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Writing Grant Applications

Securing grant funding is a bit of an art and it can be a pretty daunting one too. There’s no exact science to it and no one funder wants the same thing. Don’t panic though, there are a few things you can bear in mind when you put in an application, to increase your chances of success.

Before you start

Read the application guidelines in full, and then again, and again! Do this same process for the application form so you fully understand what is being asked of you. You might benefit from using a highlighter to draw out key points as you go and/or make notes in the margins. If your project fits with the funding criteria, you’ll probably already have started to think of things you can say to each question. Once you’ve done that, the following steps might help:
  • Make sure you fit the eligibility criteria of the chosen funder. If you definitely don’t and you apply anyway, it shows you haven’t really read the guidelines.
  • Make a list of the key questions they’re asking you with gaps between questions
  • Insert key points, facts or figures below each question that you can use to back up your answer e.g. if the application asks you how many direct beneficiaries there will be (people directly benefiting from the outputs of the project) do your calculations to figure out who these will be. Will it be existing men in the Shed? Will the project attract more? Will volunteers carrying out the project also benefit from new skills? These are all beneficiaries.
  • Think of the problem your project is responding to. Is it lack of a community space for men? High levels of deprivation or isolation?
  • Now think of how your idea is going to solve that problem, or at least start to. Write it down. Any evidence where this has worked elsewhere will help too.
  • Decide how you’re going to measure the impact of your project. You can use our Monitoring and Evaluation guide to help or contact us for specific ideas.
  • Decide how much your project is going to cost, get quotes and estimates. Never just ask for the full amount unless you’ve worked out that’s what the project will actually cost or more. Funders want to see value for money.
  • Make sure you don’t leave an application to the last minute. You need time to digest everything that’s being asked of you, to research your facts and work out your costings.
  • Think about any progress you’ve made towards your project goals already. Funders like to hear you’ve made a start. Draw out a timeline of what groundwork has been done and what’s left to be done. Some funders also like to see that you’ve worked to raise some money first.
  • If you need to do a bit of work on the above and you’re applying to an open fund with no deadline, there’s no harm in getting touch with them first and letting them know you have a really great project that fits their criteria and you’ll be in touch again when you’ve gathered all your evidence to support your project. They’ll remember your name when they pick up the application and may be more interested to see what you’ve written.
  • Remember, funders can receive applications in the hundreds. Make your project stand out. Tell them what’s interesting about your approach. What change will your project achieve that will make them feel good about giving you money?

Writing the application

By the time you come to putting together the application, you should have all of your background information right there at hand. Facts, check. Figures, check. Evidence to back up your claims, check. A plan to measure your impact, check. (We like checklists, you see.) Here’s some tips for filling out a great application form:
  • Assume the funder knows nothing about you and your project. ‘Eh, you want to fix your garden Shed?’. Give them a good picture, but without all the padding. A good way to test this is to get someone who knows nothing about the project to proof the application. Once read, they should be able to tell you what you’re planning to do, how, what it will cost, who it benefits and how you’re going to measure it. If they can’t, be open to their criticism and go back over the application to check if there’s ways you can make it clearer.
  • Most applications have word limits, but even if it doesn’t, be clear and concise. Try to avoid generalised statements that have no foundation or backing. Telling the funder that lots of men will benefit from your newly built Shed because it’s a small town that doesn’t have anything else and everyone feels lonely is nowhere near as impactful as: “Fake Town has 9,000 residents, 3,400 of which are men over 65 and there is currently only a women’s lunch club and a cricket club in the area. All 15 of the men asked said they felt isolated with nothing to do with their free time”. You can ask your local authority for area population statistics if you think your application would benefit from it.
  • If your application asks for a project name, try to call it something that instantly tells people what it is, whilst being a memorable name.
  • Be enthusiastic and positive about your project. If you don’t show you believe in it, why would the funder?
  • It’s not all about money. If you get the chance, think about other reasons you’ve approached this particular funder and let them know. Modern funders value ongoing relationships with grant recipients more than ever. They’ll be pleased to know you’ve chosen them because you believe your project can help to inform their wider impact in community projects through the lessons you learn and feed back to them.
  • Appeal to the funder to support the people who the project will make a difference to, not you or your organisation as a whole.
Back up your reasoning with evidence, even if it’s not your own. Write clearly and concisely and avoid vague remarks. If the funding stream you’re applying to asks for a project summary on, for example, up to 2 sides of A4, the above still applies. You still need to be clear and concise, you’re just not bound by tiny boxes. Hurrah!

In summary

Fundraising is a bit like sales. It’s all about selling a great product or service that you really believe in. You have to go into it believing you have a good project and that the way you plan to execute it is the best solution to the problem you have. After that, it’s about writing a great application that makes the funder believe in the project too. A poor application might mean an amazing project doesn’t get funded. On the other hand, the best application in the world might not get a terrible project funded. Make sure what you’re planning to do is in line with what the funder wants to achieve with their money. It’s rare they don’t tell you this up front. Take your time and do your research. Good luck!

Cutting through the Jargon

Beneficiaries – the people that get some level of benefit from the project. These can be direct (those attending a Men’s Shed) or indirect (the family of a happier, healthier man). Outputs – what you actually do with the money, what it buys. Outcomes – the immediate, mid- and long-term impacts the project has on the beneficiaries, community and society as a whole. Download a PDF version of this guide.

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