Design Club
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Design Club

Our experience of fundraising through The Funding Network

What we learned and why we think other small charities and social enterprises should apply to TFN

Pitching at TFN. Photos bu Nishad Manerikar.

We formed Design Club as a social enterprise because we wanted all children to have access to high quality design thinking resources. Since April last year, most of our funding has come through the generosity of our lovely Founding Supporters and Growth Supporters.

That changed recently, when we pitched at a live crowdfunding event run by The Funding Network (TFN). We raised £6,000 to fund kits and development for 30 after school clubs (this is brilliant — a massive boost towards us reaching our target of 50 clubs in 2019).

Fundraising through TFN was a great experience for us. Their team were a delight to work with. Jennie Jeffery, the programmes manager, was helpful and supportive throughout the whole process.

Now that we’ve done it, we wanted to share our journey. We hope it’s useful for other small charities and social enterprises seeking early stage funding.

1. Shortlisting funding opportunities

Our first job was to draw up a list of potential funding opportunities for Design Club. One of our advisors, Iris, helped us do this. Then we prioritised each opportunity. TFN was set to “High” as we felt it was a good fit for the stage we were at. Iris advised me to go along to a TFN event to get a feel for the live crowdfunding format and how it worked.

2. Going along to a TFN event

I popped along to a TFN event early last year. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was hoping to come away with insights about how best to raise funds for Design Club. I ended up donating a combined total of £400 to the four charities pitching. After listening to the pitches I felt emotionally attached and compelled to support each cause.

3. Finding someone to nominate Design Club

Before applying to TFN, you need a member of the network to nominate your project. I thought I might bump into a member at the event, strike up a relationship and ask them to nominate Design Club. This didn’t happen, so I asked a friend if he might be interested in becoming a TFN member. Luckily he said yes!

4. Completing the application form

After Design Club was nominated, we were invited to complete an online application form. We had a month or so to do this. The form is simple enough, but there is a tight word limit on your answers.

Basic questions (e.g. around mission and turnover) require up to 30 word answers. More open questions about the problem you’re solving and purpose of your application require between 50 and 250 words. We found this quite challenging, especially when you are encouraged to back up your arguments with data and examples. But it was a useful exercise to go through.

After filling out the form, we had the opportunity to submit a draft for review and to get feedback. This really is brilliant. Applying for funding can be stressful. It’s wonderful that TFN provide practical and constructive feedback on your application before final submission.

5. Selection panel and being invited to pitch

Within a week of submitting our application we got an email back from TFN. We’d been shortlisted to speak with TFN’s selection panel. This stage consisted of a 5 minute phone call where we answered one or two questions. A few days later TFN emailed us again — we’d been successful! We were selected to pitch at the March crowdfunding event.

6. The pitching workshop

Two weeks before the main event we were asked to join a workshop with the three other pitchers. Jemima and I were pitching together, so we both went along to the workshop. It was a great opportunity to think about what we were going to say, practice our presentation and get to know our fellow pitchers. Each pitch lasts just 6 minutes, followed by 6 minutes of questions. If you run over on your pitch, that takes time away from your Q&A. They’re pretty strict on timing.

7. Pitching on the night

The TFN event itself was a lot of fun. We got there an hour before the doors opened in order to do a final run-through of our pitch with Celine Gagnon, TFN’s CEO (who hadn’t seen us speak) before pitching live. As we were running slightly over 6 minutes, Celine advised us which bits to cut back on. She also told us where she felt something needed more explanation. This was really valuable.

We invited friends and family along (who managed to occupy nearly every seat in the front row). They were a huge support and it was lovely to see so many friendly faces when we actually did our pitch.

The format is two pitches, followed by a short break, then two more pitches. We had the third slot. We’d practiced our presentation quite a bit and everything seemed to go okay. Jennie and Celine had also discussed with us what questions might come up, so we felt prepared. The audience was very interested in Design Club and it felt as if people were willing us to do well.

Throughout the evening, there are plenty of drinks and snacks laid out. It’s all very informal and people are encouraged to chat to each other during the breaks. Once all the pitches were over, the presenters were invited to sit in another room while the actual crowdfunding took place.

TFN take a small cut of all funds raised on the night — so it’s important for them that you do really well in your pitch. It’s a situation where everyone benefits from others doing well, and it’s great to have so much positive support. The events are high energy — a bit like a live auction — and you feel camaraderie (rather than competition) with your fellow speakers.

If you’re thinking of raising funds through TFN, we recommend you go for it. Start by going along to an event. You will meet some lovely people and may well end up donating to some worthwhile causes in the process.

See below for what the event looked like. Photos by Nishad Manerikar.

If you want any advice or have a question, pop me an email.




Design thinking workshops for children, from after school clubs to pop-up workshops. We’re a social enterprise and not-for-profit. Join us.

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