I read an extremely interesting report last week. Called Inside the mind of a grant-maker: Useful stuff on how grant-making works and written by nfpSynergy on behalf of the Institute of Fundraising, it was packed with useful insights. I strongly recommend reading it – there are lots of unexpected and very useful things in it. But I thought I’d also look at the five key points that it revealed grant makers consider to be essential to a good bid.
An understanding of who you’re applying to
The first part of this is simply to read the trust’s criteria and make sure you’re eligible for funding. Apparently, anything between 25% and 75% of applications are discarded simply because they don’t meet a trust’s criteria. Not doing your homework properly is a waste of your precious time (and the grant makers’) and will inevitably lead to disappointment.
The second part of this is making clear where and how your aims and objectives fit with the body you’re applying to. This shows you’ve taken the time to understand what the grant maker is looking for, not to mention making it a lot easier for the grant maker to see why your project is worthy of funding.
Your idea: what, why and how
Again, this covers two aspects. The first is in the presentation of your idea. Does your application make it absolutely clear what you want to achieve and why it’s needed? And how are you going to measure and manage the project to make sure it’s successful? If you’re in any doubt about the strength of what you’ve written, I’d suggest letting someone who isn’t associated with your bid read your application. Do they “get” what you want to do just from what you’ve written?
At a wider level, it’s about understanding what’s going on around you. Are there other charities or organisations doing similar things in your local area, for example? If so, you might want to reconsider your options because grant makers may consider that your project is unnecessary or that your organisation isn’t as closely linked to its community as it could be.
People who are able to deliver
Alongside the strong idea sit the people that will be putting it into practice. Some trusts want to work with someone senior in your organisation because they consider them to be a stable point of contact who will be in place for several years and can speak with authority. Others want contact with those “nearer the coalface”. As we saw earlier, it’s important to do your homework and find out what the trust you’re applying to wants.
Clear and succinct communication
As a freelance bid writer, this point was particularly interesting to me. Some grant makers like applications that have been written by a professional bid writer because they’re clear, strong and carefully put together – something that’s reflected in the higher success rates of professionally written bids. Others prefer applications written by people working in the charity because the passion and the commitment come across, painting a compelling picture of the need. I can completely understand both these points of view and think they both have their merits. It’s why I only work with organisations whose work I’m passionate about. It means I give the people I work with the best of both worlds – the passion and the professionalism.
This is an obvious point – if you’re applying for funds, a trust needs to know that you’re capable of managing them well. Despite this, grant makers report that they find simple calculation mistakes in a large proportion of budgets. So make sure your numbers are feasible and add up. A further to point to consider is whether your organisation is capable of managing the funds you’re applying for. Do you have the appropriate people, procedures and systems in place to manage the funds well? This especially applies when you’re a smaller charity applying for a larger fund. In short, you need to show that you’re capable and competent.
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