Nov 2011 – Top ten tips for successful grant applications

Alex Smeets

Now that the last of our full-day Grants Workshops has finished, I feel that I ought to create some sort of legacy that will last beyond the end of the UFFB programme, so here are my top ten tips for successful grant applications:

1. Only apply for the grant if there is genuinely a good fit between what you want to do and what the grant scheme intends to achieve. When we read grant scheme documentation it’s human nature to see a good fit that actually isn’t there, or to feel that we should be given the grant “because we’re worth it”. Don’t fall into that trap, and walk away if there isn’t a good fit.

2. Don’t bend your business (or project) out of shape just to fit the scope of the grant scheme. You’re in business in order to put a sustainable and profitable proposition in the market, and if you change those plans just to get some short-term funding, you run the risk of your business never becoming viable. Use grants to feed your project, not to lead it.

3. Go through the scheme documentation and list all the things that the funding provider wants to see as the legacy of the projects that it funds. Things such as: jobs created; reductions in carbon emissions; people who are socially disadvantaged now better placed; etc. Will your project produce the outcomes they seek? If so, tell them. If not, don’t even apply.

4.  Before you start writing, check that you meet all the yes/no criteria. The big one is usually: “what kind and size of business is this grant for?” Make sure you’re the right kind of business (particularly with grants for social enterprises), and in the right size category (which isn’t always obvious because your official size may be affected by shareholdings).

5. Go through the documentation and list all pre-existing information that you’ll need to bring together in order to prepare your application. This could include company accounts going back several years; credible market data including data on competitors; evidence of match funding; quotes from subcontractors; Directors’ other interests etc. Some of these will take time to find!

6. Follow the guidance notes to the letter. Such an obvious thing to do, and so rarely done…

7. Take the time to write your own application rather than outsource it, or if you really can’t afford the time to write it yourself then at least take the time to read through it thoroughly and make changes as required. In the end, the application has to be an accurate reflection of what you want to do and achieve.

8 Keep it brief (but make sure you’ve covered all bases). The poor grant assessor will have to read through a stack of applications in a short time. If you make all the necessary points concisely, he or she will be happy. If you waffle and repeat yourself time and again, they won’t. Use “pithy prose”…

9 Don’t forget the importance of the team (including subcontractors): funding providers (and taxpayers, i.e. you) want to know that the money will be spent by people who know what they’re doing not just technically but commercially.

10. Get someone who is not too close to the project and who is not afraid to provide constructive criticism to read your draft application and give their feedback.

Good luck!