How to get grant funding
This blog post will show you how to get funding. After five years of advising community groups I distilled my advice into a set of rules and top tips.
Top funding principle:
The best way to explain how funding works is to say that you are selling a set of outcomes to a funder. There are always a few shifts in the culture of funders according to changes in policy and personnel but this principle always stays true.
Here is what funders want:
Most funders want outcomes where peoples’ lives are transformed. The outcomes with the biggest impact are getting people into work, providing qualifications. These outcomes allow you to tell a story with a reversal at the end. Your beneficiaries start off without something, and end the project with it. Tell a clear story of a high impact change.
It is not enough to have high impacts with a small number of people. You need to have more than 50 or even 100+ beneficiaries. The reason for this is because of the competition for grants. It is likely that they will have 10s or 100s of applications and in the sorting process, and the projects with beneficiaries under 30 people will look like ‘nice to have’ rather than essential. The solution to this is to mention things that give reach. This could be the number of people on your Facebook group, to include the wider beneficiaries such as the families of beneficiaries, or to build in a cascading model where the beneficiaries create more beneficiaries.
Another key aspect of high reach is having partners in your project. The more partners you have the less it is about you, and the more it is about developing the wider community. Funders like to help as many groups as possible so partner bids make them feel good.
You need to provide conclusive proof that your activities are needed. There are three standards of evidence:
- Gold is primary research that you have done yourself with your own community.
- Silver is secondary research that is local
- Bronze is national secondary data
There is a trick here to write up what you know so that it sounds like research. Instead of saying everyone needs it, or we know they need it, which is only hearsay; if you say “we spoke to 50 people and we found that …” it sounds like you have conducted research. All community groups have spoken to their beneficiaries a number of times over a number of years. It is perfectly ok to write this up as proof.
Other examples of proof are numbers, stats and quotes. Always use the sources for your stats and quotes so that they appear reliable and conclusive.
Put the right information in the right place
You cannot tell the story of your project through the grant funders form. You have to tell the story the grant funder wants. Never cut and paste from other bids. Always map out your project to the funders interests. If you do a brainstorm with a separate piece of paper for each key grant question, then this helps you map the right information to the right question. If you fill in the form from beginning to end, you are more likely to include irrelevant detail in the wrong section.
This is all about point scoring. If you mention outcomes in the need section, or needs in the activities section, then you can’t score points for them. Activity is just about what you are going to do. The outcome section is about the changes this will make, and the need section is about why it is needed.
Give confidence by stating the obvious
You must think about the poor admin person, or volunteer that is doing the screening of 100 grant applications. If they are reading complex statements reflecting sophisticated projects they cannot work out you are answering the question or not. In the first few lines give a topline overview of the answer to the question, so that they can breathe a sigh of relief that you know what you are talking about and that the answer is coming. Give the core answer first so that you at least score a 3 out of 5. Once you have ticked the core boxes, you need to give them your top scoring golden nuggets, to push you into the 4 out of 5. Only super heroes get the 5 out of 5.
Don’t forget the passion
You have to use emotive and engaging language that shouts about why your project is great. If it’s written in a technical or formal style then the readers eyes will glaze over, their attention will shift, and they will get to the end of the section and have no idea what to score you. If you use everyday chatty language and show your pride and passion then they will be confident that they can give you a top score.
Panels want to give to shiny new stuff rather than continuation funding.
Sustainability: Most funders want to see how your project will continue, or have lasting legacy beyond the term they are funding.
These tips are based on community sector funding. They are also focussed on non-statutory grant funders rather than the public sector.
There is a current vogue for funders to focus on the assets in a community rather than deficiencies, and to fund what works rather than things that are just new. Despite these trends they still need to fund things that have an evidence base, and there is still a preference for innovation rather than continuation funding. It’s best to stick to the rulebook, even if they promise they are ripping it up.
In our next few blogs we will be sharing more tools and tips to generate income for community sector groups and social enterprises.