How to fund an ambitious project

Do you have a project in mind that will exceed your usual fundraising limits? Bid-writing expert Rachel Gordon demonstrates that with careful planning, the sky’s the limit

An ambitious project is one that goes above and beyond a school’s everyday activities to achieve something extraordinary, and is likely to cost upwards of £30,000. Many ambitious projects require significant external funding to make them happen and often require complex applications to multiple funders. They also need thorough planning, with the flexibility to deal with unanticipated change along the way. So how can you best approach an ambitious project?

Give yourself plenty of time

Bringing an ambitious project to fruition shouldn’t be rushed. There are many things that have to fall into place before you are in a strong position to bid for funding, such as:

  • Clear, detailed and shared objectives
  • A robust delivery plan
  • A strong project team
  • Detailed evidence from recent community consultation
  • Quotations for work
  • Permissions and policies.

Don’t risk being unprepared, because an incomplete or delayed application might jeopardise your chances of securing funding.

Consider your funding mix

Ambitious projects are usually complex to fund, due to their size and scope. It is unlikely that one grant will fund everything you need. Some funders will not fund a project outright, especially when the total project cost is over £15,000. Others insist on match funding. Your funding mix could include grants from grant-making trusts and foundations, company giving, community donations, in-kind support (ie donations of goods, services and people’s time and expertise) and fundraising events.

A funding mix allows you to demonstrate that you are not wholly reliant on grant funding to make your project happen. Set targets for each relevant funding stream. Some schools raise concerns about community fundraising, especially when they are located in deprived areas. Is there another way you can harness the community? Make sure to account for this separately to demonstrate community support.

Research your grant funding options

You may need to look beyond the usual suspects, such as the Big Lottery Fund and Sport England, when researching grants for your ambitious project. These funds tend to be oversubscribed and they expect to see evidence of other types of fundraising anyway. Use the FundEd grants database to identify tried-and-tested supporters. The Directory of Social Change is also a good resource. It has a number of publications on grant-making trusts and company-giving that you can also use to identify potential donors. You should find a copy in your local library.

Think about timescales

Timing is key when it comes to funding. It can feel as if you are juggling many different applications and deadlines, which are difficult to keep track of and coordinate. Keep a record of key dates. When do you want your project to start? What are the deadlines for applications? How long do funders take to make funding decisions? If your application is successful, how long do you have to spend the grant? Answers to these questions can help you to plan and time your application submissions and set a realistic project start date.

Some schools choose to phase their project. This can help with the management of ambitious projects by dividing them into manageable chunks and keeping momentum going. You can then target different funders for each phase.

Tailor your applications

Given that you are likely to be looking at multiple applications to multiple funders, it is vital that you tailor your application to each individual funder. Don’t assume that because you have met the needs of one, the others will be similar. Don’t assume that the same set of application answers will suffice. You should refer to the funder’s guidance notes and, if available, the funder’s website. Look out for details of their objectives and current priorities and case studies of recently funded projects. How will your project help the funder to achieve their own objectives? What are your shared priorities? Will your project enable them to do something new?

If appropriate, you could ask a funder to donate towards a specific part or phase of your project if it aligns well with their objectives. This can help funders get a good grasp on how exactly their donation will make a difference to you.

Be upfront about your fundraising activity

Funders will want to know about your fundraising plan – that is, how you intend you raise all the funds you need. Tell them what you have raised so far, along with details of applications you have submitted, dates by which you expect funding decisions to be made, other fundraising activity you plan to do and how much you estimate you will raise from your funding mix. If your project requires ongoing funding to keep it operating, you should address this here.

Present evidence of need

Why should a funder support your project? All eyes will be on your application to ascertain why your project is needed and what real difference it will make to the people involved. You need to be able to provide robust evidence – think meaningful and thorough community and stakeholder consultation, letters of support, use and interpretation of relevant statistics and links to local and national strategy. Address the following questions: How do you know that it is something genuinely needed by the local community? How have you involved local groups in the design of the project? Why is your approach the right one to take? How does it complement local and national initiatives?

Clearly communicate your ambition

There is a lot of competition for grant funding, so having an ambitious project can help you stand out from the crowd. Tell the funder in what ways your project is considered ambitious. How did your project idea come about? Does it have any particular local, regional or national significance? What do you want to achieve? How will you measure success? How will you mitigate risk? How will you ensure your project is sustainable, long after the funding has been spent?

The most important thing is not to be put off planning and delivering a project just because there is no easy, one-time funding solution. You have conceived your ambitious project for a reason. So, what you need is the right team, working together in a sustained manner and maintaining momentum over a phased set of activities. Set up regular meetings and keep making progress. Remember to be flexible when you need to be, but don’t let the project drift into unrelated areas. Stick closely to the original vision.

  • 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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