Sprinkling stardust on your bid writing. What do grant funders expect from us?

Justin Smith, managing director, Chameleon Consultancy and Training Ltd, discusses how you can make your bid writing stand out and secure funding

With over 5,000 funders in the UK, presiding over £1.5bn in grant funding for schools and charities, effective bid writing is becoming a core skill for many school business leaders. Although many applications are unsuccessful, often due to shear weight of numbers, a significant proportion are rejected due to avoidable mistakes. So, how can you ensure your school’s application is the one that will catch their eye?

More mainstream schools are accepting the need to find their own way to close the funding gap between what they receive from the government and what they need to deliver a high-quality educational experience for their children.

A recent National Audit Office stated that: “The Department estimates that, between 2015-16 and 2019-20, cost pressures on mainstream schools exceeded funding increases by £2.2 billion, mainly because of rising staff costs.” To close the gap, some schools are adopting more creative and innovative approaches to fundraising with some wonderfully inspiring stories of significant investment courtesy of local business and parental donations. However, with only two per cent of primary schools successfully securing over £50k per annum, clearly the majority of our schools still face challenges when it comes to adopting a sustainable and effective approach to income generation. 

Many of us look to bid writing as the answer and, with over £1.5bn available in grants and trust funds nationally for educational purposes, provided by almost 5000 funders, this is certainly an option that has to be considered as part of the school fundraising approach. There are thousands of different grants available and ‘grant finder’ databases can help narrow down the search for those most suitable.

Although there is no easy fix, with many funding programmes oversubscribed, it is possible to load the dice in your favour a little. Here are some quick tips to help you and your school assemble a successful grant application:

  1. Adopt a rounded approach: Focusing purely on grants and income from PTA events leaves our income generation strategy vulnerable and fragile. Grant funders favour applications from schools who have demonstrated real efforts to engage communities and fundraise a certain amount themselves.
  2. Select the right grant: 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 – make sure you have carefully read and understood the grant funders stated priorities and that your project is eligible. Data from Big Lottery suggests as many as 40-45% of applications to some of their programmes are rejected because they’re ineligible for that specific fund. So, do your homework and select appropriate grants to apply for.
  3. Give yourself time – take this seriously: According to a survey by Pebble, around 93% of school business managers agree that it is very important to have a fundraising plan, but only six per cent actually have one. Lack of time is cited as the reason, and yet thousands of schools take the time to submit grant applications each year. Build time and resources into strategic income generation at your school.
  4. Tell the story: Successful fundraisers and great storytellers. 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.
  5. Demonstrate 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 to make happen. ‘Need’ can often be brought to life with photos (physical condition) and with data (statistics to show progress or attainment).

Writing successful funding applications can be a challenge but with a little insight and a coherent approach there’s no reason why grant and trusts shouldn’t form a significant part of your school income generation strategy.

Justin’s workshop at EdExec LIVE London (30 September) and Manchester (12 November) will bring all of this to life and add an extra dimension – what is it that the funders themselves expect from us?  He will look at grant applications from their perspective in an attempt to understand how we can catch the eye, and the imagination, with your own requests for funding. He will unpick the key elements that make up all successful school bids. Click here to book your ticket now or email us at [email protected] for a discounted ticket.

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