Future Support and Advice to Rural Communities

This report explores the nature and level of existing support and advice available to rural communities in Scotland.


3.1 In this chapter we explore what rural community groups say that they need in terms of advice and support to access funding. Because different groups responded to different parts of the survey, the relevant sample size is shown in each Figure (i.e. n =).

The type of advice and support that community groups say they need

Quantitative Overview

3.2 When asked about which areas of funding advice and support were vital, community groups were most likely to respond that they needed advice and information which helped them identify the funders with funding relevant to their needs (89% of 193 respondents), as well as support for developing proposal ideas (65%). Advice and guidance on non-grant funding options (e.g. trading, crowd funding) was the least sought after type of advice or support, with 39% saying that this is vital.

Figure 1: What sort of support is vital to groups like yours? (n = 193 who provided one or more response, 23 did not respond) [Source: Rocket Science survey]

Figure 1: What sort of support is vital to groups like yours?

In-depth Qualitative Analysis

3.3 To capture the full range of community groups' needs, respondents were asked to comment on any other needs they had (that is, outwith the areas listed above). These qualitative responses were analysed to add insights to the quantitative overview and are presented below.

3.4 A number of groups expressed a need for support and encouragement in getting members of the community involved, and the difficulty of working in a volunteering capacity.

"When I try to encourage people to help me help people - it's not there."

"There are probably only three people in the village who can fill in the application forms. If you're doing things in your community, you have to divert time for these. On average it takes us 3-4 days to fill in the form. If you're doing that, you're not doing something else."

3.5 Others expressed a need for awareness of the distinction between well-established and/or well-informed community groups and groups who are just starting out in community work and who have no idea where to start:

"We're well established. What would be great would be a 20 page idiot's guide to community groups accessing funding."

"I think we are very fortunate due to the experience and knowledge of staff and Board teams. However I do think that support to identify funders beyond the usual: how to assess their relevance, and how to have an initial conversation can be very difficult for organisations."

"We were very much beginners on the whole thing. When you're a complete beginner on this sort of thing it's very hard."

3.6 Others highlighted the complexity of the funding advice landscape itself, and saw there being a potential role for someone to help navigate this support, for example:

"Perhaps road shows and more promotion of what support is out there would be good. On line support is useful, but also people running workshops for a group is essential so that groups with varied membership can develop knowledge and ownership together. As I said earlier, I see no harm in commissioning some of this work to be done by other professionals as long as the community retained control."

This notion of the need for professional advice was also voiced by others, for example:

"If you want to offer this [advice and support] free, you need lots of money and great care in the quality of the advice - [we have] lots of experience of this advice being provided free but VERY BADLY."

"Skilled support (not all free advice is good quality especially from TSI); peer support from people who have actually been successful rather than just advisors who don't actually do it."

3.7 Importantly, there was a significant number of respondents who were clearly unaware of there being any support available, for example:

"Some information and support of any sort would help!"

"If any of the above [types of funding advice] were available that would help us to make more successful applications."

"Would like to know what support is available."

"More information on services providers could deliver."

3.8 Other responses by small minorities of respondents included the need for intensive support, the need for a directory of funders and assistance with the challenging language requirements of applications, for example:

Directory of funders:

"A directory - an easy and accessible list of fund granters together with information on how to target them."

Need for intensive support:

"Accessible one to one support form truly informed, experienced, knowledgeable people."

"It needs to focus on early intensive support - too often it is information provision rather than hand holding."

Assistance for the challenging content requirements of applications:

"In the case of LEADER, help in the form of translation services so that we can present applications in the arcane language required by the EC."

3.9 Alongside these specific needs, a number of respondents wanted to highlight the need not so much for better advice to navigate the complex and varying requirements of funders, but for a complete re-think in funders' requirements, for example:

"The entire funding process should be redesigned to make it, as far as possible, user friendly without the necessity for external support."

"Simplified and more transparent application procedures."

"Most funding is project orientated, but organisations have ongoing operational cost - getting general funding is the challenge!"

Particular needs around the format of advice provision

3.10 As well as understanding the types of needs that community groups say they have, we also explored needs across a range of different formats of provision (within categories of networking, training, provision of good practice resources and light touch / intensive one to one support). The responses were analysed and describe a situation of significant unmet needs across all of these formats, as set out below.

Networking / Events

3.11 In terms of networking and events, many respondents highlighted the need for events to be locally accessible, for example:

"Locally-based events at local venues. Drop-ins are good where experts are on hand to ask questions. Having funders there is the best."

"Locally accessible….Community Land Scotland was great."

"Worth their weight in gold but we're in the back of beyond. Need to be accessible."

Two respondents suggested travel expenses for volunteers to attend events and a further two respondents suggested video conferencing as an alternative for distant events:

"…this can be time consuming and sometimes video conferencing or webinars can help."

Another respondent voiced an interesting opinion that there is a degree of preparation required to get the most out of attending events:

"You need a certain amount of know-how in order to actually gain something from an event."

Another respondent suggested that events need to be effective, and not just numerous:

"More effective ones - there needs to be a learning element to it."

Good Practice Resources

3.12 Respondents described a wide range of good practice resources that would be helpful. Some respondents focused on general resources about business planning and accessing funding, for example:

  • "Business Plan templates, writing briefs, tender process templates."
  • "Clearer advice on bigger funding streams (e.g. EU) and associated bureaucracy."
  • "Financial."
  • "Guides on how to understand and successfully answer funders' requirements."
  • "Clearer explanation of language used in applications."
  • "Advice on sources of funding for ongoing maintenance."
  • "Enterprise support."
  • "… case studies sharing successful and unsuccessful projects."

Other respondents identified more specialised support needs in terms of good practice resources:

  • "Legal advice"
  • "Resources for natural environment rather than built environment"
  • "Commons in Highland"
  • "Ideas and mechanics of non-grant fundraising"
  • "Employment"
  • "Marketing"
  • "Policies and procedures templates. Contracts of Employment, etc."
  • "HR, risk assessments."

3.13 Regarding the format of these good practice resources, this ranged from general sharing from experienced peers to paper based (one respondent) and, much more commonly, online resources, for example:

  • "Online and paper based"
  • "Easy access web based resource"
  • "… this is about sharing from people that have been there and done it."
  • "More online resources and step by step guides that are easy to understand"
  • "Website."


3.14 A small minority of respondents chose to emphasise the importance of training to them, for example:

"[The] main area where help would be appreciated."

"That is essential."

"When you set up a project it's often easy not to build in training, then you kick yourself because you should have thought to do this."

3.15 This was offset by a different small minority who expressed doubts over the usefulness of training, or the ability of community groups to spend time on training, for example:

"Training is available, local people having time or inclination to take part in such training can prove difficult."

"One to one guidance online and over the phone. Don't need training sessions for individuals or groups - funding requirements are specific to each case, and cannot be discussed in group environments."

"Short courses, as time is an issue for stretched group activists."

3.16 As with the responses on the provision of good practice resources, the focus and content of desired training was highly variable among respondents. However, the most common response was around the need for training on form filling and completing applications, for example:

"How to prepare for and fill in applications."

"Training in…how to go about compiling an application with a realistic chance of funding."

3.17 The next most common training requirement expressed was training on how to understand and respond to funders' requirements, for example:

"Training in how to interpret what funders are looking for."

"Deciphering the requirements to meet the differing funders' key requirements."

"Submitting applications to meet changing requirements with grant funders."

3.18 Another common response related to the need for training to be relevant, specific and/or detailed, for example:

"…training is available, but not relevant or accessible."

"Lots going on, I see it in my inbox. It's a question of knowing what you need."

"[It's possible to] end up on a course that won't serve you very well."

"Detailed training not top-line information."

3.19 However, others suggested that training needs were broader and more general than this, for example:

"A day session giving an overview of funding opportunities for the voluntary sector and how to look for funds would be very useful for those new to the voluntary sector landscape."

"Easy access to funding information."

"Basic funding advice for Board members and what to do to become more enterprising."

3.20 Other recommendations listed by only one or two respondents included:

  • The need for training to be locally accessible and at a convenient time (e.g. evening and weekend provision)
  • Training on project management training on compliance with health and safety rules
  • Essential training for staff on first aid and food hygiene; and training on marketing, for example:

"Groups like us haven't a clue about marketing or where we'd go for it."

One to One Advice

3.21 A small minority of respondents chose to emphasise the importance of one to one advice to them, for example:

"Need a LOT more of this."

"This is the most important thing."

"This is important to address issues pertinent to individuals and individual communities that may be lost in larger events."

3.22 Some respondents focused on the need for one to one advice for early-stage support and/or needs diagnosis, for example:

"Someone to come to us and understand our particular needs and priorities - and not fit us into some generic national scheme."

"Early support to refine initial plans."

"Someone who can think through with us what we are trying to achieve, and the sources of funding that might be available for the various elements and timescales for the next funding round."

3.23 A small minority of respondents highlighted existing high quality sources of provision of one to one advice:

"The Council. If he can help me he will, but we have to book in advance, they're really stretched. He's really good."

"This is what Rural Direct do very well."

3.24 Another small minority highlighted the importance of peer to peer support or mentoring:

"Peer support very important."

"Perhaps a funding 'mentor' who can offer specific advice when we are stuck."

3.25 Other pertinent responses included the need for one to one advice services to be relevant to groups' needs, to be provided by informed people, to help with prioritising funders and critiquing draft applications, and help with "jargon" on forms.

Intensive One to One Advice

3.26 As well as enquiring about general one to one advice services (which could include light-touch advice and signposting), community groups responded about their specific needs for intensive one to one advice (e.g. five or more days for a specific project and including mentoring). Some respondents were emphatic in their need for this type of support, with a number focusing on the need for mentoring and/or peer support, for example:

"[I/we] have found no provision for this at all. When organisations first start out this is what they need. I know innumerable people that I meet every single week that have great ideas, great enthusiasm and say, 'How the heck do I get this started?'. No help - in fact quite often the opposite."

"It is mentoring that is missing."

"Mentoring and support are key. Uncertainty of individuals within groups of their ability to manage a project can lead to an overall negative outlook that prevents progress."

"This is where I feel rural organisations could benefit and maybe it could be a cascade system so that those receiving this and being successful in bids can contribute to supporting other local peers."

"Practical advice and support from people who have done it before, not from a text book."

3.27 Responses around intensive support tended to focus on early stage help, for example:

"Our club is very inexperienced in seeking funding and just don't know 'how to play the game'."

However, other respondents indicated that intensive support could be useful for more experienced groups at specific stages, for example for funding a big and/or complex project:

"When looking at big projects with funding likely to come from multiple sources then intensive support and mentoring would be most welcome."

"On occasion I think we do need this. [We] need better approved accounting systems - we've really grown so need this. [We] need access to intensive support for this - addressing a problem in a way that takes more than a couple of hours."

What community groups think a suitable service would look like

Frequency, intensity and level of expertise of provision

3.28 Our consultation included specific questions about the format of a suitable funding service. Community groups expressed a range of opinions about how support should be delivered, in terms of intensity of provision, frequency of provision and level of expertise. These are presented in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Community groups' views on the type of suitable service for accessing funding: intensity, frequency and level of expertise needed

Figure 2: Community groups’ views on the type of suitable service for accessing funding:  intensity, frequency and level of expertise needed

3.29 These results were further analysed, specifically to compare the results for desired intensity and frequency of provision. The 18 people who expressed a preference for mainly intense support sessions described a spread across infrequent and frequent needs. Although the majority of respondents (n = 139) were focused on more infrequent and light touch support (top left quadrant of Figure 3), there is a significant minority (19%) who would like mostly intense and mostly frequent support sessions (bottom right quadrant of Figure 3).

Figure 3: Community groups' preferences around frequency and intensity of provision

1 (every so often/rarely/when we need it)



4 (frequent support sessions)

1 (mostly signposting, quick tips or advice)















4 (mostly intensive support sessions)





3.30 Some respondents highlighted that needs of a community group vary between different project and at different times. For example, some highlighted that start-up groups require intensive support at first:

"Small voluntary/community groups need someone to point them in the correct direction for funding opportunities. At the start of this process this could be quite intensive, both in identifying potential founders and writing applications. Once the process is begun, support is needed for financial issues, for example, paying large bills before grant aid is processed."

The ideal method of delivery

3.31 When we asked about how the 'ideal' funding advice and support service would be provided, respondents expressed a preference for one to one support in person, but online support was also rated highly (more than two thirds rating this as a part of the "ideal" funding service, Figure 4). Telephone support, while slightly less popular, was still seen as being a relevant part of the "ideal" funding advice service by about half of respondents.

Figure 4: Preferred methods of delivering funding advice for community groups

Figure 4: Preferred methods of delivering funding advice for community groups

Reflections with funding advice providers on the research around community groups' needs

3.32 Community groups cited a wide range of needs, from light touch advice and signposting to intensive, frequent, one to one support. Community groups were less likely to express a need for alternative (non-grant) sources of funding, and there were mixed responses around the need for training.

3.33 We reflected on the reported needs of community groups with advice providers at two workshops in Stirling and Inverness (hereafter, the two advice provider workshops). Delegates were surprised at the reported level of demand for light touch advice, with some reporting that a lot of community groups they work with require intensive support. Delegates said that many community groups are not really aware of the full extent of help that they need until they begin their "funding journey", i.e., community groups "don't know what they don't know". Delegates also reported that the scale and nature of the project community groups are involved in will condition the responses that they provide around their needs.


3.34 The main points to emerge from our analysis of need are:

  • The significance of being able easily to track down relevant sources of funding - and the need for information sources to be obvious (i.e. well promoted)
  • Associated with this, the need for support to develop applications and associated business plans - in other words access to someone with expertise and experience who can act as an adviser or mentor. For many this was seen as a face to face role, but many were happy with a telephone or online service
  • Specifically, the need for support early in the process of project development and sourcing funding
  • A plea for simpler and clearer application processes and eligibility criteria.

3.35 Respondents emphasised the wide variation in the capacity of communities - varying from those who had experience of applying for funds to those who were "starting from scratch". This was a key determinant of the type of information needs and the scale and intensity (and perhaps the format) of support needed.

3.36 Another determinant was the scale and complexity of the project and so of the funding package.

3.37 In the next chapter we explore the perceived nature and range of support available before drawing out conclusions about current gaps and issues in the provision of relevant information and support on access to funding.


Email: Liz Hawkins

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