The birth of the National Lottery set fund-raisers in every British charity tingling with anticipation - and Dogs for the Disabled were as keen as everyone else. Unlike many others however, last year they scooped the jackpot with a grant of over half a million pounds. How did they do it?
Says General Manager, Peter Gorbing, "Applications have to be submitted to fit in with a series of rotating "themes" or "Grants Programmes", the very first of which was "Poverty". I should think every charity in the country sent forms in, all of them like us, bending their applications to fit into the criteria. Of course, we didn't get anything and we realised that we had to wait for an appropriate theme to be announced."
In 1997, after various large animal charities had criticized the National Lottery Charities Board for never supporting animal charities, the Grants Programme "Pets for People" was announced and Dogs for the Disabled got busy.
They had already decided to go for broke rather than apply for just a modest sum to cover training a few more dogs. They wanted funding for a long awaited but seemingly impossible project; the Dogs for the Disabled National Training Centre. On a purpose-built site, they could train dogs more cheaply, train clients more quickly, reduce their waiting lists, expand the charity and run their whole operation more efficiently.
Once the application form arrived, the hard work of filling it in began.
"It took most of the summer, really," says Gorbing. "When you're asking someone for £550,000, you have to supply business plans for the next five years, valuers' and surveyors' reports, timetables, outline plans, financial details about the charity, background information and details about all aspects of the aim of the funding.
"The deadline for applications was 3rd October 97 and in the end we had a pile of paper about 2" thick which we sent off by registered post."
In December they received a visit from the National Lottery Charities Board, and realised with a thrill that they must be on the short list.
"But we had no idea that we might be in line for one of the biggest awards of the year," says Gorbing. "In the end from the England-wide allocations, only Shelter got more money than Dogs for the Disabled."
A visit from an accountant at the end of January 1998 convinced them that "something was in the wind" and this visit was followed by further discussions about their application.
"The National Lottery Charities Board wants to be sure that its money will be well-spent. For example, they don't want to award insufficient amounts leaving a charity faced with a half-finished project.
In fact, when they looked at Dogs for the Disabled's plans, they decided to give us an extra nearly £43,000, to cover the cost of a project manager.
"We found out in March 98," says Gorbing. "that they'd awarded us a total of £597.595. You'd think we had a celebration, but actually we were just staring at each other, pale-faced with amazement. We couldn't take it in. It was almost too good to celebrate. We'd dreamed of the National Training Centre for years, but never really thought we could get it off the ground.
"Now it's a reality. We've already bought the site, work is starting in May 99 and we should be able to open it in January 2000."
However they still have some fund-raising to do. Although the National Training Centre will be up and running in January 2000, they need a further £150,000
for additional client accommodation and offices. They have already raised £67,000 this year, and are looking at raising the remaining £90,000 over the next two years.
"It would be cheaper to do everything at once," says Gorbing. "But if we have to, we'll complete the extra work when we can afford it.
"After all, we are also doing our usual fund raising which is our life-blood. We don't want to channel all our efforts into the Training Centre. We still have to continue with our current training programme, and don't forget we support 130 partnerships which are already up and running."
So has he got any advice for other charities who are hoping for Lottery funding?
"Detail is the main thing. Very careful, detailed thinking. You have to know exactly what you want to do with the money, who will benefit and how. You also have to show that your project is sustainable. It's no use just showing that you are doing something wonderful - you have to show that your organisation is well managed and that you have your feet firmly on the ground.
"I don't think, especially for smaller charities, that it's worth spending lots of money on the application process. After all, you still might end up with nothing."
On the other hand, play your cards right, and like Dogs for the Disabled, your dreams just might come true.
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