EU funding is a source that can often be overlooked, often being seen as an overly bureaucratic protracted process, which could potentially waste time and resources. But with the right amount of time and planning devoted to the process, it could work out as an invaluable source of funding.
1. Find out what funding is available
Broadly speaking, there are two types of funds available: EU Structural funds and EU grants.
The EU Structural and Investment Funds include the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and are intended to support social and economic restructuring whereas EU grants are given for projects and activities in relation to EU policies.
The voluntary sector is often involved in EU funding with projects for promoting social inclusion and fighting against poverty, environmental protection, cultural exchange, research and innovation or women’s rights for example.
There are also grants of up to £15,000 specifically designed for smaller organisations to support people seeking to move closer to the labour market.
These are called ESF community grants.
2. Seek out people to help
There are lots of people out there who are available to help with your funding bids.
Try to attend as many events, training sessions, seminars, and workshops as possible to learn about making bids and running them in accordance with the regulations.
Big Lottery appointed Programme Development Fund (PDF) contact points for the ESF Building Better Opportunities Programme - look up your PDF on their website.
There are information centres dotted around England that offer practical support for smaller organisations on how to go about applying for funding.
3. Check the guidelines
Once you have found a potential fund for your organisation, don't waste your time preparing a bid without:
- Reading through the projects guidelines first to find out if your organisation is eligible to apply for the funding.
- Finding out if your project fits the criteria of the programme - check their annual work programmes
- Checking the duration of the projects. EU Funding programmers last for seven years and so some changes can happen during this period.
- Ensuring that the project is meeting the programme's requirements including publicity rules
- Understanding the selection criteria and scoring system is vital, remember that you will be held responsible for delivering your outputs and outcomes at the costs agreed.
- Checking the application deadlines.
- Having the required match funding - which can be up to 50% of project costs. This means that you may have to dig into your own resources but contributions in-kind such as staff time or in some cases volunteer time, are sometimes allowed
4. Commit to European dimension to your work
5. Find strong partners
Ask yourself could your organisation deliver a fund better if you worked in partnership? Choosing the right partner can make a difference especially if they already have expertise in European funding. You can do this by
- Seeking out and getting in touch with any important partnership groups in your area to see what areas they are already working on.
- Contacting your local Council for Voluntary Service or Rural Community Council should be able to help.
- Using Funding Central’s free Partner Zone
- Going to the free NGO international portal NGOpartnership.Org
- Checking the partner search facility on the Commission programmes websites to help identify potential transnational partners.
6. Give your organisation a health check
It is vital to consider how much match funding your project requires and where it will come from. European funding is unlikely to cover all the costs of your project - the majority of programmes only fund between 50% and 75% of the project costs - so make sure that either you have match funding yourself, or there is match funding available through a co-financing body or another partner. You will need to provide evidence of your match-funding during the application process. Find out more about co-financing on the European Social Fund website.
There are certain risks involved with receiving EU funding. There are strict audit requirements and you will need to keep all supporting documents for a number of years after the project has ended. The risk of clawback is a continued threat so it is important that you are aware of all your contractual responsibilities.
And remember most of European Structural Funds can only be claimed retrospectively, that is after you have actually spent the money. 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, working with partners in other countries can mean be tricky due to language and culture barriers and your organisation should be prepared in the case of delays in payments.
7. Check the process for applying
There are different procedures for applying, depending on the different funds - each with their own management system and eligibility criteria.
EU funding is available in grants - directly funded from the EU Commission awarded on the basis of calls for proposal or via contracts, where providers are selected via calls for tender. The open calls for proposals are published in the Official Journal of the EU (OJEU) – see the Tenders Electronic Daily.
Other types of funding can be accessed via:
- the European Institutions, e.g. the European Commission funding portal
- external agencies, e.g. the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency
- the government's Funding Finder for the European Structural and Investment Funds
- Intermediary bodies in the form of loans and subsidies via banks and credit unions, e.g. the European Investment Bank
8. Don't get distracted
Amid all the bureaucracy, don't lose sight of your original purpose, for success will be in terms of the benefits your project brings to the people and communities you work with.
- Before you start, check out the European Commission's Beginners' Guide to EU Funding.
- We recently took part in an online Q&A session organised by Guardian Professional. If you would like to know more about how to apply for funding, how to write effective funding applications, and what support is out there, go to the Guardian Professional website to view the discussion.
- Read our top four tips for accessing European funding if you're a small charity. This was a guest blog post written by us for NCVO’s sustainable funding team.