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Welcome to the first part of the new NCVO website. While we finish building it, you will find the rest of our help and guidance on our existing site.

Before you start

Grant applications are a team sport. Have you worked with other people to gather all the information you need?

You need to tailor your grant application to the funder you are applying to.

You need to think of the budget and the project you want to fund together. Don’t put the budget off until the end.

Classic mistakes to avoid

Let’s start with the things that go wrong. When you're applying for a grant to any funder make sure you do all these things.

  • Read the questions and any guidance the funder offers very carefully.
  • If they have an application form or online system use it.
  • Answer all the questions.
  • Make sure you’ve filled in all the contact details they ask for.
  • If they ask you to send extra information, send it.
  • If they ask you NOT to send extra information don’t send any, even if you think it helps your case.
  • If they ask you to sign the bid make sure the right person signs.
  • Make sure your income and expenditure in the budget match up.
  • Make sure your project start date is after the date that they notify you of success or failure.
  • If they ask for references, include them. Don’t send them separately or later.
  • Make sure your application arrives before the deadline.

Does that list seem harsh? Remember that people making decisions about giving out grants are reading many applications. You need to make it as easy as possible for them to choose yours. Funders often tell us that a lot of applications don’t get these basics right.

Telling your story

particular goals in mind in this piece of storytelling.

  • You need to convince the funder that the difference you want to make in the world is a difference they care about. That means showing them it matches their objectives or criteria.
  • You need to convince the funder that your organisation is good at what it does. They need to believe your projects have a good chance of making this difference.

Some funders have carefully set up their questions to make it easier for you to do this. Others will just ask you to 'tell them about your project' and you have to work out how to do that.

As you answer the questions follow these tips.

  • Don’t be vague. Be clear and specific about what you're going to do.
  • Focus on the things that make your organisation excellent at what you do. You can think of this as your unique selling point. Find the questions that allow you to show your past success or current skills.
  • Use the work you did following the [getting ready to apply page] to help you write your application.
  • Be prepared to make sensible estimates of numbers of sessions or of people you help. Don’t leave them blank or make them up or let them worry you too much. Funders will be glad if you manage to help more people than you predicted. They may ask you to explain what happened if you can’t reach as many people as you predicted.
  • Find the questions in the bid that allow you to show how bad the problem you're trying to solve is. Use numbers and quotes to create emotional impact.
  • Always have someone read the application before you send it. Show it to people who will work closely on the project activities and to people who don’t know the project you are describing.

Some helpful techniques

  • Create ‘an elevator pitch’ or a 50–75 word introduction to your project, what it aims to do and how it will do it. Do the same for your organisation. If you don’t know how, search for marketing advice about elevator pitches.
  • For every application you make look at your elevator pitch and adapt it. You want to fit the objectives or criteria of the fund you're applying to.

No application form

Some grants do not have application forms. Instead they will expect either a video or a letter.

All the guidance for application forms still applies. You can also use these lists.

Videos

  • The grant funder will usually provide lots of guidance about what they want. Follow it.
  • Stick to their time limits.
  • The video option is meant to be helpful to people who find forms difficult. It is not meant to be a test of you as a performer. Try not to worry about how you look or what you sound like.
  • Focus on telling your story and covering all the points they ask you to cover.
  • Make notes of the points you need to make and divide the time between them.
  • Practice saying things in about the right amount of time then record it once you are confident.
  • You don’t need to write a word for word script.If you do try to use it as a guide. Reading it out may seem unnatural.
  • If you want to write a word for word script every 100–150 words will make a minute of film. Timing depends on how fast people speak. It is also affected by the pauses you need to leave to change topic or display images without speaking over them.

Letters

  • Check if they have guidelines for how long a letter can be.
  • If they have no guidelines, don’t use more than two sides of A4 paper.
  • Check if they have guidelines for what to send with your letter. Many funders want to see a budget. Some want between 1 and 3 years of accounts or annual reports or a link to those reports.
  • If there is no guidance, don’t send accounts or reports but let them know how they can get them if they want them.

You need to shape the content of your letter. These prompts will give you suggestions for each paragraph. You could also use them for a video if the funder did not give very clear guidance.

  • What amount of funding are you asking for? This gives you a chance to show that you've researched the amounts this funder usually gives.
  • In one sentence, what is the problem you're aiming to solve? This means the problem in the world, not the problem of needing money to do the project. Use language that links it to their objectives.
  • How do you know about it? This is how you show that you've got evidence that your project is needed.
  • Why are you the right organisation to tackle the problem? This is a chance to show that your vision matches the funders and also to show your excellence.
  • What activities or actions will happen during the project?
  • Are there any things you need to tell them that the project will NOT do?
  • How will you measure if the project has been successful?
  • Emphasise once more how the project fits their objectives and criteria.

Charities that like to receive letters often have smaller amounts of money and have less information available for you to research about them. It is a good use of time to keep one overall letter that you can re-use for many funders. Don’t forget to adapt it for each one. This means checking you have sentences that connect to anything you can find out about them, not just changing the names on the letter.

Next steps

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 November 2020

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