Given this experience, she's someone who is worth listening to when she talks about the specific issues around seeking funding from non-standard sources, and in how to work with the funders for your mutual benefit.
She raised three specific issues:
- Kudos. There are huge potential benefits in seeking alternative funding: it's often more flexible and supportive than conventional research funding, and there's potential for an on-going relationship which could lead to a long term, fruitful collaboration. However, academia is a very traditional place, reputations are slow to build, and status is important. Alternative funding doesn't have the same kudos as the traditional funders: the Research Councils, learned societies, and research charities. That shouldn't put you off, and alternative money is still money that can make your research happen, but you should be aware that securing funding from unconventional sources might not be recognised as much by your colleagues.
- Account Management. If you do succeed in getting funding from alternative sources, you do need to be aware that it's the start of a relationship, and there will be an expectation, from the funder, that you will be available to answer their queries, meet people within their organisation and take part in their events. It isn't the clear cut, removed relationship you have with - say - a Research Council.
- Communication. Leading on from this, you need to communicate with the funder, and report to them, in a very different way than you would with a traditional funder. Often, your correspondence will be more personal. Many of the charities and trusts have a specific mission that has come from the personal experience of the founder. You need to be aware of this, and communicate with them accordingly. Legal contracts are still important, but you might have to think about including a more informal covering letter with them to keep the personal contact going.
There are still places for the Grants Factory session on alternative funding. If you would like to come along, drop me a line.