Grants: Writing better bids

For organisations that receive a lot of their income from grants, making sure grant applications are successful is crucial. Otherwise you waste time, and also squander the opportunity as many grant funders ask that you don’t apply again for a while, sometimes several years.

Many voluntary organisations employ a member of staff with experience of writing successful bids. However, many do not and instead grant applications are written by whoever has the best knowledge of the project they wish to gain funding for or is the most skilled at writing.

There is no such thing as a typical grant application and no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach: you need to tailor each opportunity to the funder you are approaching. This means that in order to write good funding bids, you probably need to spend sufficient time on each one. But before you begin writing, you first need to do the planning. In this stage make sure you do the following:

  • Check:

    Check the funder’s priorities and preferences, and how they might fit with your aims.

    Most grant funders set out some criteria. Some are looking to support a broad group of people, for others it might be a specific geographic area or type of project. If you don’t fit their criteria, it’s not worth applying to them. Look at the funder’s’ website and the list of organisations they’ve funded in the past, and if in doubt give them a call to check. This research is much quicker than a wasted application.

  • Think:

    Once you know what the funder is looking for and what they are interested in, try to put yourself in their shoes: think about how your project might fit with this and how it could be described to make the most of that fit.

    Think about what kind of evidence the funder will require to support your case. If you are applying to a larger trust or government body, they may want to see large-scale numbers to evidence statements. If you are applying to a smaller trust or company, they may respond better to the evidence from a case study or personal experience.

    Think about who you could involve in the preparation of your funding application. By drawing on the knowledge around your organisation you can strengthen your offer to the funder. For example, those delivering a service may have ideas about how the funding could be best used or management staff might have a realistic view of costs.

When it comes to sitting down and writing the application, consider that the funder will be looking for answers to the following questions:

  • ‘What makes you special?’

    There are many thousands of voluntary organisations competing for funds. Think carefully about what really makes you different, whether it’s your people, your approach or the need you are tackling. Describe this and show your energy for your organisation and for the project you are looking to fund. That way you will infect others with your enthusiasm. Tell funders about your organisation’s track record: projects you’ve successfully managed and the difference they’ve made, other funding successes and experience of staff or volunteers.

  • ‘So what?’

    Funders will want to see details of how you intend to spend the money: who is going to run the project, what are they going to deliver and when. But don’t forget that they will also be looking to know what difference you think it will make to the people or animals that you will work with.

  • ‘How do you know?’

    You will need to give evidence for what you are saying: evidence of the need for the work, information about the people who will benefit or a demonstration of past successes. By using a client survey to establish need, or drawing on the local area statistics on deprivation, health or housing, you can add authority to your case. Remember that you are writing for humans though and that humans love stories, pictures, videos and real-life case studies as well to engage them.

    You will also need to tell the funder in the application how you plan to assess the progress of your project by collecting evidence as you go. It is best practice for funders to allow you to budget around 5–10% of the overall budget for ongoing monitoring and evaluation, although this will vary by funder.

When writing, consider that funders have a lot of papers to read and will not re-read muddled applications. Make yours as clear and concise as you can. Only use technical terms if the funder will understand them and if you’re sure they add value. Once you’ve written it, get someone else to check it before you submit it.

Don’t forget that funders want to spend their money: you just need to make it easy for them to support your project. If you submit the application and it isn’t successful then don’t be afraid to ask the funder for detailed feedback. It will help you to make the next application better.

Activity 8

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes.
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Gifts from individuals: increasing the lifetime value

Ethical considerations