Small Charity week – big funding opportunities

As we celebrate small charities this week, helping small charities find funding opportunities in this current climate of cuts is challenging but crucial. If you haven’t yet considered applying for funding from Europe, then it could be a welcome addition to raise your charity’s income.

There is a notion out there that EU funding means bureaucracy, jargon and mountains of paperwork. But I would like to challenge these views – there are opportunities that could be worthwhile for your organisation to explore so read on. It’s a lot easier than you think, and can really promote innovation and a new way of working in the sector.

If you are new to European funding, you can find out more on our European Funding Network website. We’re not pretending it will be smooth sailing but to get you started, here are our top tips:

1. Start small

There are several funding programmes to choose from. The smaller grants of up to £12,000 can be found through the Community grants programme which is aimed specifically at small VCS organisations that are not ready to access the mainstream ESF (European Social Fund) programme. These grants can be used to support people furthest away from the labour market with the aim to achieve ‘soft’ outcomes, i.e. building individuals’ confidence and motivation, and providing mentoring to encourage personal development.

There are some great examples out there, for instance music therapy projects for adults with mental health needs, city farms teaching green skills to people with lifelong learning difficulties, and computer literacy and information technology courses offering basic IT skills for people with disabilities. Opportunities to volunteer are also seen as a positive way of reengaging people with multiple disadvantages, so if your organisation is involved with any of these activities, you might want to think about applying. There are grants coordinators throughout England – for a list of current opportunities, visit our EFN funding advice pages

2. Do your research

There are resources available to help you find out more about the different EU programmes either through websites (see end of this blog for extensive list) or information centres dotted around England that offer practical support for smaller organisations. We have members from the different regions in England who can offer you expert advice on how to go about applying for funding.

Yes, the system can be complex and frustrating, but with a little support you can establish what’s right for your organisation. Some programmes require you to cooperate with other European partners (some across at least 3 countries). In this scenario, think about your existing partners and see whether they are members of any wider networks. If you need to find partners, the UK has national agents, e.g. ECORYS who can help you in finding partners.

Other examples of programmes that civil organisations of all sizes have been successful at securing grants are:

3. Understand what’s involved

As you devote time to look for these funding opportunities, it is important to bear in mind that if successful, you will also need to have the capacity to devote resources for this work. Report writing can be time consuming, unfortunately delays in payments are not unheard of, and managing the funds can be tricky.

4. Plan ahead now

The good news is that applying for EU funding should become easier for smaller charities from 2014 onwards. The current funding programme will run until the end of next year but there are still funding opportunities available. We here at the NCVO are helping the UK government formulate the next round of funding and will be pushing for civil society organisations to have a greater role in delivering future EU funds.

We are already expecting some welcoming changes according to the first draft of the new regulations such as

  • Introduction of smaller contracts and simplified cost options
  • Less bureaucratic accounting procedures
  • The possibility of using volunteer time as match funding
  • More emphasis on social enterprises

If you would like to be kept updated with developments on funding from 2014 onwards, or would like advice on EU funding, please contact us on

Useful Resources – national

Useful Resources – regional

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Sara was the European Social Fund (ESF) officer, responsible for supporting the delivery of 'Civil Society Active for ESF'.

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