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In search of a standard grant application

Charities spend over £1billion a year applying for grants. Working together could bring this right down.

By Marcelle Speller 28 May 2020 3 minute read

At NPC, we’ve long encouraged funders to collaborate for impact. A standard grant process is one way to do so which has been talked about for a long time. Launched earlier this month, Brevio aims to be an answer. In this guest blog, founder and Chair Marcelle Speller explains how it works and why they set it up. We’d be very interested to know what funders – and charities think. Do let us know.

Since 1961 there has been a single application (UCAS) for all British universities. Other industries from finance to insurance and dating followed suit. What has kept the charity sector?

A typical charity applies for 22 grants per year, although we’ve seen some apply for 1,000! The length of application forms varies considerably, rarely less than 21 questions, and sometimes as high as 193! It’s no surprise then that charities spend an average of 19 hours completing each application.

The staff cost alone is £1.1billion per year, excluding time spent by Trustees and Volunteers. Given that 66% of applications fail, this means £726,000,000 is wasted every year. We can only guess at how much time grant makers waste designing forms, inviting charities to apply and weeding out ineligible applications. We have asked several, but the only reply we’ve had is “a lot” and “more than you’d think.”

The charity sector needs a standardised, digital application form for charities, and a standardised form for grant makers to set the criteria for each of their funds, with the system automatically matching the two. Charities would see the funds they were eligible for and decide if they wanted to apply. Grant makers would receive a shortlist of eligible charities which would be automatically transferred into their existing grant management system. The grant makers take it from there, making the final decisions on who to fund and making the payments.

Brevio was set up to do this, built by a crack team with experience in the charity sector, government, academia and, of course cutting-edge technology.

Over 18-months, Brevio developed the platform based on feedback from major funders and charities, large and small. Initially by demonstrating a prototype (Spring 2019), then developing a beta version of the platform in December 2019. Funders were extremely positive and supportive of Brevio, but when discussing a pilot we were met with procrastination. One systems manager said he couldn’t talk to us for ten months.

Then Covid-19 hit, creating an existential threat to charities. Many funders, philanthropists and the government have greatly increased their grant funding. But they are throwing money into the same, wasteful, broken grant making system. I saw a “not comprehensive” list from NCVO with about 80 new Covid Funds. Charities were meant to go to each fund’s website, decide if they were eligible, and fill in each separate application form. How are charities meant to do all this when their very existence is under threat and they are seeing a huge increase in the need for their services?

I realised I had to stop being consultative and start being more disruptively entrepreneurial. In five weeks Brevio doubled the size of the team, finished developing the platform, produced a new user-tested website, set up a customer service system and developed a communications campaign.

Brevio was launched on May 5th. It is free for charities until May 2021 and for funders until January 2021. Some say that now, when funding organisations are in crisis mode, might not be the right time to launch a new system. I disagree. Now, more than ever, we need to stop this waste.

Major funders who have seen a demo say Brevio is a game changer for the sector” and “Brevio is the future of grant making”. Many charities have signed up already, saying they are “over the moon”. We now need funders who are prepared to lead the change which is desperately needed and long overdue.

Marcelle Speller OBE is the founder and Chairman of Brevio and a former Trustee of NPC.


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