Five top tips for writing a winning funding application

In 20 years, we’ve written our fair share of funding applications. From small grants testing new ideas to multi-million pound tenders rolling out national programmes, we’ve won, lost and learned a great deal. Off the back of an exciting period of growth for LifeLine, here’s five quick tips for taking your applications the extra mile – hopefully towards success!

1. Check, check, check

In writing, time spent checking is never time wasted. First up, make sure you read everything the funder has written– the guidance, any FAQs, the background of the organisation.

Three things to look out for:

  1. Check who’s eligible – do you have to be a registered charity? Do you need to be based in a specific area?
  2. Check what’s eligible – are they only funding capital costs? How do they feel about full cost recovery?
  3. Check what they’re interested in – do they only want to fund new pilots? Do they have specific themes they want addressed?

You don’t want to go to all the trouble of writing an application, only to find out you didn’t meet their criteria in the first place.

Keep reading and re-reading as you write, to make sure you’re using the same language and matching your tone to theirs. If you’re not listening to what they’re saying, why should they listen to what you’re asking?

Also, it should go without saying – CHECK YOUR WORK. Spelling and grammar will be the funder’s first impression of you, don’t start on the wrong foot!

2. Capture the participant voice

Funders are increasingly asking about ‘co-production’ – how you’re involving participants in the design and delivery of your projects. Be mindful of this, even if they don’t ask for it directly!

You want to be able to demonstrate how both this bid and your organisation as a whole is shaped by the people you work with – whether it’s specific surveys and focus groups for new projects, a regular youth panel or even representation on your board of trustees.

Make this detail as specific as possible – how you’re engaging participants in co-production speaks volumes about how well you can engage others for your future project!

3. Show support

Fundamentally, funders want their money to be used well. They want to trust you, and everything in your application should reflect that you are trustworthy – that your organisation works sensibly and your ideas are well-thought out.

No one is working in isolation, and the best organisations are aware of this AND can demonstrate they are a valuable member of the systems they work within. Nothing shows this better than direct endorsement – partners and stakeholders saying you’re the best person for the job. Identify your stakeholders, get them on board, quote them in your applications.

4. Gather evidence, put it in its context

All applications for funding should be based on good evidence. Whether it’s showing the need locally or the impact of your work, you need to back up what you’re saying. Keep in mind this shouldn’t all be statistics – balance quantitative evidence with the quotes and participant voice we’ve already talked about.

What’s most important is that you give context to your evidence. Without proper explanation, filling your applications with statistics is just a good way to waste words. Don’t just state that 60% of local residents are worried about knife crime – tell the funder how that stacks up against neighbouring areas, or the national average. On the flipside, don’t include irrelevant evidence just because it’s noteworthy – the fact that your area has the worst rates of smoking cessation isn’t necessarily relevant to your community cohesion project.

5. Balance head and heart

Funding applications have to walk a tricky line between technical document and passionate plea for help. It’s easy to stray too far to one side, especially when you care about what you’re asking. What is most important is that you keep an eye on what the funder is expecting – tender applications should be drier than open proposals for example – but don’t shy away from the reality of how important your work is.

As we’ve said, funders want their money to be used well. That means trusting that your organisation is a viable partner, but also that you will be putting their money to good use. The fact that you care strongly is an asset – don’t hide it!

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