Playing Trains or Bringing Home The Bacon?

I would surmise that voluntary organisations and charities have always been much better at spending money than obtaining it.  The charity of which Sue and I are trustees, the Derwent & Wye Valley Railway Trust, is no exception. We would love to be able to spend large sums of money on all sorts of projects relating to our charitable aim:

“To obtain, restore, preserve and operate a representative collection of heritage railway buildings, structures, rolling stock and artefacts for use by, exhibition to and for the education of the public in the infrastructure, management and the operation of railways between Ambergate and Buxton in the County of Derbyshire.”

So important is the inward flow of cash to organisations that fundraising is seen in many of them as a valuable skill. Indeed many larger voluntary organisations and charities have entire departments of paid fundraising staff. There is even a trade body for fundraisers, the Institute of Fundraising .

So as a trustee, I share the responsibility for bringing in the cash as well as spending it. I am also the only trustee who works in the voluntary sector and therefore is daily immersed in the comings and goings of funding news. So it was almost inevitable that my skills in this area, such as they are, are likely to provide the best outcomes for the trust.

So I have just had two days off from my paid job to volunteer intensively to write funding applications for an exciting project that will greatly enhance our visitors’ appreciation and understanding of the heritage of  the “infrastructure, management and the operation of railways between Ambergate and Buxton in the County of Derbyshire.”

I am not going into too much more detail at this stage of this project, but I would like to observe that this work involves:

  • Filling in details on application forms.
    Very straightforward and taking just a few minutes.
  • Finding or writing the supporting paperwork to go with the application.
    This is information about the trust, my fellow trustees and some financial information. Almost all of this can be delegated to the treasurer or secretary.
  • Writing up information about the costs involved. After all, this is the point of the whole exercise.
    This takes another couple of hours or so to get the information into the format requested on the application form.
  • Writing a description of the project.
    This is where it starts to get interesting and can take a couple of hours of writing and re-writing.

However, the biggest part of the whole process has been

  • Researching the project costs.
    The internet has made this a lot easier, but this is still the most time-consuming part of the process. I have spent about four days over the past fortnight doing little else.

If you are a fundraising professional who has happened to stumble across this, You will probably have gasped at the inordinate length of time that this research phase takes me. However, I make no apology. I really want to be sure that I am applying to the right funder.

Therefore I need to read the criteria of each potential fund in detail.  This is probably the starting point for me and will take ages and will cause severe wear and tear on Google’s servers and my keyboard. This is where the professional fundraiser will save time over me by having more knowledge of the bewildering array of funding that is available “out there”. I also know that there are lots of funds that have no presence on the internet, and for our current project, these are not even in my sights.

Then I want to make sure that I am asking for money for the right resources and equipment and that I have a realistic and up-to-date picture of its cost. THe latest internet special offer is all very well and would certainly give me, and the funder, the best value for money, but will it still be available at the never-to-be-repeated price by the time the bid has gone in, been approved and the money released to us?

However, like everyone else, I have a limited amount of time to give to my volunteering. As this blog recounted a year or so ago, I have reduced the amount of volunteering that I used to do and nowadays concentrate on my railway volunteering. When I go to the railway to be the guard, ticket inspector, buffet server or any other active role, I am aboard or among the trains. This is visibly volunteering for the railway and is the bit that I originally signed up to do. Although I have still been volunteering for the railway while sitting in front of this computer, I am sure that other railway volunteers think of me as not currently doing anything for the railway (if they think me at all.)

And when the funding comes in and the practical part of the project starts, those hands-on volunteers will have no idea of the time or work that has already been expended by volunteers on this project.

Now this is not a moan, but a plea to anyone in a voluntary organisation, or who uses the services of a voluntary organisation, to remember that almost every front-line service has to be paid for in some way and that a fundraiser has been involved in making it happen.

Ride Safe


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