Research steps to find the right funder

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How do you know which funder is the right one for you and how can you maximise your chance of fundraising success?

1 What questions to ask

Any good researcher is guided by a set of appropriate research questions. The aim here is to find out how a funder operates, what their interests are and how likely it is that your bid will secure funding. You can use these questions to focus your investigative efforts:

  • What are their funding priorities? There will be certain ‘priorities’ that define their particular areas of interests.
  • What key terminology do they use? An insight into their use of language is very important when writing your bid. You can use these terms to highlight common objectives.
  • What types of organisation do they support? It is useful to know what types of school projects have been supported in the past and, in turn, how much was awarded.
  • What is their policy when it comes to funding schools? Some funders will give grants for core or curriculum-related activities. Others will only support projects of an extra-curricular nature.
  • What size of grant do they make? What kind of costs do they cover, and are there any restrictions on grant-spending?
  • Do they have any geographical restrictions?
  • Do they require match-funding?
  • What’s the application process?
  • Is there a deadline?

If you are researching a number of funders, you can record this information using a spreadsheet and keep it for future reference. It can be the beginning of your very own funding directory!

2 Where to look and what to look for

A lot of this research can be done online. Many funders now have websites of their own. These provide an excellent resource for compiling your profile. Look for news items, annual reports, case studies and success stories that can give you an insight into a funder’s recent grant-making activity. What causes have been successful? Who are the beneficiaries? Even staff biographies can be used to identify common ground between your school and the funder.

You should also use any application materials, such as the guidance notes and application form, to help you with your research. Make sure that you have the most recent version of materials, though, as they can change frequently. What questions are they asking? What terminology is being used? What information and supporting documentation do they require? Importantly, can you meet the application requirements?

If the funder has registered charity status, you can find their listing on the Charity Commission website. This is a fantastic resource, giving you access to the funder’s accounts, trustees’ report and annual report. The accounts usually provide details of grants awarded in the past year, including the names of organisations that were in receipt of them. If you find a school listed, you could contact them directly to ask about their experience.

Not all funders have an online presence. The Directory of Social Change publishes a number of comprehensive directories on grant-makers and grant-giving companies in the UK. You can access these directories in your local library or purchase them online. Older editions can be snapped up relatively cheaply on marketplace websites, although be wary that things change quickly in the funding world and you may have out-of-date information. These directories will provide you with overviews of funders, their priorities and snapshots of their recent grant-making activity. They are particularly good for finding less well-known and smaller funders.

3 When to make contact

No matter how big or small your project, it may be a good idea to contact a potential funder directly. You can use this as an opportunity to discuss your project, identify common ground and ask questions to help prepare your bid. If appropriate (and possible), invite a representative from the funding organisation to meet you face-to-face and visit your school. This can often work really well with local funders and helps to strike up a meaningful and long-lasting relationship.

Many funders are very happy to talk to you – some will actively encourage you to get in touch. Their familiarity with your school and your project can bring real benefits when it comes to the application review stage. Others, especially small-scale funders, do not always have the staffing capacity to deal with enquiries and will ask applicants to refrain from contacting them prior to making an application. Whatever their preference, this is usually made very clear in any supplied application materials, and you are advised to follow it.

Remember, if you are making contact, you should have a clear plan of what you want to do, what you want to achieve and how much it is going to cost. You need to be able to demonstrate clarity of vision and an achievable plan. This will help you to make a good impression and have the answers to any questions they might ask you!

All of this feeds into your bid writing. By identifying a funder’s priorities you can pitch your project effectively, showing the funder how you can help them achieve their own objectives. By mirroring their language, you will instantly create rapport and understanding. It is an effective way to signpost the information that’s crucial to your application. Most importantly, it will focus your bid-writing efforts and give you confidence. Your research and preparation will be evident to any reader and success will follow.

About our expert

Rachel Gordon heads up the School Funding Service, which helps schools across the UK win grants for a wide range of projects, from playgrounds and sports equipment, to after-school clubs and extended services. She writes bids for schools and advises them on how to maximise their funding potential. Visit schoolfundingservice.co.uk.