I recently had a call from a charity asking us to help them with bid writing. The caller explained that the charity was strong in terms of the substance of their funding applications- they knew what content to include. What they needed help with was primarily around style. Needless to say, this wasn’t the case. When I later came to review some of their funding applications, I found a whole raft of gaps in terms of the way they presented their work and proposition.
Let’s face it, a strong funding application that is poorly written has a far better chance of success than an application that is beautifully written but lacks content. I’m not saying that writing skills aren’t important. In fact, one of my recent blog posts talks about the importance of writing skills. But the point I’m making is that your proposition is all-important. Substance always comes before style.
So, what content should you include in your funding applications? That of course varies according to the funder. Many have now moved to an online application process, so you must respond to the specific questions they ask. But many funders still require a good old-fashioned written proposal to be submitted by post, email or via their application portal.
Your starting point with any application is of course to respond to the funder’s questions. Some, like the Garfield Weston Foundation, provide detailed guidance on what to include in your written proposal. Others are less prescriptive.
So, where there is little or no guidance available, what content should you include in your funding proposal? Here are our three tips for strong content:
1) Evidence of need: If you haven’t recently reviewed the evidence base for your work, now is the time to do this. Some areas you will need to include in this are:
- External research such as a local authority Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, as well as other forms of external research that validate the need for your work.
- Competitor analysis: Knowing what ‘other players’ are doing is crucial. You need to understand where and how your competitors work, and how your offering complements what they are delivering. Better still, share details of any collaborations or partnerships with them.
- User feedback from those who use your services, as well as other stakeholders such as health and education professionals. What does this tell you about the need for your work? And how prevalent and serious are these needs?
2) Your organisation: A recent report, ‘Overcoming the barriers to giving among the wealthy in the UK’ highlights three key areas prospective donors look at when considering making a major contribution to a charity: impact, financial management and sustainability. These don’t just apply to major donors; even many of the smaller trusts and foundations are keen to understand applicant charities’ strategic context. They want to see that you are making a real difference and are an effective, well-run and sustainable organisation. In short, they’re asking themselves how investable you are. The project you are seeking funding for is of course important, but make sure the funder sees how your project fits into the bigger, strategic context.
3) Donor objections: It’s crucially important to anticipate potential barriers funders may have to supporting you. We like to call these red flags. They can include reserves that are too high (or too low), an overreliance on one form of fundraising, not enough user involvement in the planning and delivery of your services, lack of outcome data and an unhealthy reliance on the CEO in a founder-led organisation. You will be wise to counter donor objections in other places, such as your annual report and accounts, on your website and in your social media activity. In short, anticipate those objections and have answers to them.
So, whether you’re new to trust fundraising, or need to rethink and refresh your fundraising approach, don’t sacrifice substance for style. Focus first on the content of your proposition. Reviewing the evidence base for your work, taking a fresh look at your ‘investability’ and anticipating donor objections, are all worth the investment of time. And, with competition for funding at an all-time high, you can’t afford not to. Good luck!