Steve's funding tips
Grants are not "free money"
the donor will have their own objectives in giving out money. Make sure your application and the project delivery fit perfectly the donor's objectives.
Big strings may be attached
as one Irish EU-funded project promoter once said to me
they give you a grant and then, when they've got their teeth into you, they don't let go - which means that with the grant may come lots of obligations in terms of project monitoring and evaluation. This may be a significant issue with EU Structural Fund projects where you may be liable to an audit visit from a wide range of local, regional, national and EU officials.
Outputs not inputs
focus on what your grant will deliver not what you'll put into the project
Deliver wide benefit
show how your project will benefit a wider group, not just your organisation and your immediate projects partners. Build into your project actions on dissemination and exploitation of results (you might see reference in some EU projects to "valorisation" or "animation"). These all boil down to the same thing - sponsors normally want their money to deliver long-term systemic improvements not short-term pilots with no benefit lasting beyond the project lifetime.
Build your project idea to fit the eligibility criteria
don't selectively apply the criteria to fit your project. A common mistake I see with first time applicants is that they have a great project idea but it doesn't quite fit the eligibility criteria. Adapt your project not the eligibility criteria. See below "Five preliminary steps when drafting a grant application".
Most calls for grant applications are massively over-subscribed
many of your competitors have teams of expert bid writers and years of experience in applying for grants and running successful projects
Assessors tend to have big piles of applications to go through
don't give the assessors an obvious weak spot which will hasten your application's departure to the waste bin
Be specific when you quote evidence
quote your source, don't assume the assessors know what you're referring to. References as per academic papers are a good standard to aim at
prove you have the systems in place to handle large sums of other people's money and can run grant-aided projects
show evidence that you've started projects quickly before and can do it again. If a project only has a 12 month time-span, you'll need to convince the assessor that a big chunk of the project period won't be wasted on issues such as staff and beneficiary recruitment, property search, equipment purchase, etc
an obvious point, perhaps, but don't assume the assessor knows your organisation. Present evidence of successful similar delivery in the past
don't underestimate their importance. Imagine you're an assessor and you have two applications to approve or reject; they seem to be of a similar standard - one has a hatful of relevant quality standards; the other applicant has none - which would you choose to spend tax payers money best?
remember that your application assessors may have spent an entire week at the same desk under exam-like conditions reading a seemingly unending pile of applications. Obviously your application form answers need to be clear and concise but what does this mean in practice? Here are some tips on making your application form easier for the assessors to read:
focus on the first few sentences in the first question you answer
as with interviews, the first few sentences are key to creating a strong first impression. Regardless of the weighting of the first question, make sure your answer hits the nail bang on the head
summarise the project in the first couple of pages
if there's space, use an illustration early on in the application form to summarise the project. The assessors will read all 50 pages of your application but don't force them to wait until the last page before they can understand what your project is about
try not to fill all available space with text
it becomes difficult for assessors to take in solid blocks of text with no spaces. This is a big problem when - as increasingly happens - application forms are space limited and you have lots you want to say to answer a question. This is an evener bigger problem when - as can happen - funders demand answers to more questions than you feel able to answer in the available space. The only solution here is to prioritise your material and then break up text into meaningful paragraphs
use bullet points sparingly
in moderation, they're a great device for breaking up and emphasising key points. In excess, they become meaningless lists, which will diminish your chances of securing an assessor's approval
Letters of support
check first in the formal call whether they are required, as not all funders demand them. If they are required, check if there's a standard format for the letter. Don't leave pursuit of letters of support to the last moment (as can happen) and don't wait until you've finished the application form; distribute a short project summary with requests for support letters in the early stages of completing the application.
Five preliminary steps when drafting a grant application
- Start by trying to forget your project idea
- Read the application guidance material very carefully
- Set yourself a little test: after re-reading the criteria, without access to the application documents, write down what you remember to be the priorities (just a few key sentences: what is this fund about? what are the funders looking for in this call for applications?) The aim is to get yourself into the mindset of the people who wrote the eligibility criteria and the people who will be using these criteria to assess your project
- Then design your project
- Remember - build your project idea to fit the eligibility criteria; don't selectively apply the criteria to fit your project
How can an outsider help you?
Convince me your project idea fits the criteria and I'll help you to secure a grant. The combination of an insider and an outsider working in tandem can often be the best combination. I'm acting in effect as a first informal assessor of your application.
Either you prepare the draft application forms and I provide expert feedback or - if you give me plenty of briefing and raw material - I'll prepare the first draft for you to fine-tune.