Originally published September 29th, 2016
So there you are. Your head full of great ideas that could turn into really great projects, but something always keeps you from realising them. Sound familiar?
More often than not, it’s the lack of funding that keeps innovative ideas from ever taking off. There’s a widespread myth that it’s almost impossible for small NGOs and independent changemakers to receive subsidies from the European Union. This article tries to disprove that myth. EU fundraising and project management is a field that you can actually learn to master professionally. Doing so has the potential to significantly improve your chances of receiving the funding necessary to realise your project and to contribute to the change you want to initiate.
In this article, you’ll find an initial overview of the EU funding opportunities that exist, as well as some tips, tricks and advice for what to do, and what not to do, in order to get EU funding for your project.
Budget: The base/foundation
As noted above, there is in fact money set aside to finance innovative project ideas. And not just a little, there’s a massive pot. The trick, is knowing how to get your hands on it.
The budget available for EU projects is defined in the EU multiannual financial framework (MFR) which lays down the maximum annual amounts that could be spent on social, ecological, political or economic projects in and around the European Union over a period of 7 years. For the period of 2014 to 2020, a maximum sum of 960 billion Euros is reserved, mostly to co-finance innovative methods and projects. For more information on the MFR click here.
This large amount of cash is allocated through different thematic EU programmes, ranging from education, citizenship and international cooperation to environmental protection, infrastructure and economic development to research. EU programmes usually result from larger European political strategies in these areas.
Innovation and Ideas: The strategy
An experienced EU-Fundraiser at EuroConsults Berlin, one of the leading training provider in the field of EU-Fundraising and Project management, once said, “Basically, the EU is looking for service providers, who contribute to the realisation of larger EU-Strategies through the implementation of their own and innovative EU-Projects.” This statement draws attention to two important points.
Like everything else, getting EU funding is all about taking strategic steps. First, you need to be aware of the current EU politics and policies and then you need to make your project compatible with them in a second step. Every multiannual budget follows a strategic plan for the EU’s policies, economy and society. For the period of 2014-2020, it’s mainly the EU 2020 strategy. EU2020 has been drawn up by EU policy-makers to react to challenges Europe is facing these days: global competition in the field of digitalization, demographic change, regional inequalities and poverty, climate change, unemployment, migration, economic growth, just to name a few. The three defined priorities of the EU2020 strategy are intelligent growth (economic), sustainable growth (environmental), and integrated growth (social). To really understand what it is all about, it is advisable to to know it and what it is all about, you’ll find it here.
Where to apply: The different levels
If you know about the EU2020 strategy and it’s main focus, you’re already one step ahead of the many applicants for EU-funding who don’t even know of its existence. However, you still need to know which specific grants and programmes, within EU2020, are relevant for your projects and ideas.
EU funds are usually administered on different levels: The European level, national level (Ministries and National Agencies) and the regional level (your city’s local administration).
Researching the relevant ministries and agencies that publish calls for application can be seriously time intensive.
However, there are a number of courses available in EU-fundraising and project management that will teach you how you how to fund, manage and establish your European project. This will give you confidence for your next application round and higher your chances to be successful and realise the ideas your heart burns for. For example, this training offered by EuroConsults Berlin, will teach you all about the diverse funding opportunities that exist (and tips and tricks how to find your path in the EU-project management scene).
In the meantime, these dos and don’ts will help you get started!
- Keep up to date with EU politics, policies and strategies (the EU-2020 strategy in particular!)
- Network! Get to know the professional scene, meet people and network as much as you can. You can find an overview of the EU Meetings here. Or check out the 13th European Week of Regions and Cities (OPEN DAYS) taking place in Brussels on 12-15 October 2015.
- Jointly work out a detailed plan for the whole project and its aims, according to the EU strategies. Don’t feel you need to do it alone. Join forces with your European partners. Teamwork is key! Together, you bring more to the table and all benefit from your proposal being accepted.
- If you write a proposal, pay close attention to the required methodology! There’s lots of fine print, make sure you pay close attention to all aspects of the call for proposals.
- Demonstrate your innovation! Be aware that your `competitors´ deliver high quality applications and that jurors therefore have quite high expectations and usually now the topic well.,
- Apply for funding just to finance your running costs as an organisation! To be a successful EU fundraiser and project manager, you need a project idea that you really support, that your heart burns for!
- Apply to a call without having sufficient time for it! To write an application for EU-funding you need time for research, for planning, risk management and meetings with your partners, this can’t be done within 2 weeks.
- Send your partners the almost finished version of the project! The rule is: The lead partner creates the project draft, which will then be discussed within the partner consortium (as a general rule: the required number of partners + 3!), providing room for each partner to bring their own skills (and interests) to the table.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew! If you never applied for a EU-Project, don’t put yourself in the role of lead partner who has the most responsibility. Leave this job to experienced project managers and take a small role at the beginning and learn on the job.
- Don’t ask for too much at once! As they say, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and this also applies to EU project funding. Have realistic and precise goals and ambitious and plan ahead. Your EU projects should complement each other and thus real impact comes as a sum of its part.