Guidelines, Guidelines, Guidelines…

Guidelines, Guidelines, Guidelines…

I recently watched a funny – if somewhat sinister play – streamed via Australian Theatre Live’s website on Vimeo. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is the story of a suburban mother who is taken in for questioning by a nameless Government department, supposedly for her suspected terrorist links. The not-very-bright but super officious trainee interrogator wheels in a large trolley full of documentation about her life. He also brings up photos, Facebook posts, text messages and other minute details of her life on a large screen. All the while she is fretting about not being able to pick up her children from school.  It’s the kind of thought-provoking play that makes you wonder – with trepidation – just how much of our personal information is captured electronically and by surveillance devices.

So what’s this got to do with guidelines? Well, at the end of the play the trainee’s superior comes into the room and offers to release the woman as long as she signs the terms and conditions. She starts to scroll through the document on the big screen and the terms and conditions go on ad infinitum! Desperate to get out, she signs. How often do any of us read the small print in the  Ts and Cs published by our banks, superannuation providers and insurance companies? Not many, I suspect.

In my experience, some grant-seekers approach guidelines a bit like insurance policy documentation. They may skim them and get the overall picture, but fail to take in the detail and fine print. Especially when the guidelines run to 20 plus pages. But it’s worth persevering! Otherwise we miss nuggets of information that could be the making of an application.  A client I worked with recently on a big grant hadn’t spotted that you could upload 10 pages of supporting documentation. In an application with stringent word counts, that was a gift!

Think how much work and thought goes into a detailed set of guidelines. We need to treat guidelines with the respect they deserve. Guidelines act as your compass, helping you to navigate the application, weighting your answers correctly and highlighting how your project aligns with the funder’s criteria and focus areas. From keywords to KPIs there are plenty of clues as to how a funder wants you to answer the questions. And if you drill down to the small print – a kind of reading between the lines of the guidelines – there is gold in the detail.

And even if you’ve applied previously to a funder – maybe many times – never assume that their guidelines remain static. There are often updates depending on emerging or changing needs – the flurry of COVID-related grants is a good example.

Alongside scrutinising guidelines – and that includes looking at the grant agreement for successful applications (very much a Ts and Cs situation) –  always pick up the phone and discuss your project with the funder if possible, whether to clarify the guidelines, hone your project, or simply put your organisation and project on their radar.

On Wednesday 7th October, I am running a webinar  – Unpacking Perpetual –  drilling down to the guidelines and beyond, with lots of tips and insights to help you approach Perpetual’s Annual IMPACT Philanthropy Application Program (IPAP), which opens 26 October 2020. You can book via this link: