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8 steps to writing your first ever grant application

Competition for grants is fierce, so smaller charities should concentrate their efforts on securing several small grants rather than chasing the big grants – but where should you start and how do you write an application to get the best chance of success? Ewan Hastings explains more…

I’ve been a trusts and foundations fundraiser for over 15 years now and I still remember the terror at being faced with sending out 15 trust applications in the first month of my first fundraising job, which included raising money from trusts – I knew nothing!  

Trusts’ fundraising has become incredibly competitive in the past few years, as the number of new charities has soared. But perhaps, for fundraisers working with smaller charities in these competitive times, their efforts might be best centred on getting a number of smaller grants from a select stable of funders, rather than going for the bigger grants where the application process might be more complex and time-consuming and have less chance of success. 

But where do you start if you’ve never done it before and need to learn how to write an application?  

Learn the basics 

Do some research online to learn the basics. An introduction to trusts fundraising can be found in the Institute of Fundraising’s Five Minute Fundraiser series of videos on its YouTube channel. In a little over six(!) minutes you’ll feel better educated on how they operate and have picked up a few basic tips as well.

Get a trusts’ mentor

Going on from there, I recommend getting yourself a trusts’ mentor; someone who has a few years’ trusts experience, to who you can fire lots of questions and learn from. They can be invaluable in helping you to learn the difference between core, revenue and capital funding and the different types of trusts that are out there. 

Build relationships

Bear in mind – and this is important – that trusts fundraising is absolutely no different to any other type of fundraising: it’s all about building relationships, in this instance with trusts’ correspondents.  By doing so, you can often bank on a number of years’ grants from a trust, and even receive introductions to other grant funders. Building relationships also means that you are helping to make their job easy by giving them your applications, reports and all requested supporting materials in on time and correct.

Here are eight must-haves when writing your first standard application:

1. Spend some time formulating the perfect 100-word description of what your charity actually does. It will be used time and time again in applications, where you can simply cut and paste the paragraph into the applicable space in an application form.

2. Really examine your project: Does it really meet a need? Are there other organisations out there doing the same thing? Ask questions about the project to your service staff. Are the statements you are making true? You must ensure they are!

3. I like to start my applications with this sentence, which I think encapsulates everything that follows: ‘This is a request from (name of charity) to (name of trust) for £ (amount of money being requested) for (the purpose, simply stated).’

4. Split your application into sections with headings such as ‘Summary’, ‘Introduction to the charity’, ‘The [name of] project’, ‘Why we need your support’ etc. 

5. If the trust has an application form to complete, make sure you break down each question asked into its component parts and answer each of these parts in turn.  

6. A maximum of one to two real stories or case studies are a good way of communicating the value of a project to your reader.

7. Think about the overall impression you want the reader of your application to be left with e.g. if yours is a dynamic charity, your application must, itself, be dynamic.

8. Put in the differences (outcomes) that your project has made to the people/animals/science you support.

Most charities, if writing ‘an application’ where the trust doesn’t specify how long an application should be, do a one-sided cover letter introducing the funding being sought, along with either a two or three-page application detailing the project.

For research, the Directory of Social Change offers a searchable website of all charitable trusts in the UK providing grants to voluntary sector groups, as does Charity Financials. If you can’t afford to pay for annual subscriptions, most local libraries and local voluntary organisation councils in the UK subscribe to similar service which you can access for free.  

Other suggested research resources include www.fundingcentral.org.uk, www.grantfinder.co.uk, in Scotland: www.fundingscotland.com, in Wales: www.wcva.org.uk/funding/search, in Northern Ireland: www.grant-tracker.org.  

So there you have it: the basics to get you started. You can only learn by trying. So, dip your toe in the water and see how you get on. And, lucky you, you have a head start on me. I didn’t have all these tips when I started!

Ewan Hastings is a fundraiser with 23 years’ experience. He is currently Trusts and Corporate Fundraiser for Waverley Care.

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