Grant application tips : writing really well

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.

Last week I blogged about essential preparation for applying for a grant. This week I’m turning to the written content of your application. The advice below, drawn from my experienced colleagues, will help your application to leap off the page.

Describe what makes you special

There are many thousands of voluntary organisations competing for funds. In an increasingly competitive field you will have to work harder to stand out from the crowd.  You know what makes your organisation special, so make sure your application communicates that clearly. Say what you are trying to achieve in a lively way.

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.

Use facts and figures

Back up what you are saying with statistics. These can inform about the beneficiaries or clients, or demonstrate past success. 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 cause.

Quality statistics can raise your application from good to great. Kerry Nichols at Castle Green Childrens Centre in Barking told me she followed advice to add supporting demographic and health statistics to a recent grant application. This helped her to get several thousand pounds from Grassroots Grants for a healthy eating cookery class, food safety course and kitchen equipment. Kerry said, “The information on Funding Central highlighted the importance of providing funders with facts and figures.” And in their case, it really worked.

Write clearly

There is no point bringing all this information together in your application unless you describe it clearly.  Funders always have a lot of papers to read through, and will not re-read muddled applications.  Take the time to strip down your writing so it shows just the most important points clearly and efficiently.  Only use technical terms if the funder will understand them and if you are sure they add value.

Hilarie Kerr, Fundraising Officer at NCVO advises you to think about your layout, “Be brief, and use bullet points to get your point across.” This can help to draw the funder’s eye to the most important information.

Laura Smith, NCVO Sustainable Funding Manager adds, “Always get someone who doesn’t know your work to read your application. If they don’t understand what you do, a grants officer probably won’t either.” Having worked for a major funder for several years, Laura has experience of helping hundreds of people access funding.

If you’re worried about waffle, check your text with the Plain English Campaign’s Drivel Defence. This free online service points out unneeded long sentences and jargon and suggests shorter and simpler words.

With most funds you’ll only get one shot. Be clear and you will increase your chances.

Provide supporting stories

Writing a clear application should not mean writing a dry one.

Provide supporting evidence such as case studies, videos or other reports.  If these are interesting, inspiring and personal they will help move you up the funder’s shortlist. Although funders often want project plans, budgets etc. a good story will help them understand better what you do.

“You are writing for humans,” says NCVO’s Head of Enterprise and Membership Gillen Knight. “Tell a compelling story, use pictures, use real life case studies. Put in weblinks: funders are not supposed to click through but they all do.” Gillen concludes that you should make it easy for them to support your project, because after all, “Funders want to spend their money!”

Demonstrate your impact

Describing what you do is often easy. Harder, is describing the impact it has on people, communities and the environment. But getting across the impact of your project is vital to getting it funded.

“Demonstrate the difference that your work makes, not just what you do.” says NCVO Consultant Georgina Anstey, “And include details of the difference you hope to make with the new work.” Write about the measurable difference you have already made and the changes you hope to make in future.

On impact, Laura adds, “Be specific. Don’t write ‘we benefit the whole community’, because that’s probably not true.” In other words, don’t claim too much credit. “You might be open to the whole community, but only benefit some people directly, and others indirectly. It’s better to be honest.”

We’ve done lots of work here at NCVO on how you can demonstrate your impact, including the tools to use.  Take a look at these impact pages to get an overview.

Dont give up!

The voluntary and community sector economy is going through tough times at the moment. We are in severe conditions for raising funds from individuals, companies, the public sector and charitable funders.
But there are opportunities out there if you look carefully and work hard.  In the last month there have been over 400 grants added or updated on Funding Central, which you can search for free right now (it covers the whole of England). Take a look now and you may well find a grant you haven’t seen before.
If you think your income strategy needs a refresh, our Sustainable Sun Tool can help. It sets out the six main areas essential to a well rounded, and fundable organisation.
And if you want to meet a group of the most innovative people in funding and finance, come to Adapt, Gain, Grow, the NCVO Sustainable Funding Conference in London on 24 November 2011. You can hear the latest thinking from funders like Lloyds TSB Foundation, CAF Venturesome and City Bridge Trust, and from innovators like Dai Powell from HCT (transport social enterprise) and Steve Bridger of Spring (the innovation in giving programme).

Further support for grant funding

What tips would you give?

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


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