Trust funding applications: top ten tips

One of our expert researchers, Scott Mason, shares his top ten tips for completing trust funding applications.

1. Do your research

Across the UK there are literally thousands of grant-makers big and small, supporting all kinds of charitable projects. As such, no matter how niche your organisation may be, it is likely that somewhere, there will be a grant-maker willing to support you. In order to ensure that you maximise your chances of securing funding, therefore, it is important to invest sufficient time in identifying those funders who will be most likely to fund your proposed project. Often this may involve looking beyond the larger and more well-known grant-makers to smaller issue-specific funders. While these local and regional grant-makers may lack the resources of their national counterparts, they are also likely to receive far fewer applications.

2. Make sure you’re eligible

Every year, charities waste thousands of hours completing and submitting ineligible funding proposals. To avoid wasting your time and energy on applications which stand no chance of success, always read the eligibility criteria of the grant-makers carefully. Then read them again.

3. Give them a call

If you are unsure whether your project meets the funder’s eligibility criteria, a quick phone call to double-check that yours is the type of project that the grant-maker would be interested in supporting, can save an enormous amount of time spent submitting applications which are unlikely to be accepted. Even if you are sure that your project will be eligible, a brief conversation with a representative of the grant-maker, may be useful to confirm that funding is still available or to provide insights into how you might tailor your application to maximise your chances of success. With that in mind…

4. Tailor your application

In the same way that a generic CV is unlikely to attract the attention of a busy HR manager, generic sounding applications for funding are unlikely to persuade trustees to part with their cash. Instead, take time to research the values and objectives of the funding body you are applying to and tailor your application accordingly. A good proposal imitates the language of the funder whilst making sure that your organisation’s culture is clear. In particular pay careful attention to the ways in which the funder defines its mission as well as the language it uses to describe beneficiaries.

5. Be clear and concise

If the funder does not provide an official application form (many do not), keep your proposal short. Around one side of A4 should be enough to adequately explain the nature of your project and the need for funding. When describing your project remember to be clear about its aims, its reach, the outcomes you are trying to achieve, who will benefit and how much funding you are requesting.

6. Exit strategy

Include in your application your exit strategy to demonstrate to the funder that you’re mindful of your beneficiaries and your charity’s sustainability.

7. Provide all the information requested

While it is important to keep your proposal concise – it is also crucial to ensure that you have provided the funder with all the information that they require. In addition to a description of the proposed project, many grant-makers will often request copies of annual reports or accounts to assess the robustness of your policies and procedures and the transparency of your financial activities. Failure to provide this information could cause delays or even jeopardise an application’s chance of being accepted. As such, it is important to ensure that these documents are available, up-to-date, and well-presented.

8. Appearance matters

Funders don’t expect a funding proposal to be a work of art, they know that resources are tight. Nevertheless, in preparing an application for funding it is important to ensure that the documents are easy to navigate and professionally presented. Make sure that all important sections are clearly labelled and that the contents are laid out in a logical order. Where possible, print the application on good quality letter-headed paper and handwrite the date, salutation and signature.

9. Ask for feedback

Regardless of how well-written and persuasive your project proposal may be, in an era of ever dwindling resources it is inevitable that at least some of your funding applications will be unsuccessful. When this happens, it is important to find out why by asking for feedback from the grant-maker. It may be that the funders received an unusually large number of high quality applications and that your project would stand a good chance of being funded next year. Alternatively, the trustees may simply have felt that your project was not relevant to their charitable objectives and so would be unlikely to fund you in the future. This kind of information can be invaluable for developing future fundraising strategies and improving your proposal writing skills.

10. Invest in fundraising

Researching relevant funders, deciphering eligibility criteria and completing application forms can be a time consuming endeavour for small charities with limited resources. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to writing a clear and persuasive funding proposal. However, for charities which lack dedicated fundraising staff members, subscription funding websites and publications which offer directories of grant-makers can help to make the sometimes arduous process of identifying relevant funders far less resource intensive.