – “As an Infrastructure Officer, I help charities and community groups to set up, develop and deliver their services or activities by providing support in the areas of governance, policy and funding. This might involve drafting constitutions and policies, or reviewing and updating them as an organisation grows, assisting with project planning, or in the identification of potential funders for their work.

Barbara – “If the group require governance support I will look at their governing document, check that it has all of the essential criteria and go through any necessary changes.”

Nicola – “We are often asked to help groups and organisations start up. People see something that needs to be done that will help people to improve their lives and they need help and support to organise themselves. We help them become organised in the most simple way possible for them. This could be a governing document or constitution that sets out their aims and how they hope to achieve them. We also carry out funding searches. Some groups come to us when they need to change their governance because they have changed their offer or need to employ staff.”

Emma – “In addition to one-to-one support we offer training sessions that cover everything from fundraising and governance to specialist areas of insurance, HR and employment. We also link organisations so they can develop networks and explore opportunities to work in partnership. Some of the work we do involves sharing anonymously the ideas, experience and key issues of organisations so we can influence funders, councils, government departments, and policy makers. We provide support in so many ways; every day brings new and interesting challenges.”

Nicola – “I began this role in January after working in various community based roles over the last twenty years but I have been surprised by the range and scope of voluntary and charitable groups that we have.”

 

What are the common pitfalls or challenges that many charities and voluntary organisations face today?

Debra – “Funding is always a challenge but today charities are facing greater competition for funds, while demand and the need for the services they provide is increasing.”

Barbara – “Criteria for funding are changing and the amount that each funder has is decreasing. The forms can be difficult for volunteers to complete and sometimes they omit vital information or have governing documents or policies that are not up to date.”

Emma – “Often these challenges are down to lack of staff capacity. People spend their time delivering projects and don’t have the time and resources to work on developing strategies and fundraising. A lot of projects are volunteer-run. It’s important to get the basics right first, like your policies and procedures.”

Nicola – “I think there are some common pitfalls that groups can fall into: Trying to fit a project into a funding opportunity. I can understand how and why this happens but it’s better to just stick with your aims and objectives and look for funding that matches what you are doing. Also not having the skills you need on your management committee. Try to target members that have the skills and knowledge that you need to achieve your goals and help you move forward. Be open to new ideas and welcome new personalities. This may feel uncomfortable at first but it will pay off in the end.”

Emma – “Don’t be afraid to bring in people with a different perspective. A strong management committee / board of trustees will lead the organisation to project success.”

 

What are your top tips for charities looking for funding?

Barbara – “Research the funder thoroughly and take time to plan out the application. Make sure your governing documents and policies are fit for purpose and check and double-check the completed form then ask us to look over the application for you.”

Debra – “Make the most of what is unique about your work. Be clear about the change you want to see happen as a result of the work you do and set measurable outcomes. Try to think creatively when it comes to monitoring the more intangible aspects of the difference you plan to make.”

Nicola – “Again, make sure your project fits the funding criteria. Ask our team to help you with any questions you may have – we have so much experience between us we should be able to support you.”  

Emma – “Grant funding is not the sole source of income so think about ways you can earn money, gain sponsorship from local businesses or crowdfund. If you are applying for a grant, then make sure you are covering your costs and look at where you can make savings. Think about broadening the list of funders you generally apply to and seek support with understanding your finances from our Ellison Services team.”

 

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