Grant funders receive thousands of applications a year but can only fund a proportion of them. Esmee Fairbairn, for example, receives over 3,000 applications a year and funds 300 of them. That’s a 10% success rate. Although other funders may award a higher or lower percentage, they all have one thing in common: they reject more bids than they fund.
So, how do you make sure your bid makes it into the pile that is funded, and not the reject pile? One way is to make sure that you do not make the same mistakes as everyone else.
There are some common reasons why bids fail. Ask any funder, large or small, and they will all give you the same list of common reasons. Many bids are rejected simply because the organisations applying make these common mistakes.
Here are 5 of the top reasons why bids fail… and how to avoid them:
1. Not matching the eligibility criteria
A common mistake that organisations seeking grant funding make is to apply to as many funders as they can, indiscriminately. They work on the assumption that if they submit enough bids, one or two of them are bound to be successful. The bids are rejected at the first stage by the funder because they do not match the funder’s eligibility criteria.
All grant funders have eligibility criteria which lays out what they will or will not fund. This usually includes financial criteria, such as, annual turnover. Some funders, for example, state that they will only fund organisations that have an annual turnover of less than £100,000. Other funders will only fund organisations with an annual turnover of more than £100,000. Similar financial criteria might involve levels of expenditure or reserves. Other types of eligibility criteria might include geographical limitations, religious activities, whether they will fund core costs or only project costs, capital costs or only revenue costs, and so on.
… how to avoid this
Many funders, such as Garfield Weston, provide an eligibility checker on their websites. Make sure you complete it. In some cases, it’s a compulsory part of the application process so you must fill it in. The system will then tell you if you are eligible to apply or not. Other funders have an eligibility questionnaire that is not compulsory but is provided for you to undertake that preliminary check. If there is no questionnaire, there will at least be a list of what they fund and, sometimes in a different place on the website, a list of what they do not fund. Make sure you find those questionnaires or lists and check that your organisation fits the eligibility criteria. If your organisation doesn’t fit the criteria, then don’t apply. It’s as simple as that.
2. Not matching the funder’s priorities
As with the eligibility criteria, a common mistake is that organisations apply indiscriminately to a variety of funders, without first checking that the funder’s priorities match the work they want funded. The funder’s priorities are the specific causes and areas of work they wish to fund. For example, two different funders may each fund projects for the benefit of children and young people: one funder prioritises sports projects whereas the other prioritises creative arts. If a charity working with children and young people applies to the creative arts funder for a sports project, they will not be successful.
… how to avoid this
Ensure that you read the information on the funder’s website about their priorities. If the funder doesn’t have a website, look them up on the Charity Commission website and see the list of work they have funded most recently. Only apply to those funders whose priorities match the work you want to do. Do not try and adapt your work to fit the funder’s priorities. It’s like Cinderella’s slipper – it either fits or it doesn’t. You must not squeeze your project into a different shape or give it a different focus just to make it fit.
Top Tip: Large funders, such as Comic Relief, have different grant streams, each with clearly defined priorities. Make sure you match your project to the correct grant stream.
3. Groups seem to apply for a random shopping list of items that don’t fit together
This classic mistake often applies to charities and other non-profit organisations that are relatively new or are going through a rapid period of growth. Often, this growth is organic and resources are identified and gathered as they are needed. Suddenly, there is a pressing need for a part-time Administrator role, for example, so the bid writer is told to apply for grant funding to secure the salary costs. With the exception of grant funders who fund core costs (and there are not many of them), such random items are not what funders will fund. Most funders want to fund projects – cohesive, time bound pieces of work with clear outcomes at the end of them. If you do not provide this, your bid is likely to be rejected.
… how to avoid this
Make sure you package your work up into projects with clear timelines and outcomes. Even if you are applying for what may seem like a random package of items, make it clear to the funder what the outcomes will be and when they will happen (the timeline). If, for example, you ask the funder to pay for 10 sets of gardening tools, without any additional information, you are unlikely to be successful. If, however, you ask for 10 sets of gardening tools and you explain that they are to enable a group of 10 retired people to improve their health and wellbeing (outcome) by developing a piece of local land into a community garden (activity) and that you expect to achieve this within 6 months (timeframe), you are much more likely to be awarded the grant.
4. The need or demand for the project is not evidenced
This is a very common mistake. Funders want to know that they are funding something that is worthwhile and that will make a positive difference in the lives of the people you are helping, or in the lives of the animals or in the environment, depending on the nature of your work. The evidence of need and demand is the baseline. It shows the funder what your starting point is. The ‘need’ means the problem or issue that you will tackle, for example, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, environmental pollution and animals becoming extinct. What is the level of need – How bad is the problem or issue? How many people are affected, for example, what is the level of deprivation and poverty in the geographical area you work in? The ‘demand’ is more about the direct demand for your services, for example, how many beneficiaries your organisation will work with each year.
If you do not provide sufficient evidence of the need or demand for your project, your bid stands a high chance of being rejected.
… how to avoid this
Make sure you do your research and provide evidence of the need and demand for your project. Even if you are applying for core funding, rather than project funding, you will still need to provide evidence of the need and demand for the work you do. The evidence should include facts and figures. Anecdotal evidence, or case studies and stories of past beneficiaries may also be useful here.
Something that will improve your chances of success even further is consulting the beneficiaries themselves. Funders are increasingly interested in demand-led projects, that is, where the beneficiaries themselves have identified the need and demand for the work. Consult directly with your existing beneficiaries and/or your potential future beneficiaries wherever possible.
Top Tip: Ensure that the evidence of need and demand you supply is proportional to the size of the funding you are requesting: the larger the amount of funding, the more comprehensive and detailed the evidence you need to present.
5. There is no clear outcome or timeline
A common mistake that organisations make is to describe the activities they will undertake but they do not say when this work will happen (timeline) or what differences it will make when it has been completed (outcomes). The application is likely to be rejected because the funder will not fund indeterminate pieces of work. They want to be able to measure and celebrate the success of the projects they fund but they cannot do this if you miss out those crucial details.
… how to avoid this
Avoid falling into this trap by always having a project plan for every piece of work you undertake. Even if the funder doesn’t ask you for a copy of the plan, have one in the background. The project plan should describe the activities that you will deliver, when you will deliver them – start and end dates – and what outcomes will be achieved.
Top Tip: Identify the outcomes you expect to achieve at different stages along the way, as well as the ultimate outcomes that will be achieved at the end of the project. This applies particularly if you are planning a long-term project across more than one year.
By following these simple tips, you can avoid the common mistakes made by many other organisations and automatically increase your chances of success with grant funding.
For further advice and support regarding bid writing, project planning or any of the other topics covered in this article, get in touch.
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