This month we have been working on grant applications. On our last Trustee call, Katherine Malone-France reported that it was ‘that time of year’. And indeed, both Alex and I have been developing new proposals and budgets over the past few weeks.
Fundraising and grant proposal writing is a vital part of all of our work. Some INTO members have teams of people to support this activity. Many do not. And it falls to the Director or other personnel, sometimes volunteers, to add ‘bid-writing’ to their portfolio of many other jobs.
There is lots of freely available information online to help you in this. (Some might say, too much?) Nevertheless it can be a daunting prospect. How to hit the sweet spot of a well-written application targeted at a perfect potential source of funding? How to convey your needs in a way that a funder will understand and empathise with? And how to tailor your proposal to the needs of the funder? How to make it stand out?
We’ve all got stories to tell of applications that went wrong. But equally, most of us have success stories to share. What’s good about grant applications these days is that you often have to fill in a form. Which means it’s easier to give the funder the information they want. And there are also often restrictions on the number of words. Which means that you are forced to be concise …
The first thing I’m going to say is that, in my experience, the most successful funding bids have all been made to people who are already familiar with our work. In fundraising more broadly (major donors, campaigns, etc) we know that ‘people give to people’. Well, I think that applies to grants as well. Grant making is not a transaction, it’s a partnership. Often, we can get too focused on getting the information into the right boxes of the online grant portal … and forget that there is a real person at the end of it. Who will be reading hundreds of these applications! So, it’s really important to build up a personal relationship with funders where possible.
Apart from this, and keeping it short/giving the funder what they want (see above), some other tips are:
Who’s doing the work? What’s the project about? Describe your organisation as briefly as possibly but with some colour and dynamism. People stories or endorsements and testimonials might be used in support but it’s really important to get the initial pitch right first. Explain exactly what your project is going to do. You may understand the need and how you will address it but will your reader? Make sure you spell out the project activities and outcomes as clearly as you can.
Remember to include a timeframe. As well as monitoring and evaluation to show how you will measure whether you have been successful. Make sure you have measurable objectives. What will change? How many people will be impacted? What exactly will you deliver? It’s really important to convey what the problem is you’re trying to solve. But also why your organisation is best placed to tackle this problem. Evidence your track record but also offer evidence to back up your statements about the need. (And remember to include both statistics and more qualitative human stories.)
Through it all, keep asking yourself how you are meeting the funder’s objectives. And what difference their funding will make. Talk in positive terms and paint a picture of what will happen when you get the money. This will help them envisage your organisation delivering the project and build trust between you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or even ask for feedback. (It’s a partnership, remember!)
All too often great ideas are let down by unrealistic or irrelevant budgets. Make sure yours is neither of these. Tailor your budget according to the usual size of grant of the funder. But also bear in mind your organisation’s capacity. (No point asking for a $1m project grant when your organisation has a turnover of $100k.) Make sure you follow the funders’ rules about eligible expenditure.
How the project will be sustained after the funding runs out is really important. Funders don’t want to support something in a vacuum. Make sure you describe how you will disseminate the results of the project and how you will ensure the benefits are maintained when there is no funding left.
We’ll let you know how our funding applications go but in the meantime, do check out this further reading on the INTO site: