Progress driven by passion

Collaboration doesn’t happen overnight, but passionate and committed individuals can make all the difference in keeping up momentum. Carla Marshall tells us how setting up a ‘Task Force’ helped a group of regional funders to simplify and align their application forms.

Carla Marshall
Trust Manager, Sir George Martin Trust and Co-ordinator, Yorkshire Funders

The idea of a Yorkshire Common Application Form was first mooted in 2019 at a meeting of what was then the Yorkshire Funders’ Forum. (The forum has since evolved into Yorkshire Funders - more about that later!)

This type of collaboration doesn’t happen overnight. For us, it was built on relationships cultivated between grant-makers over many years through the forum and its predecessors.  

When Covid arrived, it became increasingly clear that funders needed to do everything possible to make our grant application processes faster and easier. We worked with David Warner, former Director of London Funders, who shared how impactful funder collaborations had been in response to events such as the Grenfell Tower fire. 

This helped to galvanise us to action. We decided to establish a Task Force to make the Yorkshire Common Application Form (YCAF) a reality.

Getting started

The first step was to email all the funders in our network and ask who was interested in joining the Task Force.  Thanks to our long-standing relationships with a wide range of local grant-makers, we were fortunate that ten very different funders stepped forward to get involved.

As one of the original advocates for the YCAF idea, Richard Sorton (now at Leeds Community Foundation but at the time working for Joseph Rowntree Foundation/Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust) chaired the group, while I took on the role of Secretary. 

This ‘double act’ of mine and Richard’s - along with two other group members, Jane Markham, Clerk to the Trustees at the Tarn Moor Estate, and Kauser Mukhtar, who worked with Richard - was an important success factor, making sure actions were agreed at each meeting - and that they actually happened, swiftly! In our experience, you need more than one person who is a constant in the collaboration, passionate about its aims and committed to driving things forward.

Over a year, we held six online Task Force meetings and then a final hybrid meeting to agree the form. In our early meetings, we looked at all ten funders’ current application forms and discussed which questions and financial information we thought were genuinely essential for all of us. 

We also made sure we got input from the applicant’s perspective. We worked with a group of funding advisors from local infrastructure organisations, and once we had a final draft of the form, each Task Force member sent it to a couple of charities or community groups for feedback.

I’ve seen an improved quality of applications since adopting the Yorkshire Common Application Form, with less need to go back to groups with follow-up questions.

A portrait photo of the author
Carla Marshall
Trust Manager, Sir George Martin Trust and Co-ordinator, Yorkshire Funders

Keeping it simple

We also discussed how the YCAF would be implemented in practice. We talked to London Funders about the London Community Response grants portal, and considered whether we might adopt a similar system, enabling charities to apply to many funders all at once.

However, after consulting with local infrastructure organisations, charities and community groups, it became clear that most grant-seekers preferred to have a one-to-one relationship with each funder and worried that they might lose this if their application went into a shared portal. We also realised that maintaining and monitoring a portal that might receive thousands of applications a year would bring significant costs and administration. 

As a result, we decided to keep the aim of the Task Force simple and focused: to encourage local funders of all sizes and types to adopt the YCAF, so that over time grant seekers will find that they are being asked exactly the same questions, in the same format, by more and more Yorkshire funders.

We chose Jotform as the online platform that would host the YCAF template. However, we realised that standardising funders’ application questions was far more important than the form itself. Larger funders tend to use online forms that integrate with their CRM systems, whereas many smaller local trusts prefer a Word document. We designed the YCAF so that it can easily be replicated in any of these. 

We created a step-by-step guide on how to adopt the YCAF. To encourage smaller funders in particular, we also provided template guidance notes, so they wouldn’t need to write these from scratch.

Seeing the benefits

We launched the YCAF in October 2022. Ten funders are currently using it, and feedback so far has been positive. We hope that with more promotion, other funders will follow, and grant-seekers will start seeing the same application form when they apply to multiple local grant-makers.

One of our Task Force members says: “There is comfort in knowing we have done a thorough review of what is needed in a small grant application and are aligning with other funders… developing the form was a learning experience as we shared our own practices and probably all adopted something from another funder which we felt was better practice.”

Another funder who is using the YCAF reflected: “We now have an improved system for handling grant applications and ensuring that it is robust and compliant, in line with common practice amongst grant-givers in the area. Without exception, applicants say they find the form easier and quicker to use than our older version. Trustees find it clear and comprehensive, and using it reassures them that they are covering all the necessary areas in asking questions of applicants.”

In my own grant-making work at the Sir George Martin Trust, I’ve seen an improved quality of applications since adopting the YCAF, with less need to go back to groups with follow-up questions.

Paving the way for more collaboration

In 2021, while we were developing the YCAF, Yorkshire Funders formally registered as a charity. We now aim to increase our work to support funder collaboration in the region. 

Inspired by our progress and learning from the YCAF Task Force, we plan to create other Task Forces to work on issues requested by our members. This will include, in 2024, launching an Aligned Working Task Force that will incorporate and build on the YCAF - for example, exploring the potential for more alignment in funders’ reporting.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the YCAF, you can find all our information and materials here.

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