Access denied

Bid-writing expert Rachel Gordon on the most common reasons why grant applications get turned down – and how to avoid it happening to you

Nobody wants to receive a rejection letter. You often only get one shot with a grant application, so it is important to adopt a ‘right first time’ approach to give yourself the best chance of securing funding. So, how can you attract the attention of the reviewer? How can you save your application going into the rejection pile? Here are some common mistakes to avoid in order to be on the path to fundraising success.

Failing on eligibility criteria

Every grant programme has its own eligibility criteria. It is essential that you read the guidance notes provided to confirm whether your organisation and your project is eligible. Too often, people do not read the information provided and proceed with an application that?has little or no chance of being successful. It is important to note that not all funders will give grants to schools, even if they declare an interest in education and helping children and young people.

Key criteria to watch out for include:

  • Organisation type – if schools are not supported, could a PTA lead the application instead? This might not always be possible, but it is worth investigating.
  • Geographical reach – some funders will only fund organisations or projects located in certain areas.
  • The nature of your project – some funders will not support anything related to core school costs or curriculum provision.
  • Funding priorities – does your project meet at least one of the stated funding priorities?
  • Total project cost – some grant programmes will not support projects that are considered too small or too big.
  • A realistic budget – can you deliver what you plan to do with?the budget stated?
  • Timescales – the project might have to be started and completed within a specified timeframe, so is this going to work?
  • Community involvement – you may have to guarantee a certain level of community access and involvement (this is becoming increasingly common with grant programmes open to schools).

If you’re in any doubt about your eligibility, and it’s possible to do so, try to speak directly to the funder.

Not providing information that is requested

Some funders ask for a lot of information up front to help them assess your school’s eligibility. This includes personal contact details, financial information and supporting documents such as copies of safeguarding policies or governing documents. Some funders perform fraud checks, so they will not review an application if certain information is withheld. It is a good idea to check what information is required at the very beginning of your application journey. Are you able to supply the information? Can you get the information together in time for submission?

Not answering application questions correctly

This is often down to not reading the question carefully enough and assuming what the funder wants to know. A good example of an application question that is often answered incorrectly is this one: ‘What do you want funding for?’ I have read many applications where the applicant dives in by describing the school in terms of its vision, values and pedagogical approach – taking up valuable writing space and failing to actually specify what their project is about. To give a compelling answer to this question, you should describe how you would spend the grant, how your project would work, who would benefit and who would be involved in its delivery. I would definitely check the guidance notes, because some funders provide key pointers on how to answer each question.

Over-reliance on statistics in applications

The use of statistics in an application can be a powerful way to convey the need for your project. However, many applicants simply present statistics without any explanation of their significance. This can mean that reviewers are faced with paragraphs full of figures but little detail about what they mean. To avoid falling into this trap, try asking yourself ‘so what?’ every time you use a statistic in your application. For example, so what if your school is located in an area of high deprivation? What does this mean for people living in the area? How does it affect the everyday lives of children in your care? How will your project address the challenges experienced by local people because of these circumstances?

Not providing a strong enough case for support

Grant funding is competitive. You need to present a compelling case so that the funder chooses to support your school. One pitfall to avoid is using circular reasoning in your application. To give you an example, let’s say you’re bidding for funding for a new multi-use sports area. You say that your project is the problem and the answer to the problem rolled into one – ie the fact that you don’t have a sports area is the reason you need one. This will fail to impress a reviewer. Instead, look for problems or challenges that affect your potential beneficiaries and describe how your project will help address these. If we take the multi-use sports area example again, it might be that local children have low activity levels and poor uptake of sports outside of school, which might affect their health and physical confidence. You could then describe how your project would address this. Always communicate need, urgency and impact.

Not thinking about the future

What will happen when the grant has been spent? Do you have a plan in place to sustain the project or build a legacy? If so, it is a good idea to make this clear to the reviewer. This will give them confidence that their grant will have lasting impact.

The money is gone

There is very little you can do about this one. Sometimes the money for a given cycle or programme has already been allocated by the time your application is reviewed. Don’t despair. Try to find out if you need to resubmit your application and when applications will next be reviewed. Put this date in your diary and be ready to impress the reviewer.

  • Rachel Gordon runs the School Funding Service, which helps schools across the UK win grants for a wide range of projects. She writes bids for schools and advises them on how to maximise their funding potential.

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