An insiders guide to local government funding

We recently completed the second webinar in our series. This time we focussed on sharing inside tips for developing an effective funding relationship with your Council.  Our Funding HQ in-house expert, Craig Ireson has over ten years’ experience in local government and has worked with councils of every size. He shared his best insider’s insights. 

Funding HQ helps you develop your funding plan; and as part of this we help you look at different funding streams. One of those streams is local government: working in partnership with your council. Here’s a snapshot of insights from the webinar.

Get to know your council plan

The majority of council funding is allocated and distributed through the Annual Plan (yearly) or the Long-term Plan (three yearly) process. The timing of these cycles will vary depending on the council. 

Every council has a set of guiding plans and documents which set out their priorities and direction: underneath these is the detailed layer of business unit plans, for example the events team, the marketing team, the community development team, the parks and recreation team. These teams outline how they’re going to implement the strategy. These plans will feed into and are fed into by community-driven documents such as community plans.

A good way to get to know your local council is by reading these plans and strategies to understand the priorities. If you get the chance to contribute to consultation and community planning make sure you do. It’s a great way to increase your visibility within council.

What type of council funding?

Most council funding comes through the long term and annual plan process. Other future-building initiatives will often have a 20 – 30 year development lens. At this level of funding you need to be looking well ahead and positioning yourself as an organisation who can help solve the problems the council will face in decades to come.

To secure this long term funding, you need to start small and build credibility through the funding process. By applying for and delivering on smaller funding asks with council you are developing your ‘credit rating’ and credibility as an aligned community partner.

Here are some of the alternate funding opportunities.

Contestable Funding

Contestable funding is usually administered on an annual or biannual basis. Councillors will sit on a committee which oversees this funding, and they will be thematically grouped according to council priorities or strategic focus. For example, Wellington City Council themes their contestable funding by the four well beings; social, cultural, economic, and environmental.

Every council in New Zealand also has Creative Communities funding. This is administered locally by the council on behalf of Creative NZ. The panel which makes the decisions for this fund is made up of community members and council representation. Each council is allocated an amount based on their population size. The funding will often have a youth and participation focus.  

Discretionary funding

This funding will normally sit within an activity budget, and can be usually signed off at the officer level, without councillor involvement.

Examples of this type of funding are: 

  • Event funding or sponsorship 
  • Business improvement fund
  • Innovation and sustainability fund
  • Youth development fund
  • Strengthening communities fund

In-kind support

This is an extremely valuable resource, and the support of your council in this way is often seen by other funders, especially central government, as carrying significant weight.

In-kind support can be represented by venue use, equipment, resources, people and volunteers, marketing support, or having the council sit alongside your organisation to offer guidance and support therefore building your capability. 

In-kind support should be highly valued. For councils there is a transfer of costs somewhere in their budgets. So, although it’s not cash it should be recognised as a valuable and valued source of funding.

How to work with your  council champion and find funding success

Like any funding partnership it’s important to build a relationship with your council, and work together to develop solutions which work for both your organisation and the council. 

Make sure you have done your research and have a clear understanding of the council’s strategic priorities and what funding streams are available at your council.

Check that there is alignment between your organisation and the council. If there is, then think about how to demonstrate that your work will enhance their work, and will help them reach the community and deliver on their objectives. 

You will need to be open-minded, flexible and innovative in how you are willing to work with your council to get the best out of their support. 

Give yourself time to make sure you put the best plan forward, and make sure the council knows about your work, the impact it is having and your plans. Don’t let the first time the council hears about you be when your funding proposal crosses the table. By the time your proposal reaches the decision makers you should have workshopped it collaboratively with your champion within the council.

Tips to remember

  • Not all councils are the same – get to know how your local council operates
  • There is a huge amount of funding and support available from a council,  In-kind support has a cost to the council – value it
  • Find an internal council champion – work with them to collectively to steward your project through the process
  • Take care of council like you would any other funder or sponsor- don’t take their support for granted
  • Allow time, and lots of it to build a relationship with your council 
  • Start small; build up your credibility by showing you can deliver Know the timing of funding round opportunities for your council –  Getting in at the right time is a big part of whether your approach will be successful or not.

With these points in mind long-term planning season is just around the corner so now is the perfect time to start engaging with your local council and finding your champion.

Funding HQ has many more ideas, and advice for approaching councils for funding, and to help you build a successful case for investment. Find out how Funding HQ can help your organisation here.