Reflections on the grant allocation for the Scheme to Support National Organisations 2014-2016

Earlier this year the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government announced the third round of this scheme. There were substantial changes to the parameters of the scheme, the application process for which was now to be managed by Pobail.

This new scheme had a number of clear distinguishing characteristics. It was for national organisations that focus on disadvantaged target groups (either directly providing services or indirectly by supporting those that do deliver services). The scheme was for core rather than project funding and emphasis was placed on supporting those organisations with no other source of core funding.

The background documentation identified three strategic priorities: (1) frontline service delivery; (2) organisational development; and (3) policy development. The documentation also made it clear that an organisation could focus on one or all of these priorities. The scheme was advertised as covering 2.5 years, though there is some confusion as the numbers released by the department this week suggest that the allocation is for 2 years (which would imply a bigger annual budget for each organisation).

From an advocacy perspective the inclusion of the last priority was very significant, as this explicit focus had been missing from earlier schemes. Indeed advocacy was clearly named as an activity that could be funded under this priority.

Speaking to a range of people who prepared applications the process was by all accounts rigorous, complicated, and not well suited to those inexperienced in form filling.

So what happened?

Well two information session organised by the department and Pobail were extremely well attended. By all accounts they received a phenomenal number of applications. The general funding environment, the demise of philanthropic and other sources of core funding would have all contributed to this. Inevitably there was very stiff competition between organisations.

55 organisations received funding this time (down from 64 in 2011 and 64 in 2008). Since 2008 107 organisations have benefitted form the scheme at some stage but only 24 have been funded under all three programmes. 39 of the organisations funded in 2011 do not appear on the 2014 list. 24 are new to the scheme in 2014, while 5 who had lost funding in 2011 rejoined the scheme in 2014. Assuming the announced allocation is for 2.5 years compared to the 2011 allocations (bearing in mind these were subsequently cut) 17 organisations received less funding this time, while the allocation for eight organisations is up.

The grants this time range from an annual allocation of just under 17,000 to the maximum of 73,000 (on the basis of a two year grant this range is from 21,000 to 91,000). Last time the range was wider with a minimum grant of 20,000 and a maximum of 100,000. The average grant was slightly higher in the 2011 allocation at just over 60,000, while this time the average is about 58,000.

So what are the emerging trends? Well first it is remarkable that so many health focused groups which made it into the scheme in 2008 and 2011 appear to have lost out this time. What are the alternative sources of core funding for these groups?

Second there is a striking move towards national organisations that have an advocacy focus; this seems to have translated from the criteria into funding commitments. Does this mark a shift away from the perceived reluctance of the state to fund advocacy?

Finally there remains the reality that while this week’s news would have been very welcome for many organisations, the numbers are well below what they were back in 2008 (and indeed for the predecessor schemes including the National Anti Poverty Networks Scheme). The average grant in 2008 was over 90,000, the maximum grant was 239,000. Is it really possible to core fund a national organisation for 60,000 a year?

Let me know if you would like a copy of my calculations.

My PhD research is concerned with the funding experience of the National Anti-Poverty Networks from 2003 to 2010, this includes the last NAPN programme and the first SSNO programme.