May 7, 2015

Funding submissions – Shop early and avoid the rush!

When Charlie Sutton, the legendary and only premiership coach of the Western Bulldogs, aka Footscray, implored his young team in the 1954 VFL Grand Final to “shop early and avoid the rush”, very few of his players realised he was talking about funding submissions or business cases.

Charlie understood that to get a successful result you have to follow a proven process, but you also need to think laterally.  Irrespective of who you are, if you’re seeking additional funding you need to start early so you have enough time to develop a robust submission and engage all the right stakeholders.

To help you get your funding submission out the door we have identified 8 steps you need to develop a great submission.

1. Know your time-frames and start early

Most funding submissions will take at least a couple of months to develop properly and some may take more than a year, especially if you need to engage specialists like architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, etc.  Working out when to start developing your funding submissions can be difficult. You need to know the time-frames related to your submission and allow additional time at the beginning to get internal approvals, engage with the right stakeholders and properly plan the development of the funding submission, the same way you would plan a project.

2. Be able to explain your need

In this stage you need to think about the recipient of your submission as an ‘investor’. Your investor will want to know why they should invest, and why now. In particular they will want to know what problems are being mitigated, what measureable benefits will be delivered and what public value will be delivered through this investment. An Investment Logic Mapping (ILM) workshop is a good way to clearly define the problem/s you are trying to solve and the benefits that can be derived from the strategic responses.

3. Consider a range of strategic options

If you fail to consider alternative options for meeting your objectives and responding to the problem – including the status quo option of continuing ‘as is’ – then potential investors may raise their eyebrows and wonder “what about …?”.  You need to demonstrate you have considered realistic alternative options and assessed the pros and cons of each (tabling a minimum of three), before delivering a persuasive conclusion on the preferred option.  Play ‘Devil’s Advocate’ and critique your own arguments, so that you can then mount a sustainable, balanced defence against potential criticism.

4. Engage other stakeholders, win their support

Ultimately a funding submission or business case is just a tool to support your investment proposal.  It may not even get read unless it gains traction!  So it is absolutely critical that you get support for your funding submission and treat stakeholder engagement as a fundamental part of obtaining a successful outcome.  Identify the appropriate stakeholders and develop a targeted strategy to gain their support and make them fellow champions of your proposal. Remember, you are competing against other proposals for scarce funds.

5. Dedicate organisational resources to develop the funding submission

If your investment proposal requires significant project management to coordinate various professional expertise and pull it all together, then make sure you allocate resources to achieve this. This could include temporarily redirecting personnel, or recruiting new personnel specifically to oversee the development of the investment proposal, including procurement of any consultants, architects, engineers etc that may be required.

6. Define and scope your proposal clearly – what will the money buy?

Some organisations make the mistake of correctly identifying the ‘problem’ and the objectives, but fail to clearly articulate how the funds will actually be used to deliver the required benefits.  This failure can give rise to cynicism amongst investors, because it can imply you don’t really have a full grasp on how you’re going to achieve your aims, even if funding is approved. You need to define your scope of investment clearly in a manner that explains how you will transition from the current state (status quo) to the desired position.

7. Cost your proposal accurately – avoid greed, avoid vagueness, but don’t under-cost it either

The articulated scope of your investment proposal should clearly link to the underlying costings.  Remember, your proposal will be reviewed by experts and accountants at some point in the process.  Accountants and funding bodies don’t take kindly to vague costings or greedy project owners trying to ‘pull the wool over their eyes’ (e.g. with unfounded ‘corporate levies’, ‘project development levies’ or overly generous ‘contingency levies’).  But equally, accountants are wary of approving a project that appears under-funded too.  So apply science and integrity in developing your costings and be ready to explain and justify them.

8. Present your proposal in the correct format according to relevant guidelines

Budget submissions in Victoria require that you follow the Department of Treasury & Finance’s (DTF’s) Investment Management Standards and present your business case in the related format, which includes standard funding components (such as project scope, options, risks, costs, stakeholders, etc.), as well as an Investment Logic Map, Benefits Map and Investment Concept Brief – each of which need to be developed through workshops with key project personnel. Some government departments have also developed their own guidelines for writing business cases, which while closely aligning with DTF’s, contain minor differences in content and format.

Local Government Authorities or community sector organisations seeking to apply for grants or other forms of funding, will need to familiarise themselves with the format required for the particular funding submission and make sure their submission meets those requirements.

If you lack the expertise or resources organisationally to develop funding submissions according to the relevant guidelines, then procure professionals (call Cube Group!).

Funding approval is like winning a premiership

So why was Charlie Sutton talking about funding submissions when he told his teammates to ‘shop early and avoid the rush’ that glorious afternoon? Well popular opinion has it that he was referring to the unsubtle art of ‘taking out the opposition’ before they got in first.  But I prefer to think the Footscray publican and later Committeeman, and devout public value proponent, was a little more intellectual and sophisticated than that.  Charlie may not have held a career in Treasury or known much about funding submissions, but in establishing timelines, outlining the steps to success and imploring his team to follow this path, he demonstrated good skills in strategic planning and project implementation.  After all, this is essentially what is required to get your funding approved!

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