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Ten top tips for writing successful funding bids

11 June 2021

It’s been one hell of a year for charities. For so many, a fall in income hit rising
demand head on. When you’re caught in that perfect storm, making sure funding bids are successful is more important – and pressured – than ever. Every application needs to grab attention, show you’re a perfect fit for the funder’s criteria, and passionately prove your impact. For those of you facing this challenge, here are some tips on how to write a winning funding application.

Be prepared. Don’t write a word until you’ve read everything through thoroughly, twice, and got to grips with the funder’s submission process. Make a checklist of every conceivable piece of information you might need to provide. Play around with the online portal or application form and make sure there’s nothing that could catch you out once you’ve started filling it in.

Gather your evidence. Use your checklist to bring together all your information in one folder. This might include: data, impact stories, press articles, comments from experts, research, evaluation reports from previous projects, charitable status information and your annual accounts. Start thinking about how your evidence matches what the funder says they want. And label everything clearly so it’s easy to find as you go through the application process.

Get your house in order. Remember, funders are likely to check your website and social media as well as reading your application. They may also look at your submissions to the Charity Commission. Make sure everything is up to date and consistent.

Get to know the funding organisation intimately. As well as their grants criteria, familiarise yourself with their history, aims, objectives, people and brand. This information will help you show why you’re a good fit for their funding – and an organisation they’ll want to work with. So, once you know who they are and what they’re after, reflect that back in the language you use in your application.

For example: “We know at Funder X, you care about challenging prejudice against migrants. Our new awareness-raising programme busts myths and tackles discrimination head on.”

Or, “One of your priorities is restoring space for nature and biodiversity. Our small community garden is already visited by more than 15 species of bee and 10 species of bird. With our planned expansion and new wildlife meadow, we expect this to increase 10-fold within a year.”

Some funders will be looking to do more than give out money. For example, if they’ve expressed an interest in volunteering opportunities, make sure your answers include some carefully considered details about how volunteers will support your project.

Don’t assume the funder knows anything about you, even if you’re a well-known organisation. The funder might be reading hundreds of applications and will appreciate you explaining clearly and concisely what you do, as well as the benefits you bring and impact you have.

Demonstrate the need you’re addressing. Without naming names, explain why other services aren’t meeting that need – and why, with their funding, you will. Show how you’re breaking new ground, driving an issue forward and doing something different. Use concrete statistics and evidence-based predictions to demonstrate how you’ll tackle the issue and prevent it from getting worse. For example: “In just five years’ time, child poverty/overfishing/homelessness is set to rise by X% if we don’t act now.”

Get personal. Of course, you’ll need to explain exactly how you’ll spend the money, but it’s equally important to demonstrate the difference your project or service will make to people’s lives. As well as providing personal stories, add first-person quotes to illustrate key points throughout. For example: “Our programme is proven to have a positive impact on participants’ mental health. Having met ‘Sandra’ before she started the Charity X support programme, I can see that her clinical depression has significantly improved as a result of being involved.” Dr Reena Franks, consultant psychiatrist

Watch the word count. Don’t waffle just because there’s space for a longer answer. But do make sure what you say is specific and sufficiently detailed. Use clear and concise sentences. Avoid buzz words and ditch any jargon or unnecessary acronyms. Try to use facts rather than adjectives – they’re more compelling, believable and interesting. For example, compare “award-winning” to “really great”.

Style AND substance. The language you use is really important. But so is the layout. Stream of consciousness with no paragraph breaks will overwhelm the reader. Give them space to absorb your brilliance.

Proofread. Proofread again. Then get someone else to do it. A fresh eye is essential to make sure you haven’t missed anything or made any mistakes.

What mistakes do people make when applying for funding?

  • Not answering the question that’s been asked. Remember, most organisations will be happy to take a phone call or answer an email to explain anything you’re not sure about.
  • Obviously copy and pasting from other applications. Tailor – and check – all your copy carefully.
  • Using jargon and acronyms. If you absolutely have to use acronyms, don’t forget to spell them out the first time you use them.
  • Only giving part of the story. For example, not explaining how you’ll tackle a certain part of the project, or pay for something that isn’t covered by the grant you’re applying for.
  • Inconsistencies and errors. These will trash your credibility.
  • Expecting funders to ‘take your word for it’. Make sure you supply plenty of proof (data, personal stories, impact information) to back up your statements.

Advice and resources:

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Banner Image: Guilain Demoutiers on Unsplash

Sarah Myers

copywriter and editor, freelance

Sarah Myers is a copywriter, editorial consultant and creative manager, with more than 20 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector. She has worked in-house for Mencap and Macmillan Cancer Support, and at a charity copywriting agency. Now freelance, her clients include an extensive range of charities, professional bodies and specialist agencies. Her guide to Storytelling for Impact was published by the Directory of Social Change in 2022.