Many charities depend on grants to deliver their much-needed services. In recent years, however, getting these grants has become harder. Austerity has played a large part in this – there simply isn’t the money in the system there once was. As a result, funders now look more closely at how charities spend their money.
It is no longer enough to send a short, simple, request and trust the funder will understand just how much your charity needs the money. Now, charities have to be smarter about the funders they approach and how they make that approach. To help them get it right, I’ve listed my top grant writing tips.
1. Do your research
It’s always tempting when a charity needs money to just start writing and sending out a whole host of applications. And, while this might end up in some successes, there’s a very good chance that the majority of requests for funding will be turned down.
That’s a lot of wasted time and effort and a huge hit for morale (we all know there’s nothing worse than hearing an application was unsuccessful). Which is why it’s so important to do the research before the writing. Come up with a clear list of what you need funding for, who your beneficiaries are and how much it will cost. Then look for funders who are willing to make donations based on this list.
There are plenty of options available when searching for funders; many charge a subscription to use their services. As a result, it can be easy to get lost in information overload. When I’m working for a new client, unless they have a specific idea of who they want to apply to, I always start with a Charity Commission search – it’s free, easy and incredibly comprehensive.
Remember: Don’t try and match your projects to the funder – it’s a bit like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Look instead for a funder that is already supporting the projects you want to deliver.
2. Follow the guidance
Most – though not all – trusts and foundations will issue guidance to prospective applicants. Some will be more detailed than others (which doesn’t necessarily reflect the level of funding they are willing to offer). It’s really important to read all the guidance before deciding to apply.
Most guidance will tell you:
- Who they are willing to fund – some trusts, for example, will only fund charities with a maximum annual income and others will only support organisations in certain geographical areas.
- Whether you need to complete an application form or submit a proposal
- Submission deadlines and application review dates
- What needs to be included with an application including annual reports, case studies or income/expenditure projections.
Remember: Much of what was in the guidance (who the trust will fund, for example) should have come up in your research. However, this is a really good time to make sure you understand who the trust is and what they are looking for, rather than wasting their time by applying for a project they won’t fund.
3. Read the questions
If you have to complete an application form, read all the questions before you start writing the answers. Break down questions with multiple parts to ensure you understand exactly what the funder is asking. And make sure you have any additional information you might need to complete responses. This might include facts and figures on previous performance or case studies to evidence your work.
Remember: If you aren’t sure what a question is asking you, get a second opinion by talking to a colleague. Or, approach the funder. Most are more than happy to give you more information or explain just what they need.
4. Make the best use of your time
It is really easy to lose yourself in a question, especially a tricky one that requires lots of brainpower. If you have all the time in the world, this is fine. However, most of us will be on a deadline. Which means it’s a good idea to plan your writing time, so you make the best use of it.
People manage their time in different ways (there is no one size fits all). For me, I know from writing grants for the last twenty years, just how long it takes me to write a page of text from scratch. I use this as a guide for how long I think writing the whole response will take. I then add in time, in the beginning, to read the guidance, during the process to get any additional information I need, and at the end to make sure I can read it through with fresh eyes.
Remember: Even the best-laid plans can fall apart thanks to colleagues who have different priorities to yourself. To avoid distractions, block out time in your diary to write, putting down you’re out of the office, for example, so people either won’t contact you during this time or won’t expect you to respond straight away.
5. Stick to a structure
If you’re completing an application form, or have been given clear guidance, this is a little bit easier. Look at the order a question is asked in, or the guidance laid out and follow this.
If you’re writing a proposal and don’t have an outline to follow, create your own and follow that. Think about the message you are trying to convey and what you want the funder to know. Normally, I would start with a short introduction of who the charity and why we are asking for funding followed by:
- Why we are asking for funding (the need)
- What the funding will be used for (an outline of the project)
- Who will benefit from the project (the beneficiaries)
- What the outcomes of the project will be (the results)
I always close with a recap and thanks to the funder for reading my proposal, along with contact details.
Remember: In my experience, most funders want to know the details, but they also want to know why they should support a particular charity. It’s important, therefore, to not lose the heart of what you do and to write with passion at the same time as explaining what will be delivered, where, when and by who.
Finally, remember, even the most amazing applications can fail sometimes. Trusts get over-subscribed. Or, they change their priorities. Sometimes, they will only support so many charities under each priority to ensure their money reaches the widest number of people. Don’t give up. Apply again (the guidance will tell you when you can) or apply for a different project. Recently, I was successful for a trust my client had applied to unsuccessfully three times, proving it can and does happen and that while the third time might not be a charm, the fourth might be!