Take it for Granted

This particular blog is specifically aimed at small community groups/charities who have limited expertise to prepare a grant application to a charitable trust, or public body to help fund your work. The simple eight steps are presented as a guide to help in in the preparation stage when drafting your grant application. As with most things in life what you finally produce is only as good as the foundations you build it upon. None of the steps below are rocket science, but in my 20+ years of experience either preparing grant applications to charitable trusts or assessing applications for public bodies it’s remarkable how many potentially good projects fail because of simplicity.

Step 1: Establish a small task and finish group

Once a funding opportunity has been identified set up a small task and finish group that will oversee all work associated with the drafting and submission of the application. Ideally, this should be no less than 2 and no more that four people. Where possible the task group should include the following:

  • The person tasked with preparing the draft
  • A trustee or management committee member (the treasurer)
  • A service user

The purpose of the task and finish group will be to work on behalf of the trustees/management committee to prepare and submit the grant application. The level of delegation between the trustees/management committee and task and finish group is a matter for each group to determine. Although not ideal, given the size and capacity of the group a single person could be delegated to do all the work. In these cases, I would suggest the person appointed should seek input from a trusted colleague.

Note: make sure everybody is aware of their role and responsibilities.

Step 2: Do your homework

The person tasked with preparing the application should collect as much information as possible on the agency providing the opportunity to make application and circulate it to all members of the task and finish group. This information to contain as a minimum:

  • Details of the funding agency (including web address)
  • Criteria for application and deadlines
  • The application form and any supporting documentation
  • Requirements of a successful application
  • Monitoring and accountability requirements for the funding
  • Most funding bodies provide information on successful and not successful applications

The first task for the group is to use this information to complete a brief work plan, which starts from the final date the application needs to be submitted and then works backward. Include in this key dates for each draft to be prepared.

Note: Does the agency fund your type of group? If not, don’t make the application.  

Step 3: Clarity about your ask

Sounds daft, but be clear about what you are seeking to do and that it aligns with the criteria. Again, it sounds crazy, but one of the main reasons an application fails is because it does not meet the criteria for funding. If you are in any doubt, speak to the funding agency directly given they don’t want to waste their and your time. Keep a note of the discussion and report findings back to the task and finish group. You will need to establish a figure to the amount of money you intend to ask for. Be realistic and base your ask on what you need. Trying to inflate your ask will only undermine your case and credibility when you are eventually found out…and you will be.

Step 4: Research and gather support

This will need to be handled sensitively, but through your network try to see if any other local groups have had any experience with this particular funding agency. Check the website of the funding agency to see if grants have been made available for similar activities within your city, town or neighbourhood. You might want to use this opportunity to explore the potential of partnering up with a like-minded group with similar ethos or purpose.

Talk to local stakeholders like faith leaders, local councillors, local police, health profession, etc. Ask if they will provide a supporting reference for your application.

Is your proposed project based on what you think the community requires or is it based on what the community needs? A strong application will normally be based on an identified need, which is support by evidence, such as crime levels, educational attainment, poverty, etc. This information can be found on your local council’s website within a dense report called the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment. This document is not easy reading and is full of jargon, so look for summaries. If you are having, difficulties obtain this information try and phone your local council. They hold the information and have a duty to provide the information upon request. Most local government officers will be happy to help, but be clear what information you are seeking before you contact them.

Most local government officers will be happy to help, but be clear what information you are seeking before you contact them. For example, “I am seeking information on the level of poverty in the x neighbourhood, along with any other information you might think is helpful in making an application for funding. Could you provide this information or guide me to where I could find it.”

Step 5: Drafting 

Using the information gathered from steps 2,3,4 you will be in a position to start the drafting of the grant application form. Don’t worry at this stage about any gaps you are unable to complete just complete what you can.

Step 6: Challenge 

Complete the initial draft application and share it with the members of the task and finish group. Ask for their input and suggestions. You might also want to ask for help with filling in any gaps or you may ask a member of the group to track down some information that will help address any gaps in the application and improve further drafts.

Step 7: Supporting documentation

Most funding agencies will require supporting documentation with the final application. You may want to ask a member of the task group to compile these supporting documentation, which may include (not exhaustive):

  • Constitution
  • Audited accounts
  • Equalities policy
  • Minutes of the management committee

Step 8: Final draft

The drafting stage will be a matter for you to conduct, but this normally takes between 3 to 5 drafting attempts before a good final draft of the application is ready.

Step 9: Reflect and Prepare final application 

The task and finish group are supplied with a copy of the draft application and supporting documentation. It is the responsibility of the group to finalise the application. The person who has written the final draft presents what is required of the funding agency to the group who cross reference, audit and sign off the grant application.

Step 10: Submit

Good practice is to submit the grant application at least 5 workings days before the closing date for applications.

And finally

This is a brief guide and of course, will not guarantee success with any application, but it will help build capacity within your group so when further grant applications become available you will be ready. The key issue to remember is that far more applications are turned down than approved. This may not be a reflection on the quality of your application. If you are successful most, but not all funding agencies are prepared to provide you will feedback. This information is invaluable for future applications. I will pick up the issue of preparing the governance in a future blog.

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