"Jargon, the Lottery and the Need for an accessible infrastructure" by GRIN

Jun 19, 2016

As a Grants Manager for over 30 years and an advisor to groups seeking grant funding, I spend a good amount of time telling agencies that there isn’t a ‘special language’ or a particular jargon to use when preparing bids. Mostly, my advice is to:

o Use straightforward, uncomplicated English, avoiding the use of jargon;
o Answer the specific question on the application form (I’m still surprised by the number of agencies that answer a question by talking about a completely unrelated issue); and
o Have recent evidence of need that demonstrates there’s a real requirement for the project. 

At the same time, I know that – as a manager of a local authority grants programme – funding for charitable organisations has reduced as a result of local government having little option but to pass on cuts to their central government grant; a government that, in my view, has demonstrated little interest in the charitable sector as it uses grant reductions as a subplot for rolling back the state. Government grant subsidy is expected to reduce to zero by the end of this parliament in 2020, which will inevitably result in more cuts to local services.

Infrastructure organisations such as Councils for Voluntary Services have seen significant reductions to their local authority funding over a number of years. There are now serious concerns around their capacity to effectively support community and voluntary agencies with, for example, advice on governance, providing training and networking opportunities and maintaining Volunteer Bureaus.

When we moved GRIN to a subscriber service in March, we sent out a questionnaire asking agencies about their funding needs. The results are still being collated and analysed, but one trend that has immediately stood out is the number of agencies – including all our infrastructure subscribers – in need of core funding.

Recently the South West Forum has entered into a dialogue with the Big Lottery Fund, asking if it would like to a discuss the state of infrastructure support to the sector. The request is unambiguous, clearly and honestly asking the BIG Lottery if it would like to be involved in a dialogue about this very significant and growing challenge.

The reply from the BIG Lottery’s Policy Manager who, frankly, should know better, is causing as much amusement as it is amazement, as it’s shrouded in a form of goobledygook and jargon that makes the Lottery’s position almost incomprehensible.

Straightforward questions such as “Do you think some kind of regional mapping or stock take exercise with explicit aims and purposes could be useful?” and “Would you like to be involved in discussions (virtually or physically) to take the idea forward?” have been batted back with comments, which unhelpfully ignore the rules of punctuation, such as:

It’s clear that it’s important to think in terms of infrastructure functions (rather than organisations) and then to take a broader view of how these functions will be delivered into the future as the landscape of ‘doing good’ and new mechanisms and providers of support evolve.”

“We have already supported transition activity through initiatives such as Big Assist, with wrap-up legacy work now underway to develop materials to support organisations to learn from the collaborations and new ways of working adopted by ‘beacon’ organisations”; and

”What is the value of gathering data on support providers (and for whom) – and is this value more likely to be realised through other mechanisms providing ongoing real-time access to information about support sources of a variety of functions and forms, which VCSE organisations themselves can make use of?  These are questions that seem more pertinent to me to explore, and which I am thinking about as we continue to learn from ongoing test and learn activity.”

This is a ‘stream of consciousness’ reply with an underlying message that the Lottery isn’t interested in discussing support for infrastructure as it’s been provided in the past. But my point – and my concern - is that, if I’m spending my time encouraging potential grant applicants to present their proposals in unambiguous, straightforward, non-jargon language, and yet a leading national funding body converses with the sector in this form of impenetrable, jargon-heavy, obtuse language, what hope is there? Or perhaps, as one suspects, this is typical of the inner language of the Lottery. 

The issue of Infrastructure will, however, be discussed at a GEORGE/South West Foundation seminar called ‘Café Conversations’ on Tuesday 5th July at Creech St. Michael Village Hall, just outside Taunton.  Everyone interested in this issue is welcome to attend and, interestingly, the Lottery will be there as well (so perhaps they want to be involved in this discussion after all? Who knows? Come along and find out!).

Café Conversations is a free event, including lunch, that will take place from 10.30am to 3pm on Tuesday 5th July at Creech St, Michael Village Hall. Places are still available and can be booked by email at or by phone on 01761 471104. 

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