We spend a lot of time with my clients explaining the importance of finding their authentic voice when pitching for funding (or in any other form of communication); whether in person or in written bids. But what do we mean by this?
Some years ago we worked with four charity clients simultaneously on bids to run the same service (in different regions so they weren’t competing and they were all happy for us to do this). What struck us was just how very different the four bids were from each other despite very strong similarities in what each client was offering to the funder and the same consultant working on each bid.
One was very clipped in style, using bullets a lot, economical in use of words and with a very matter of fact style. There was a strong emphasis on competence and structured approaches in their pitch.
Another was much more flowing prose with more use of adjectives to emphasis important points. It had a strong emphasis on values and a significant emotional element (one might almost say missionary zeal) to the pitch. Their emphasis was very much on values and track record.
The third had a very corporate feel to it, with a blended prose/bullet point style somewhere between the first two but using much more private sector style language. The emphasis in this case was on professionalism and effective systems (financial and service delivery).
The final bid was again very prose-like in style, with a strong emphasis on innovation and working together in partnership.
All the bids scored highly and two were successful in winning the contract.
Ever since this experience, we have worked even harder with clients to ensure that anything we write with (or for) them authentically reflects both what they are offering/bidding for and how they do what they do, what is important to them and what impression (as much as information) they want to communicate to the funder. Our experience has been that there really is no right or wrong voice for a bid/pitch, what really matters is that what you say or write genuinely reflects the character of your organisation; i’ve even seen humour used in bids to great effect, providing it is used authentically (and clearly signalled as humour).
And now the bad news… there is no magic formula, simple process or off-the-shelf way of finding your organisation’s voice.
You may have done it already (almost by accident) just through practice in giving presentations or writing bids and other documentation; but do you recognise it and can you communicate it to new people who join (or want to join) your organisation?
You may be struggling to find it for a whole host of reasons. You might have recently merged with another charity, you may have disagreement amongst your staff or Trustees about your mission, vision or values or you may simply not have had to pitch for funding before and got trapped into trying to sound too “professional” or “special” in your bids (too much technical language or hyperbole are common pitfalls).
This is where working with someone external to your organisation can help.
It could be that they simply observe, analyse and play back to you what they see as your authentic and distinctive traits and you take it from there.
Equally it could be someone who does more proactive work with you around development of your organisational mission, vision and values statements (please don’t groan). Developing clarity around your mission, vision and value statements involving the right people in the right way really can help find your authentic voice; these statements set a tone for development of a core narrative for your organisation and what it offers (in terms of services and impact).
The trick (which is why there is no magic formula) is to be able to recognise and articulate what is distinctive about your voice so that anyone in your organisation can replicate it and that only works if they too recognise it as authentic.
We hope this short reflection demonstrates the importance of authenticity in communications and the value of understanding your own organisation’s voice when bidding for funding or in any other communications. We would be pleased to work with any charity or social enterprise to help you find (or recognise your authentic voice. To find out more about this or any of the issues raised in this article, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange free initial telephone discussion.