ACE NPO – what do you need to know?

So you want to be an Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) in 2023?

What can you start looking at now?

There is already a huge amount of information from ACE online and it’s only November 2020! There will be plenty more information to follow in to the coming weeks and months. What do you need to know now to get started?

Making an application will take your team and your board significant amounts of time. You need to ensure that you have the capacity to do the application and that your board is on board.

Underpinning your application needs to be an understanding of ACE’s Strategy, Plan, Outcomes and Investment principles.

This blog is to help you navigate what is already published (as of today 24th November 2020). Make sure you sign up to get notifications from ACE and follow them on social media.

If you only do one thing today – make sure you are registered on Arts Council England application portal. They have some excellent guidance on Grantium here.

What’s in this blog?

This a long blog. There is a lot of information to familiarise yourself to make an application. I have also added links throughout the document to be able to access the full information from ACE.

The sections are in this blog are.

  1. Key information: What are the headlines you need to know.
  2. The Timeline: What is happening between now (November 2020) and April 2023.
  3. What’s in the application form: About your organisation, governance arrangements, leadership and management, Contributing to the Outcomes and Outcomes plan, Investment Principles plan, Financial information, Monitoring information
  4. Important background reading and information: Let’s Create : Arts Council England Strategy 2020-2030, Delivery Plan for 2021- 2014, Outcomes, Investment Principles, Governance: Working with the Investment Principles and Priority places

1. Key information

What are Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisations (NPO)? 

ACE states

“We are the national development agency for creativity and culture in England. We invest public money in people and organisations across the country, and one of the biggest investments we make is through our National Portfolio.

Our portfolio is a group of organisations that gets regular funding from us, and in return provides a backbone of creative and cultural provision across the country, and plays a major role in helping us realise our new strategy, Let’s Create. At the moment, over 800 organisations across the country make up the National Portfolio, receiving committed funding from us from 2018 to 2022.  

Our next National Portfolio will play a crucial role in helping realise the vision of Let’s Create”

Information here

Funding Period

1st April 2023 – 31st March 2026 (currently 3 years, may be 4 years after the spending review)

Funding amounts

Minimum £50k per year. There are additional requirements for over £1mill applicants.

In the webinar ACE stated that you may be offered less than you ask for, what you ask for or more than you request. You will have an opportunity to talk to them about your application amount in your Introductory conversations (more below).

2. The Timeline (link here)


Information is already available 

  • Outline of the programme, including who can apply, and timeline (here)
  • Financial templates (here)
  • Guidance on governance and the role of boards (here)
  • Overview of the form and attachments required (here)

Digital briefings: Took place November 2021 and can now be watched online here

Making your application  

  • Early January 2022: Guidance for Applicants, (including the questions and activity templates) and FAQs published.
  • From January 2022: Digital briefings to answer more detailed questions about the process and application. 
  • From January 2022: Compulsory Introductory conversations for non-NPOs. These will include advice from ACE on how much investment you should consider applying for. They can be booked from early December.
  • 14 February 2022 12pm (midday): Application portal opens.
  • 7 April 2022: Applicant profile and Introductory conversations deadline.
  • 26 April 2022 12pm (midday) : Application portal closes.


  • Spring to September 2022: Assessment, balancing and decision-making  
  • October 2022: Sharing funding decisions: Offer of funding made conditional and subject to the negotiation of a satisfactory funding agreement. Full list published. 

Funding agreements and starting the portfolio  

  • October 2022 – February 2023: Funding agreements negotiated and agreed
  • 1 April 2023 – NPO for 2023 onward will come into effect from this day. 

3. What will be in the application?

This information is taken from here 

Your organisation

  • Your organisation, its mission or purpose and its track record, including in widening access.
  • Your governance arrangements and how you’ll effectively lead and manage the proposed programme of activity (your governance document will also pull through from your Grantium applicant profile).

Contributing to the Outcomes

  • Which outcomes you are contributing to.
  • Percentage of your programme of activity you expect will contribute to each Outcomes.
  • Outline of your organisation’s plans for the investment period, which sets out an overview of your organisation’s proposed contribution to the relevant Outcomes in Let’s Create.
  • Complete an Outcomes plan (in template format published in January 2022) about the specific activities during 2023/24.
  • Location of the activities you’re planning.

Investment Principles 

  • Complete an Investment Principles plan to demonstrate plans, and expected progress, for embedding the Investment Principles into your work. Via a template that will be published in January 2022.

Financial information

  • Three parts of the Financial templates here.
  • Your most recent financial statements.
  • Current reserves targets – unrestricted funds or free reserves.
  • Assumptions or exceptional items included in your budget which represent a significant variance to your organisation’s previous annual budgeted or actual figures, as well as any key risks you have identified in relation to your budget.

Monitoring information 

Information about the diversity profile of your leadership and governance. 

You might be asking – will I need to supply my business plan with the application? In the webinars ACE said no! You may need to share as part of the agreement but they are not planning to ask for it in the application.

4. Important background reading and information

Let’s Create: Arts Council England Strategy 2020-2030 here

Sets out exactly what ACE want to achieve. There are three Outcomes and four Investment Principles. All ACE investment (including NPOs), will be used to help deliver Let’s Create and be assessed against it. 

Delivery Plan for 2021- 2014 here

Sets out in more detail the steps they will take to realise the strategy. The plan includes more information about the elements of the Outcomes which NPOs will have to support.

Outcomes (information here)

Creative People

Everyone can develop and express creativity throughout their life

Everyone can be creative, and each of us has the potential to develop our creativity further. Taking part in creative acts such as singing, photography or writing delights and fulfil us, and helps us to think, experiment, and better understand the world.

Cultural Communities 

Villages, towns and cities thrive through a collaborative approach to culture. 

Culture and the experiences it offers can have a deep and lasting effect on places and the people who live in them. Investment in cultural activities and in arts organisations, museums and libraries helps improve lives, regenerate neighbourhoods, support local economies, attract visitors and bring people together. 

A Creative And Cultural Country

England’s cultural sector is innovative, collaborative and international 

To achieve the first two Outcomes, we need a professional cultural sector that generates new ideas, works easily and effectively with others, and is adept at developing diverse talent from every community. It should aspire to be world-leading – in the way it makes art, in the imagination and expertise with which it makes exciting use of collections and develops libraries, and in the culture it creates and shares.

Investment Principles resources hub

NPOs are expected to use the Investment Principles to strengthen the way they work. 

Ambition and Quality (Essential read here)

Cultural organisations are ambitious and committed to improving the quality of their work

Ambition: the formulation and articulation of what you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it. 

Quality: the delivery of your activity and the evaluation of it against your ambitions

Ambition and quality applies to talent development, educational activity, and community programmes as much as it does to public presentation. It is a cycle that touches every aspect of the process from concept, through creation, to delivery and evaluation of impact and reach.

Underpinned by three pillars

  1. Understanding PerceptionsWe want a sector that develops creative ambitions and improves the quality of work by listening to the views of people inside and outside its immediate circle. We will engage with the sector about mission and the quality of creative and cultural activities. 
  2. Progression: The creative and cultural work of those we fund contributes to a well communicated set of aims and ambitions. There is a strong commitment to professional development and collaboration. Review takes place between creatives and partners to refine and improve the creative and cultural practice of the sector. 
  3. Measuring Performance: We want to support a sector that values the measurement and expression of what quality looks like, identifies scope for improvement, and tracks progress. We want to see the adoption of performance measurement and its application in shaping work and developing future plans. 

Dynamism (Essential read here)

Cultural organisations are dynamic and able to respond to the challenges of the next decade

This principle outlines a flexible and adaptable approach to business. It includes the need for innovation in business models; for developing leadership, talent and wellbeing within the workforce; for appropriate use of technology across activities and for using evidence and data in decision making.

The impact of the pandemic on business models in the cultural sector has made the need for dynamism more essential than ever. It has revealed the need for organisational cultures and structures that enable change inside by sensing changes externally. This means people within organisations, including leaders and board members, will need resilience, and will need to understand and reflect the communities they serve.

Underpinned by three pillars

  1. Business Model Innovation: We want a sector that ensures that their creative and cultural missions – and the business models that support them – can adapt to the changing environment and the needs of the communities they serve. Organisations will be committed to actively and continuously examining their business models, understanding the many ways in which they can create and realise value and should seek out practical and innovative ways to improve and develop.
  2. People and Skills: We want the sector to have effective governance and inclusive leadership adept at inspiring positive change. Organisations will build and develop teams that are resilient, inclusive and able to draw on the widest range of experiences. They will recognise that the diverse knowledge, skills and experience of staff and boards are assets to be nurtured and developed and that leadership can come from anywhere within the business.
  3. Using Technology and Information: Cultural organisations are committed to using data and appropriate technology to develop and improve their businesses. The ongoing development of digital skills and data literacy is prioritised, and decision making is informed by relevant, accurate and up-to-date evidence and data.

Environmental Responsibility  (Essential read here)

Cultural organisations lead the way in their approach to environmental responsibility 

Underpinned by three pillars

  1. Understanding The Data: We want the sector to be an exemplar at the collection, reporting and understanding of its environmental data. This data should clearly inform environmental planning and initiatives and will play a demonstrable role in decision and policy making.
  2. Plan, Action and Change: We want the organisations and individuals we support to forefront their commitment to environmental responsibility through considered planning and actions. We expect this to result in continued carbon reductions and to also highlight the potential of culture to connect, mobilise and inspire places and communities, and champion cultural leadership.
  3. Influence, Educate and AdvocateWe want the organisations and individuals we support to lead by example, promoting the need for environmental responsibility in the communities in which they work, within partnerships and with audiences and stakeholders. There will be an increased awareness of the cultural sector’s role in catalysing change, demonstrating how culture can influence and inspire action locally, nationally and internationally.

Inclusivity and Relevance (Essential read here)

England’s diversity is fully reflected in the organisations and individuals that we support and in the culture they produce

At the heart of our Inclusivity & Relevance Principle is a commitment to achieving greater fairness, access and opportunity across the cultural sector. We want England’s diversity fully reflected in the individuals and organisations we support and the culture they produce.

Underpinned by three pillars

  1. Communities: We want to ensure the sector is actively listening to, and taking account of, the views of the local community. We want organisations to actively form relationships with under-served communities. As a result, publicly funded culture will matter more to more people.
  2. Workforce, Leadership and Governance: The sector will create access and career opportunities for people from all parts of society. It will have a workforce, leadership and governance which fully reflects and represents all communities and organisations with inclusive cultures, who value and develop their people.
  3. The Creative Case For Diversity: The sector’s programmes and activities reflect the culture and talent of creative practitioners drawn from all backgrounds.

Governance: Working with the Investment Principles here  

This document is intended for people in governance positions of cultural organisations. It will be most useful when read and discussed together with those in leadership roles.

The guide contains all the key messages and facts around the four Investment Principles: Inclusivity & Relevance, Ambition & Quality, Dynamism, and Environmental Responsibility. It also features a planning cycle to help you embed the Investment Principles in your organisation and governance, as well as a map of actions and next steps to get you started on your journey.

Priority places listed here

ACE has ‘identified 54 places across England in which our investment and engagement is too low, and opportunity for us to effectively increase investment and engagement is high, and so we’re prioritising working with them from 2021 to 2024.’

Phew – you made it to here – well done!

Originally posted here.