A recipe for the perfect grant application

: Deanna Wolf

Is grant fundraising as easy as baking a cake? Fundraising Manager, Trusts, Statutory and Lottery for Scotland, Deanna Wolf, Carers Trust's shares her top tips for putting together a successful funding application.

Dry Ingredients:

250g recently identified need

150g freshly prepared budget

100ml beneficiaries 

50g simple outcomes

50g realistic impacts


Optional Toppings:

15ml innovation

25ml creative risk

50g activities/equipment

Cooking ingredients


Blend dry ingredients well.  Carefully fold in outcomes and impacts.  Bake at 250C, checking periodically.  Let cool over night.  Optional:  whilst warm, sprinkle with innovation, creative risk, activities or equipment to ensure a unique treat.  Keep secure for up to 6 months.

It’s not rocket science.

The thing is, the ‘perfect’ grant application isn’t an easy recipe.  At any point a myriad of elements - guidelines, project design, deadlines and budgets - can alter your plans.  It requires flexibility, ethics, diplomacy, and swift responses.  Sometimes it requires precision, sometimes ambiguity.  It ALWAYS requires good spelling and grammar.

Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that gaining experience in trust fundraising isn’t about increasing my breadth of knowledge with new skills, but by deepening it. It’s applying basic skills and becoming more proficient in them over time as I prepare and submit applications.

Here, then, are my basics: 

1)    Be clear about need. I cannot stress this enough.  It’s not about ‘want’, increasing income or targets year-on-year, or plugging budget gaps.  It IS about fulfilling needs that impact on beneficiaries and society.  Even if the need is one step removed (i.e. training someone who could find the cure for cancer turns a scholarship from ‘want’ to ‘need’).

2)    Can you deliver the project or service?  If not, what needs to be in place?  Can you get it?  If necessary, review and redesign how you will address that need.

3)    Do you have service delivery staff and senior management approval?  Front-line staff buy-in and understanding are essential for success.  Many funders require highest level sign-off. Avoid surprising your CEO with last minute approval requests.

4)    Is your budget realistic?  Have you included all your directly related costs?  Have you checked that the individual line items are sensible and affordable?  Was it approved by your Finance team?

5)    Who are your competitors?  Where is your service in the spectrum across your locality, region, and nation?  Be realistic and prove it.  Don’t try to pull the wool over your potential funders’ eyes – they probably have a better idea of what services are being delivered at what quality than any of us do.

6)    Do your research.  Use any resources to which you have access to avoid scattergun approaches.  Find and meet funder guidelines.  Call them to ask appropriate questions for clarification (do NOT ask for funding over the telephone).  Do your trustees know their trustees? Network.

7)    Plan your argument and case for support.  Present your case clearly and logically - you are telling a very important story.  Lead your audience in, stir their emotions, and convince them.   Ensure a strong underlying business case, but pull heartstrings too.  Tailor it to the individual funder whether it is a one off application or you are working from a master case.

8)    Grammar and spelling.  If it is written well, you see the message.  If it is written poorly you see the mistakes. Spell-check, and if possible get someone else to sense-check, proofread and copy-edit your application before it is sent.

9)    Follow the instructions.  The guidelines are often the first test.  If you follow them, you’ll probably follow their terms & conditions. Meet specific word counts or deadlines.

10) Acceptance, rejection and stewardship.  Say thank you sincerely and in a timely manner. Deliver on your promises or requests.  Success rates are typically 1:4.  Learn to handle the rejection that WILL come your way.  Seek reasons, then move on to the next application.  Keep in touch with your funder about your progress and your project’s problems.  Keep track of activities and submit complete reports on time.  This is key to developing a long-term relationship with a funder.  Above all else, maintain good records.

Trust funding isn’t rocket science, although the devil is in the detail. Over time, you’ll find your own writing style as you practise. Write often. Write about what you love and hate. Then bring that to your fundraising practice. I wish you luck, synonyms and great projects!

Deanna Wolf MInstF, Fundraising Manager, Trusts, Statutory and Lottery (Scotland), Carers Trust

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