Grant application tips: doing your homework

Olof Williamson was a Senior Consultant at NCVO, looking at the latest thinking on funding, finance and public services. Olof has left NCVO and his posts have been retained for here for reference.

With more and more organisations chasing fewer pots of money, a good application is essential to getting grant funding. By doing your homework you can improve your chances of funding success, even in a tough economic climate. But if you fail to prepare, then you prepare to fail!

Here are some tips I have gathered from my experienced colleagues here at NCVO and other experts.

Make a good match

First of all make sure you are applying for the right grant.  A scattergun approach may feel reassuring, but by being more discerning you can make better use of your time and secure more appropriate income.  For a fruitful funding relationship there should be a good match between your aims and those of the funder, so look at a range of different grant funders and pick one or two to apply for where there is a really strong match.

Jess Farr, our Sustainable Funding Officer, says “If it is a good match between you and the funder, that does a lot of the work for you.”

Following on, Simon Hill told me that with trusts and foundations you should, “look at a funder’s accounts to see what they have funded and to what level.  You can then consider your chances of success”, and as our experienced Fundraising Manager, he should know.

Once you know that there is a good match in your aims, you need to check the rules of the scheme.

Check the criteria carefully

All grant programmes will have eligibility criteria that explain in more detail who can apply and what can be funded.  These are important for the funder to show to their own backers and to the public that they are using the money in the right way. By checking these you are ensuring that you can meet the criteria.

Celine Rotcajg, Sustainability Officer at NCVO members Community Action Southwark works closely with lots of community groups. Her advice is to, “Read the eligibility criteria and the guidance before starting the application. Then read them again! You don’t want to waste time writing an application if you don’t meet the funder’s criteria”.

So it might seem like a time consuming activity, but it will save you time in the long run.

Tina Matthew, NCVO Fundraiser, adds, “Don’t be afraid to have a conversation – more than one if necessary – with the grants officer or funder before you submit your application. They are more often than not approachable and supportive – helping you to shape your answers in the best way. And they will usually be honest about your chances of success.”

The criteria are a bit like the minimum qualifications for a job.  You needn’t bother applying if you don’t meet them.  But it is worth checking with the funder exactly how they apply their rules.

Don’t do it all on your own

If at all possible, preparing a funding application should involve a group of colleagues and even stakeholders.  By drawing on the knowledge around the organisation you can strengthen your offer to the funder and share the workload.

For example your organisation may have trustees with great ideas about the broader context, or specialist knowledge in finance, strategy or impact. Those “on the ground” delivering your service, including volunteers, may have ideas about how to promote what you do and how the funding can be best used. Your colleagues will also be able to help ensure you have a realistic view of costs to ensure you are reflecting these in the application.

As Celine at CAS also advises, “Get as many people involved as possible…. it is important for the ownership of the project by all the participants. Everyone that has been part of the decision making process from the start will be more likely to stick to the plan.”

In other words, get people involved early and you will be more likely to get the grant and run the project successfully. But plan carefully because the more people you involved, the more important coordination becomes if you’re going to meet your application deadline.

Check the application process, including deadlines

I know from administering a bursary scheme here at NCVO that people will submit applications late.  Sometimes we could extend the deadline by an hour or two but if you are going to put in the effort of applying for a grant it is hardly worth the risk.

Make sure you prepare your application before the deadline (if at all possible!) and you won’t need to worry about it.

And of course this also means including all the relevant supplementary information required.  This varies from scheme to scheme, but it can sink your application. For example BBC Children in Need say that if an application is incomplete or without all requested information, it will not be assessed at all.

By doing some preparation you can save yourself a lot of hassle later on and boost your chances of putting in a great application.

Further support for grant funding

And do come along on 24 November 2011 to Adapt, Gain, Grow, the NCVO Sustainable Funding Conference in London where you can hear the latest thinking from funders like Lloyds TSB Foundation, CAF Venturesome and City Bridge Trust.

What tips would you give?

What one tip would you give to someone applying for a grant? Comment below or tweet us on @NCVOfunding hashtag #granttips.

Here are a selection of those received so far:

  • @goldsmithshub Make sure your budget figures make sense and add up before you submit an application – easy to overlook
  • @ENNA_EU Things get lost in translation, esp. w/ transnational partnerships. Be clear on division of tasks and deliverables, in writing
  • @NCVOFunding #granttips Don’t do it on your own – get your colleagues, trustees etc to help
  • @ENNA_EU Look at support documents requested. EU grant applications have a habit of requiring lots of docs that take time to assemble
  • @ENNA_EU Not sure 140 characters is enough! Don’t chase money simply because it’s there. Make sure projects link to your core priorities
  • @goldsmithshub “I keep six honest serving men” – as true of fundraising as journalism!
  • @ranall Do your research and make sure you fit with their funding priorities! #granttips
  • @ralphiep51 Look at the criteria and concentrate on what they give grants for… especially make your work “a project”…
  • @twinspeeks Make sure your outcomes are aspirational but realistic
  • @LouiseBrown know what difference your work is going to make and be able to articulate it #granttips
  • @MardiGB #granttips Write a compelling case with SMART objectives explaining why you are best org to deliver
  • @goldsmithshub cost the project realistically
  • @goldsmithshub read the guidelines
This entry was posted in Practical support and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Like this? Read more

Posts written by guests who have contributed to NCVO projects and events.

Comments are closed.