Writing Better Funding Applications
By Melanie Nock
For most of us, writing funding applications can seem like a heavy burden; a cross between buying a lottery ticket with a five-page essay and that homework assignment from Year 8 put off until Sunday evening.
So here are some thoughts to help make it easier. We know, though, often it helps to talk to someone about your application or your thoughts about funding – the WCA Voluntary Sector Coordination Service is here to help with that. Contact: Melanie Nock Melanie@wandcareall.org.uk
For these notes, as an example, we have used an imaginary project – the Pink Feather Project which provides coordination training for disadvantaged kittens using pink feathers made by volunteers. We hope you enjoy it.
Choose your funder
See your research into potential funders as a proactive empowering exercise – a form of you interviewing them. Which have programmes most aligned to your needs; offer reasonable turnaround timesboth in terms of the time it gives you to make your application and in terms of the time it takes before you receive a reply; acceptable acceptance rates? Can you contact them first to talk through your application? Remember funders’ success is built on your success – how can you help them out?
Think creatively about your project
What does this picture say to you? Do you see a pink feather on a string? A boredom buster? A device for honing coordination skills? Something to maintain mental health? An enriched environment? A toy to improve the relationship between cat and owner? A purposeful creativity project for a human?
Sometimes taking a moment to look at a project from a different perspective can open up new approaches to funders and funding programmes or give your project the multi- dimensional edge others lack.
Even if we had devised the pink feather primarily to teach coordination skills to kittens, its positive impact on the relationship between cat and owner is still a very valid outcome which would be attractive to an entirely different set of funders.
Tell the story
Story telling is hard wired into us; we love a good story and funders are no different. A gripping story has a beginning (the problem or issue “once upon a time there was a …), a middle (activities and interventions) and an end (measurable outcomes - “they all lived happily ever after”). A good story includes characters the listener/reader can identify with; emotion; jeopardy and a plot the audience can follow, believe and engage with.
Typically a funding application form will ask
“How do you know your project is needed”?
Thereis, of course, a place in an answer like this for the local deprivation statistics.
DataWand is a good Wandsworth source: https://www.datawand.info/.
In our Pink Feather project example, the funder needs to know the hard data;
Kitsted (responsible for monitoring fictional kittens progress) data records that 40% of Wandsworth kittens enter their 6th month unable to pat a ball; by their 12th month only 10% are qualified to access mousing apprenticeships.
But that information is much more powerful if it is introduced with a quote or case study. A quote like this;
Kitty was referred to the pink feather project at 6 months old. As a little kitten he had been deprived of stimulation; he had no concentration and no sense of how to approach a moving toy. Without the give and take of play, his relationship with his owner had deteriorated. Kitty was now hungry and neglected.
“My kitten had no idea what to do with a toy mouse. I was becoming very anxious as he fell further behind. Round here, its mousing or nothing” or a case study like this;
“What will your project do”?
Although funders are keen to know that your intervention “works”, they are also very often enthusiastic to have the “voice” of users/participants. Sometimes they will specifically ask that question (“How have you involved users in designing your project” for example) but it is very helpful to provide subliminal reminders of it.
Try using quotes before each descriptive section – Pink Feather might include quotes like this before each aspect of the description
“I love making pink feathers with the other volunteers. I could get quite lonely before.”
A group of 12 volunteers meets every week to design and make the pink feathers. They….
“ I started training kittens when I became unemployed. Now I am about to start teacher training”
Trained volunteers run skills development session for 6 kittens at a time. These sessions…..
Apply the rules of journalism
Make sure your answers or project description – however the funder structures that - address the famous journalistic 5 Ws:
Be specific and precise with every statement, for example:
12 volunteers will make 60 pink feathers to distribute to 15 kittens at twice weekly, one hour sessions run by two qualified training volunteers held over a three month programme. We expect 12 kittens to complete the course and 10 to go on to achieve a mousing apprenticeship. 2 kittens will go on to a basic hunting qualification.
The same applies to budgets. Wherever possible show how budget figures have been arrived at:
Volunteer expenses: 570
(12 volunteers x 16 bus fares@ x and lunch expenses @ y x 6 weeks)
Training supervisor: 700
Freelance contract 6 weeks @ £x
Make your budget realistic and appropriate to the scale of the activities you are proposing to provide. Being too ambitious sounds alarm bells as much as a budget which does not seem to offer value for money. If appropriate to the nature of the activity, give a unit cost.
It costs £350 to train each kitten
Try to avoid
- Acronyms (The HED of the QRS will…)
- The use of the passive voice (kittens are actively supported…..)
- Long words in complex sentences (The criteria for selecting kittens for the programme are embedded within an indication of needs matrix, encompassing the continuum of support needs.)
Even if the reader understands all this, it drains all energy from what you have written – and from the reader. Or worse, the reader has no idea what you mean and simply gives up on it.
The most complex ideas can be put very simply.
- The Head of the Energy Department of The Quality Research Service
- We support kittens
- When we select kittens for the programme, we look at all the ways in which they need support
Impact and evaluation