How to Write An Excellent Funding Bid: Your Really Useful 10-point guide
by Jonathan Baker, Capacity Builder
1) Start by being sure about your plans- ie the work or project you want funding for. By starting this way, you will avoid the common pitfall of re-shaping, or even re-inventing, your plans in order to fit a funder who happens to be open to applications, or advertising an upcoming deadline. To avoid this trap of so-called ‘mission-drift’, be really clear in your mind about what your plans are. Even better if you have them written down, in a way that makes sense to you (eg a one-page summary, or a diagram). This will help you when you get to the point of writing your application.
2) Commit some time to researching your potential funders. Reputable funders take care to keep their websites updated with current and helpful information. The front page will have a section on ‘Our Funding Priorities’. This will tell you if they like to fund the sort of work you plan to do. There may also be a section on ‘Work We Have Funded’. This section will tell you how they actually do spend their money- great information to have!
3) Found a funder who may be a good fit- but you’re not quite sure? That’s OK- see if you can get in touch with them and have a conversation. Many funders employ actual human beings who will be pleased to give some guidance and let you know if it is worth you applying to them. In the end, this conversation can save you both some time- and it can help you to get to know each other (see point 7, coming up…)
4) Ready to start on your application? Great. Start by looking through the whole application form, and ‘mapping out’ your plans (see why it was good to have them down on paper already?) against the key questions. This will give you a ‘framework’ on which to build your full application. It will also make sure you have the right information in the right place.. and are not about to use up precious word-count limits by repeating yourself!
5) As you start to write your application, keep your audience in mind. Don’t assume the person reading already knows about your work, or that they will be as familiar as you are with jargon or acronyms particular to your field. Instead, spell out this new information. And don’t make it a challenge for the funder to work out how your plans will fit their priorities; tell them how it will.
6) As you continue to write, use the most straightforward language that you can to get your message across. No-one is particularly impressed with obscure words used just for their own sake! Instead, give factual information (eg relevant statistics or quotes) to back up the need for your work. Then say exactly what you plan to do. And then state the difference your work will make- in a way that the funder will readily be able to visualise and value.
7) All the way through writing communicate your passion! You are personally excited about making your plans happen, right? Then make sure this comes across in your application. If the person reading feels they know, like and trust you then they are more likely to ‘buy’ what you want to ‘sell’!
8) So the application form is finished. Time to send it in, right? Well- not quite yet! First of all, get someone else to read it through. A ‘critical friend’ who can point out any errors or inconsistencies, and give tips on where it may be strengthened. This may be a colleague in your organisation, a friend from outside your voluntary group, or even (if you have got to know them a little), a representative of the actual funder. Some funders will be happy to give feedback on a draft bid before you actually submit (helpful hint: THT Social Investment is one of them!).
9) If you do get some feedback, chances are there will be suggestions (big or small ones) about how the bid can be strengthened. Take advantage of this constructive criticism and use it to refine your bid, until you are really confident it is doing full justice to your organisation and the work you want to do. This may take a little time - perhaps even two or three drafts before you get the bid ready to go - but it will be time well spent.
10) Once your application is in, give yourself a pat on the back. Writing a bid that does justice to your organisation and its great plans inevitably will have taken quite a lot of time and energy. Now that the work is done, you can only wait for one of these two outcomes:
10a) Your excellent application is successful. Brilliant- well done! Now of course the hard work really begins, you need to start putting your plans in action! As you do, be sure to keep track of what you committed to do in your application as the funder will want to see some kind of report at the end of the funded work. If this tells them you have delivered as planned, guess what? They are much more likely to fund you again!
10b) Your excellent application is declined. A kick in the teeth, especially if you have followed all the above points to the letter! We know- we’ve been there ourselves, and it can hurt. If you can, when you can, take some time to reflect. The communication you have received from the funder may help here. Have they given you any reasons for their decision? If so, this may tell you whether a fresh or revised bid to them is worthwhile. If not, sometimes, that is just the way it goes, and better luck next time!