Write a successful grant bid

Grant income is one way of bridging the gap between government funding and the delivery of a high-quality education. Here, bid-writing expert Justin Smith shares his tips for success

Schools are increasingly taking matters into their own hands in the pursuit of new funding streams to support infrastructure and the delivery of the curriculum. Schools in England raised more than £1.8billion through fundraising activities last year, with much of the work driven by hardworking PTAs and Friends Associations.

What some of them may not realise is that there is also around £1.5billion available in grants and trust funds, from more than 4,000 grant funders. Locating suitable funds using grant-finder websites and databases such as Funded.org.uk is a good way to narrow down the search. Be aware, though, that many smaller, localised funders do not appear on national databases.

When it comes to writing a bid, you could put a call out to your wider school community to see if any parents have the skills to help. Some schools pay a professional bid writer – most grant funders won’t cover this cost, but there are exceptions, such as the DfE Condition Improvement Fund (CIF), which will allow up to around ten per cent of the grant to fund professional services, due to the size and complexity of the projects it typically funds.

There is no silver bullet of course. Almost all funds are oversubscribed. So what can be done to load the dice in your favour and shift the odds so your application stands out? Well, bid writing is an art, a process that takes time and, without doubt, experience is key – successful bid writers admit they’ve endured just as many failures along the way as they have successes. But here are my top tips to narrow the odds.

1. Take a holistic approach

Don’t focus purely on bid writing. This may seem odd but when it comes to attracting funding for your project, a holistic, rounded approach often proves fruitful. In practice this may include looking at how you can expand income from lettings, developing opportunities for local businesses to provide sponsorship, and asking your PTA to attract donations with Gift Aid.

The truth is that grant funders look more favourably on applications from schools that can demonstrate a coordinated and structured approach to fundraising. So show them that you’ve mobilised the local community (using SurveyMonkey, for example). You could also include letters of support from local councillors and your MP, mayor and other dignitaries. Contact your suppliers and local businesses for donations or assistance too.

For example, your new artificial pitch may cost £25,000 but you are looking for £18,000 from grants as the balance is being secured in other ways. Demonstrating joined-up thinking when it comes to funding aspirational projects will pique the interest of the grant holder.

2. Select the right grant and be precise

Writing a grant application is hard work and time-consuming. The last thing you want to do is select grants that cannot support your project, so make sure you have understood the grant funder’s priorities and that your project is eligible. There are some staggering figures from the National Lottery and Sport England about how many ineligible applications are received.

Invariably, application forms contain fixed word counts and you must deliver concise and relevant content within these text boxes. Waffling on and not getting to the point is a waste of time and effort. Develop your content on a Word document first, and fine-tune it so that every word has a purpose and supports your case.

Think carefully about what you’re being asked and frame your response to clearly answer the question. Most applications allow for appendices and supporting information so that you’re able to evidence your claims in the document.

Many National Lottery Awards for All applications are rejected at the first stage due to incomplete or poorly thought-out applications. However worthwhile the project, an application will be rejected if the applicant hasn’t answered the question, or has neglected to fill in all of the form.

3. Give yourself time to take this seriously

According to a survey by Pebble, around 93% of SBMs agree it is important to have a fundraising plan, but only six per cent actually have one. Lack of time is cited as the reason, yet thousands of schools take the time to submit grant applications each year. What’s really important is to build time and resources into strategic income generation. Many schools are now incorporating this responsibility into SBM/SBL roles, while others are introducing development officer posts.

Whichever route you choose, you must allocate enough time to assemble a precise fundraising plan, identify your strategic priorities and garner support for your projects. Clear headspace and think.

4. Develop a strong project narrative

Many of us working in education understand the power of building relationships with donors, and this applies to grant funders and trustees too. Engaging with an audience on an emotive level brings results. Ultimately, a grant application is where you tell the story of your project to a third party. The grant trustees will almost certainly know nothing about your school or its context. Set the scene and explain clearly why their funds should be invested in your school. Take them on your fundraising journey.

We work in a people-centered sector that nurtures and grows young minds, so demonstrate clearly what impact your project will have on your pupils. Use pictures or video clips if you can. Include statements of support, testimonials, case studies, graphs and photos to bring your story to life.

You need to win the battle of hearts and minds if you’re going to be successful. Focus on the outcomes, not on the resources you need to achieve those outcomes.

I secured National Lottery funding for computers, furniture and the redecoration of a classroom. Rather than making it all about the desks and computers, my application was focused on the need for a ‘Basic Skills Beginners IT Club’ for local people.

5. Demonstrate the need and impact

Sadly, there isn’t enough money to pay for all the nice things we would like to have. Your application needs to prove that this is a must-have project, an initiative in which you’re pulling out all the stops. ‘Need’ can often be brought to life with photos (physical condition) and with data (statistics to show progress or attainment).

You’ll have to show that you’ve explored all other avenues and that the funding support you’re applying for is the only way you can make your project happen.

For example, a pilot project could demonstrate impact on a small scale, so you can clearly show that the initiative is valid and give a sense of what could be achieved on a grander scale, with funding.

  • Justin Smith is MD of Chameleon Consultancy and Training Ltd, which provides marketing and fundraising support to schools. @jus_chameleon

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