Edition number 2; dateline 26 October 2007

Long nights and the community funding process

Two things have required me to seek the relaxation of the hot tub this month: the ‘application process’ and ‘KPIs’. These subjects may appear to be separate but any application process for public money increasingly requires the hapless applicant to submit their ‘key performance indicators’. Even thinking about this subject is increasing my heart rate so already I achieve a Government target but am I one of the 1% increase in participation or not?

I work with many clients to develop projects and then seek the finance to achieve the goals that have been identified and usually it goes something like this. Someone comes up with an idea. Feasibility work is then undertaken to see whether the idea is good and sustainable. If the answer is yes, development plans, work programmes or activity plans are written and agreed, the project is pulled together and a business plan is added as the final part of the evidence. Applications are then made to the relevant funding bodies, both internal and external, and that is when the ‘fun’ begins. Of course, although much shortened, this is the text book version and despite appearing simple, it is very rarely followed in the real world for myriad reasons.

What does the funder want? Ultimately, they want one thing: they want their money to achieve the outcomes that they have set down. In addition, if they are a public funding body, such as the lottery or a local authority, they have a duty to spend public money wisely and prove it. The ‘prove it’ bit is becoming increasingly important and I am sure that we all agree with this in principle. So what’s the problem? As anyone who has gone through the process knows, it is never that simple.

KPIs put fear into me, particularly the ones connected to government targets. I always remember the very first words uttered at the beginning of my module on statistics at university: “There are lies, damn lies and statistics.” (Benjamin Disraeli and my statistics lecturer). How this statement has haunted me since.

 A simple question often asked is how many participants do you have now and how many are going to have in the future? On the face of it this appears reasonable but when you begin to split down the figures required it becomes a mathematical nightmare. The first problem you will probably encounter is that you don’t have current baseline figures for the target groups, which the funder is asking for. So do you put in ‘nil’ and argue that you don’t have the figures? Or do you estimate some baseline figures but, like all good maths questions, remember to show your workings out. You then need to show an increase year on year (and don’t forget the logic from your original baseline estimates). Next question: are these percentage increases showing ‘new to sport participants’ and how do you decide whether someone is a participant, a new participant or just a ‘throughput’. Of course, you can ask them but you are also collecting information about their age, ethnic background, gender, etc so it becomes increasingly confused. Of course, you can never make your figures add up and someone will always insist that they must equal 100%, always difficult when you may have some people who fit into two or three of your categories. We could go on: is a ‘participant’ an ‘active club member’ or is this a whole new set of people; what about the ‘new to sport active club member’? You then have to ensure these are all backed up by your programmes of use or by feasibility study research and that they are directly reflected by your development plan, which of course you will have got them from in the first place – won’t you?

Even before we move to the application process, the world of KPIs is a ‘challenge’ even for those who are used to dealing with them. The volunteers, who are usually very bright and capable people, are completely blown away by this process and I am sure as this system develops they will be equally challenged by collecting the ongoing data.

You have worked through the KPIs and you have decided that you have solid, reliable figures with which you are comfortable but are challenging enough for funders to respect. Along with all the other evidence you have been asked to collect, you need to fill in your application form(s). In this world of partnership and lack of funds it is inevitable that you will need to make multiple applications. This isn’t a problem because you have prepared all the information in advance but then you look at the outcomes, outputs and targets they want you to report on and – yes, you’ve guessed it – they are all different. My favourite is the ‘older people’ category; with some funds you reach this by the time you are 45 and with others 65. All these frustrations increase when it is volunteers who are asked to complete this process. Even if they understand what is being asked of them they struggle to find the time to put it together in the way required.

Being a ‘glass half full’ sort of person, I don’t want to finish on a negative note. The soothing bubbles of the tub are encouraging me to say that we should embrace being able to prove to the world how worthy our work is (through the statistics) and we should make people think about what exactly they want before embarking on hard and expensive projects. However, let’s all find a way of reducing the red tape, most importantly that which entangles the voluntary groups who are the lifeblood of sport and physical activity delivery in this country.


Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.



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