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How to apply for funding from a major donor

Zimbabwe Educational Trust

In what marked a turning point for the charity, Zimbabwe Educational Trust secured £75k of funding from DFID. Here’s what they’ve learned from their experiences of working with major donors – including 5 top tips for applying for large funds

 

Applying for large amounts of funding can be daunting. You can know your project inside out and have successful experience applying to plenty of other organisations, but struggle to translate this into applications for major donors.

 

Don’t worry – you’re not alone! Each donor has its own funding criteria and requirements, and expects you to be able to break your project into small chunks which fit neatly to their questions and priorities. If you work for a small organisation, or work with smaller partners, this can be a challenging and time-consuming process – and the pressure to get so much done in relatively little time can be off-putting.

 

The staff at Zimbabwe Educational Trust (ZET) know this feeling well. ZET is a small NGO, based in Leeds, that works with partners in Zimbabwe to support communities into education and out of poverty. The organisation had always been relatively small scale, helping a few individual Zimbabweans and receiving no more than a few thousand pounds in funding each year.

 

This was until we partnered with Trinity Project in Zimbabwe, and applied for a grant from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to fund a project to help children get birth certificates and enrol in school.

 

This marked a turning point for ZET: we secured £75k of funding from DFID for the next three years and were able to reach thousands of families and help hundreds of children to obtain birth certificates and enrol in school. Since then, we have gone on to secure major funds from several other large foundations and national aid agencies, which has enabled us to work on a number of exciting projects.

 

So at this point, we would like to share our insights and experience for other organisations in the same boat.

 

What does the application usually ask for?

 

Each application is different, with different requirements and priorities – so the first tip should always be to read through all the eligibility criteria, application advice and FAQs.

 

That said, most major applications follow similar lines and will want to know:

 

  • Who the organisation is: what are you about, what do you do, how do they contact you? (This will probably include them asking for your latest accounts and constitution or registration as a charity)
  • What the project is: where did the idea come from, how do you know it is needed, who does it help, how does it work? (This will probably include them asking for a project budget.)

 

Most applications of this scale are very popular, so they progress in stages – with each stage requiring more detail. At first, usually all the funder will want is a concept note, which outlines the organisation and the project. If you are lucky enough to get through that stage, you will be asked to submit a full application, with other attachments and requirements – the road to full application can take more than one step though, with organisations being rejected at each stage.

 

So how can small organisations deal with these highly competitive grant application processes? What follows are five top tips we’ve learned from our own experiences in successfully applying for major funding.

 

1. Choose a funder who shares your vision

 

The foundation of your proposal will always be having the right partner – one with a clear vision of what they want to deliver and the changes they want to bring about. Together, you should establish some clear change objectives; referring to these throughout the proposal will help create a logical structure that is easy to follow.

 

2. Develop a theory of change

 

The fundraiser should act as an interlocutor, working with your partner to develop and refine your change objectives into a solid theory of change which can be communicated in a proposal. This will help donors to understand more clearly the context you work in, and the relevance and benefit of your project.

 

3. Demonstrate that you know your stuff

 

Most major donors will expect the projects they fund to achieve sustainable and transformational change, and ask for evidence for this in a proposal. A great way to prepare for these types of questions is to conduct and document a short political economy analysis, which demonstrates understanding of your context; its local political, social and economic realities and how change happens.

 

4. Show you’ve connected all the dots

 

The project activities included in the proposal should clearly emerge from the theory of change, so it is evident how each activity is expected to contribute to your change objectives. This should include strong mechanisms for Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. These give you the information you need to evaluate and improve performance throughout, and will demonstrate to donors that your project is well thought-out and managed.

 

5. Get your budgeting right

 

Finally, the budget should be realistic, emerging from the activities you've planned to facilitate change (rather than working backwards from an arbitrary total figure). If you apply for too little you will struggle to implement your project, but if you apply for too much it may weaken your application. Instead, demonstrate your project’s value for money by writing budget notes, explaining how figures were reached and why they are necessary.

 

While not every application will be successful, by following the above tips you can help ensure that your applications are well targeted and that they tick the right boxes for prospective funders. So our final piece of advice is: go for it!

 

Stuart Kempster is a trustee and Hannah O’Riordan is operations manager at Zimbabwe Educational Trust. You can follow the charity on Facebook.

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