How to...write a better funding bid
Hands up those of you who have felt the crushing blow of a funding bid rejection letter? That insultingly thin tiny envelope, those words attempting to be kind…’In this instance’… 'we are sorry to tell you...'
It feels like you are 15 again and that boy at the disco has just told you how much he likes your friend. Rejection is rejection and it hurts.
Sadly, I have no words of advice for romantic love rejection other than “– sod 'em, they were an idiot anyway.” But thankfully, there are loads of things you can do to avoid the pain of more funding bid rejections.
Here are some fail safe ways to write a better funding bid.
1. Never shoehorn
Trust your project and stick to its integrity. Wait for the right fund to come live. Never adapt your project to fit into the wrong pot of funding . If you do get the money, which you probably won’t because funders can spot a square peg in a round hole a mile off, you will end up having to run something that doesn’t meet your needs. Be patient. Read the guidance properly, assess whether it’s really right. Sign up to a funding network, so that you know when funds come live. A great one is Grin: http://www.grin.coop/ or else you can pay to have funding search done for you, which is money well spent, particularly on larger projects.
2. Why why why?
How clearly you can explain what change you want to bring, what difference you want to make, and why you believe it’s more important than anything else, should be at the core of every funding bid you write. Defining outcomes is the most important thing you can do in securing both impact and funding. This process is vital, not just for your funding bid but for the organisation as a whole and everyone who works within it. But it is also the core of why your team wants to work for you, who will buy your product, and how you will find investment. Your outcomes are your everything; make sure they are as clear as…a bright and shiny clear thing, that is clearly clear and not in the slightest bit mud like (!)
All funding bids will require you to provide evidence of need and demand, and therefore you will have carried out a process of talking to those people who will benefit from, or be affected by your project (if you haven’t done this it is hardly worth the effort of writing the bid, or indeed doing the project).This is not always easy, in that lots of people hate ‘consultation meetings’ and would rather stick pins in their eyes than fill out a questionnaire. So, any successful engagement strategy will need to be fun, imaginative and actually benefit the people who you want to talk to. Empathy is key to any engagement process, who are you trying to talk to and what would they want? It needn’t be complicated. A recent teenager workshop we carried out involved copious amounts of pizza, and it worked! (who knew!!) But in all cases, without exception, everyone needs to feel that their ideas will be heard and acted upon. What they need is a voice, and you are the conduit. Be respectful to that need.
4. Tell your story
The ability to tell a compelling story is critical. Funders are human, they get bored easily, they will be reading hundreds of similar funding bids all using the same jargon about ‘sustainability’ and ‘resilience’ they want that jolt of adrenaline and to be able to say to a co-worker, “hey! Listen to this!” What is it about your project that will give that Wow moment? Do the ‘shrug test’. If you read back your application and it makes you want to shrug, re-write it and find the Wow.
5. Measuring your impact
All funders want to know what the legacy of their investment will be. That it will continue to benefit society long after the money is spent. What is your plan for understanding this long term benefit? We use logic frameworks, which is a mechanism that clearly lays out, outcomes, outputs and activities against indicators, monitoring mechanisms, assumptions and risks. Show that you’ve thought about this, and you have a plan for further investigation.
6. Work hard
No-one is successful because they are ‘just good at writing funding bids’. Like anything, it takes practice, effort and discipline. It might seem like some people just soak up all the grants they apply for—but you don’t hear about the ones that fail. Even really good bid-writers are pretty happy with anything over a 50 percent hit rate. A decent funding bid can take hundreds of hours to get right. Do not think you can do it in a day unless it is very simple, and even then, only if you have done the groundwork around outcomes, engagement and impact measurement in advance (see future blogs on all of these in the coming weeks).
7. If at first you don’t succeed…
It’s a cliché for a reason. Don’t put all that effort in and then give up because of one rejection. Where would your 15-year-old self be now if she had taken this approach after the fateful disco? In particular, it is often worth trying again with the same funder, especially if they are ones like Arts Council England or the Heritage Lottery Fund who give very detailed and very helpful feedback on why a bid has failed. Fix up the problems they identify and try again. It is hard for a funder to turn you down if you have done everything they’ve asked you to do to make it right. They want you to succeed if your project is good so if you can allay their worries they will often be only too happy to support you.
8. The devil’s in the detail darling
This last point is boring but important. Proof-read. Get someone else to look it over, get the figures and the statistics right, make sure the company details are correct, get all those little iddy biddy annoying bits right. Typos, inconsistencies, bad grammar etc. all make you look unprofessional. Don’t fall at the last hurdle for the sake of 10 minutes of re-checking. Funding bids are competitive, if it’s a toss-up between you and another organisation, and your bid is littered with typos, who would you choose? Funders want to know that you care enough to get this stuff right.
Good luck, have faith in the power of your project to make the world a better place, and speak from the heart. If in doubt, give us a call and we’ll try to help.
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Onion Collective work with communities and organisations across the country to help them to be the best versions of themselves. We offer tailored business support and speak from a position of 'on the ground' community development experience. We continue to develop our own projects and deliver a host of community services in our home town of Watchet in Somerset.
We have wide expertise and long-standing experience of the sector. Between us we have backgrounds in financial and project management, social research and impact, environmental sustainability, heritage and arts development and marketing and communications. We have worked with a whole range of organisations—from local authorities and funding trusts; to youth charities and community housing developers; and to art galleries and skate parks—always with a focus on social impact.