How to apply

Are you ready to apply?

If you are from a new organisation or group, or if you as an individual are new to fundraising, then get some advice before you start making funding applications. Before you can apply to any funders, you will need to have a clear idea of what you want funding for and how much it will cost. Most funders will also require you to be a formally constituted organisation with your own bank account and book-keeping.

Local community workers, development workers at Councils for Voluntary Service (CVS), Rural Community Councils (RCCs) or specialist funding advice agencies may be able to help you plan what you want, advise on how to make applications and on issues about constitutions and financial management.

To find your nearest CVS go to National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA). Find a partial list of local Rural Community Councils here. Look at the Getting Help section for information about other agencies.

These agencies will also know about easy-access funding that may be available to your group - local community chests, small grants schemes, community foundations or start-up funds for your particular field of interest or activity. These sorts of funding sources are often the best places to start your fundraising; they usually have more straightforward application processes and quicker decision-making procedures.

There are lots of training courses for people and organisations just starting out. Many are run by local development agencies like CVS, RCCs and funding advice agencies. Nationally, the Directory of Social Change (Tel: 08450 77 77 07) regularly runs training courses in different parts of the country. Every spring it organises the Charityfair in London, which provides a variety of training sessions, workshops, lectures and events over three days.

Only apply for funding if you can answer 'Yes' to all these questions:

  • Is there an organisation with a name and some kind of written constitution that can make the application?
  • Does the organisation have a written list of members and (probably) a management committee of some kind?
  • Does the constitution make clear what the aims and objectives of the organisation are?
  • Does the constitution make clear that any money received by the organisation must be spent on the organisation's aims and objectives and cannot be distributed to the members?
  • Does the organisation have a bank account?
  • Has the organisation as a whole agreed what its priorities are?
  • If you can't answer 'Yes' to all the questions above, it's certainly not worth writing to funders. Wait until the group is more developed. If you need help sorting out a constitution and a bank account, see if there's a local development agency near you that can give you advice and support.

If you can answer 'Yes' to the questions above, what about these ones?

  • Does the organisation have a budget?
  • Are you clear how much money you are trying to raise?
  • Can you show how you arrived at the figures?
  • Can you explain simply and clearly why there is a need for whatever it is you want to do with the money?
  • Can you explain simply and clearly who will benefit from any money you get, and how they will benefit?
  • If you get the money, have you got a clear plan for spending it?
  • Can you say what you will do if you only get some of the money you need?

It's not worth sending applications for funding to anyone until you can answer 'Yes' to all the questions, but you may want to use the process of writing a funding application as a way of getting the answers.

Types of grant

In addition to policy criteria many funders, both government and non-statutory, are quite specific about the types of grants they will make. With government funding, the main distinctions are between capital and revenue, core and project costs, small and large grants, and one-off and regular distributions.

Capital / Revenue
Grants schemes may say that funding is available for either capital or revenue costs. Capital costs are one-off costs: buildings, equipment, vehicles - spending on items that become capital assets of your organisation. Revenue costs are your ongoing running costs, items of expenditure such as heat, light, rent, wages, pensions, transport, insurance and so on.

Core / Project costs
Another important distinction in terms of types of costs that may be funded is between core costs and project costs. Many funders will only fund projects and are reluctant to fund core costs, the central costs of running your organisation. Statutory funders are more likely (than company or trust funders) to fund an organisation's core costs, although they are also unlikely to support groups in a long-term funding agreement.

Within your revenue budget you may be able to define certain areas of project work and systematically assign percentages of core costs to each project using a cost-centre approach. You should be aware that many funding schemes have guidelines about which contributions to core costs may be included in a project funding application, and you should check before preparing costings.

Small / Large
Statutory funders are more likely to make larger grants for longer periods than charitable trusts or companies. Make sure that the department and funding scheme you're applying to gives grants of the scale you need before you do a lot of work on an application.

Regular / One-off distribution
For some annual programmes there will be just one chance a year to apply, for other shorter-term or one-off funding programmes there may be a number of deadlines. For longer-term schemes there may be one application round every three years. Check with the department early on.

The process of decision-making may be quite long and complicated, with several different stages to the application process involving officers and civil servants and/or politicians. You may need to apply a long time in advance of actually getting the money.

Things to consider before applying

  • Check your eligibility carefully before you apply.
  • Think about the amount of work the application will require and who will do it.
  • Think about the timescale: can you meet the deadline? Are there other major pieces of work or funding applications within your organisation that will need to be completed at the same time? When would the funding actually arrive in your bank account?

Get a copy of the guidelines and criteria for the scheme and information about the way your application will be dealt with. Use this website to find out as much as you can about the scheme. Check the contact details for more information. There will be a special officer or civil servant whom you can talk to about your application before you apply. Each department and funding scheme will have established systems of application, notification, fixed schedules of payment and monitoring systems. Find out as much as you can about these arrangements before you apply. Much of this kind of information is available through this website; look under the individual funding schemes for details.

How to complete an application form

  • Not all funders have application forms. Charitable trusts and companies may expect you to write a letter rather than fill in a form. But government funders are likely to have forms.
  • Read the criteria for the funding scheme. Make a note of the ways in which your organisation or project meet the criteria.
  • Read the guidelines for completing the form.
  • Check the deadline for submission.
  • Check who needs to sign the form; make sure they'll be available when you need them.
  • If you're submitting your application on paper, make a photocopy of the application form or print off two copies - one good copy to submit and one copy to make rough notes on.
  • Make a list of all the information you need to collect to answer the questions.
  • Make a note of information you already have that will help you to complete the form. Look at other funding applications you've made.
  • Answer all the questions. If you're not sure about a question, first refer back to the guidelines and, if you're still uncertain, then try and ask the scheme administrators what kind of information they're looking for in that section.
  • Prepare a budget for the application. Make sure you know how it fits into your overall organisational budget; make notes of how you've arrived at the costs and the assumptions you've made in drawing up the budget. Check that the figures add up and make sure that you've used the same set of figures right through the application.
  • Ask someone who's not familiar with your project to read the application and see if it makes sense to them.
  • Ask yourself: have you made clear what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you'll know if you're doing it well?

Dealing with funders

However impossible or bizarre funders' demands seem to be, you ignore them at your peril. Like it or not, funders are in a much more powerful position than grant-seekers. Funders sometimes talk about being 'in partnership' with the groups they fund; even if this is how they truly feel, such an attitude is unlikely to operate at the application stage. At this point they will almost certainly be faced with many more 'good' applications than they can fund - their challenge is how to get rid of some of the pile. They will inevitably be looking for reasons to reject your application, even if they also consider its positive aspects.

Perhaps they've spent ages deciding what information they want and how they want it. If you ignore their guidelines, you insult them. So if they've set up hoops and you refuse to jump through them, don't be surprised if they put your application in the bin. Look at what they want from you and don't just concentrate on what you want from them.

Although they will definitely want evidence that you are serious about your approach to them, they will also want to see that you are serious about what you want funding for. One consequence of the imbalance in power is that funders believe that grant-seekers don't tell them the whole truth, they tell them what they think they want to hear. So the more your application feels genuine and truthful, the more it seems to come out of your experience and not be created just to suit their funding regime, the more likely it is you'll get the money. Don't be afraid to 'tell it like it is' and don't be afraid of using everyday language to do so.

The way to show you are serious about what you do is to give detail. Generalisations and vague statements are much less convincing than specifics. Imagine that your application is successful. The cheque arrives. You write and say thank you. Then what? What exactly are you going to do? How exactly will you know you're doing it well enough? The more you think it through, the more convincing you will be.

Although you need to explain what you want to do quite specifically, you need to explain why you want to do it as well. A phrase that is sometimes used by funding advisers is Lead with the need. Make sure you've given a strong explanation of why there is a need for the work you want funded.

It's one thing to show there's a problem that needs tackling. Even more important is to show that your work will actually address the problem, make a difference and lead to change. You need to think about the 'outcomes' you can expect to see. What changes will your project bring about and how will you be able to demonstrate them? Try and be realistic and practical about outcomes.

One consequence of being reasonably honest is that you are more likely to achieve what you said you would. And if you make a success of one grant, you are much more likely to get others - for two reasons. One is that funders reward success. They like to give money to things that have a reasonable chance of succeeding, so a track record of achievement is a great asset. The other reason is that funders often fund groups they know rather than groups that come to them 'cold'. You are trying to build an on-going relationship with a funder, not just get one grant.

You won't always get it right, or get it right first time. There's luck involved in getting grants as well as skill. Don't despair if you get turned down. See what you can learn from the experience and keep trying.

Guiding principles:

  • Give funders the information they've asked for in the form they want it in.
  • Be honest about your situation and be specific about what you want to do.
  • Write clearly and simply.
  • Think of the application as the start of a relationship with a funder.

Checklist of funders' requirements

Most funders will require some background information about your organisation and the project you're applying for in support of your application. This will vary from funder to funder and will depend on the complexity of your application and the amount of money you're asking for. Here are some of the things you can expect to be asked for:

  • Constitution
  • Annual report
  • Audited accounts (or independently examined accounts depending on your income)
  • Business plan
  • Project budget and multi-year budget for the whole organisation / Detailed costings / Cashflow analysis
  • Membership list
  • Members of governing body/ board/management committee
  • Organisation - how the organisation is managed, lines and structures of accountability and user involvement
  • Equal opportunities policy
  • Complaints procedure
  • Health and safety policy
  • Detailed timetable / work plan