Five big mistakes of Local Authority SME Grant schemes and how to avoid them

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Grant schemes are going to be a key feature of the many Local Authorities and LEPs Investment Plans for the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF). A good grant scheme provides funding for local organisations to quickly invest in projects that deliver quick results, which is going to be key for SPF Lead Authorities to demonstrate the impact of their programmes. Grant schemes are also a very visible way of showing local stakeholders how the Lead Authority is engaging and investing in local issues, which is another key objective of the SPF.

Getting a grant scheme right is all about understanding what can go wrong and how your design will minimise these issues. Good grant schemes should focus firmly on the user experience however we regularly see poorly designed application processes which result in negative applicant experiences. We have selected five key areas where Grant schemes can go wrong and how to avoid them.

1. Not enough organisations know about the Grant Scheme
Grant scheme communication/publicity needs to start early and consider the range of channels that potential Applicants will use.

  • Build a communications plan that has a staged set of communications from initial awareness to application support to closing date notification
  • Consider what channels will be visible to the target organisations – social media will be a big part of the comms but also consider local networking organisations and paid advertising to generate interest
  • Invite applicants to share their application on social media to further build awareness

2. Why are you asking so many questions?
Almost all Grant Application processes ask more questions that are necessary which reduces the user experience. 30% of all abandoned applications are down to the number of questions being asked

  • Define exactly what the minimum compliance requirements are for evaluation – what questions must be in the application
  • Require applicants to provide all evidence up front as part of the application process
  • Produce a list of a questions that you would like to understand from Applicants – for each question or group of questions, provide a rationale as to what the information is going to be used for. Make sure there is a really good reason for any additional questions and that the data will be used

3. Error 404
Online applications are now the norm for Grant Applications but making sure they are easy to use and error free will significantly reduce the amount of support requests or failed applications

  • Test the application form by sending it out to multiple people from within and outside your organisation
  • Consider adding tool-tips to each question to help Applicants get it “right first time”
  • Using Grant Admin software or a dedicated Grant Administrator will provide a proven application process which may reduce the need to test

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
The biggest complaint from applicants about grant schemes is that communication following their application is not enough. There are multiple reasons for for delays but applicants prefer to hear from grant schemes that nothing has happened as opposed to silence

  • Provide a regular update on activity for all applicants (e.g. fortnightly) which provides relevant information such as sign-posting
  • Provide auto-responders to confirm receipt of support queries with relevant signposting and then track the response – typically applicants should not have to wait more than 48 hours (working days) for a response
  • Consider other comms methods such as SMS or WhatsApp as email open rates are reducing all the time

5. Find out what went wrong
Once you have run the Grant Application scheme then find out from users how it could have been improved before and after the results announcement.

  • Unsuccessful applicants will be disappointed but don’t let that stop you asking for feedback – just bear in mind that some comments may be more about the result than the process
  • Ask specific questions about different elements of the process to support the build of your lessons learnt
  • Create a lessons learnt document prioritising five key lessons – this is much more likely to get implemented in future application processes

Navigating these five areas well will put you on the path to delivering a great user experience with your grant scheme. At Smarter Society we have run many grant schemes on behalf of Local Authorities, LEPS and charities. We take an Applicant First approach to all of the Grant schemes that we administer. If you would like support on a grant scheme or would like to discuss design ideas then please get in contact with us and one of our grant experts will arrange a time to discuss.

Contact us at hello@smartersociety.org

Smarter Society is a leading provider of Grant schemes for Local Authorities, LEPS and other Public Sector organisations.

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