Applying successfully for financial grants

Written by: John Ellery | Published:
Photo: iStock

Fundraising expert John Ellery discusses some key things that schools must consider when applying for funds or grants

When you have a project and you are thinking of applying for funding, the process can be quite daunting. You may not know where to start and it might seem like there is a lot to consider before you apply.

When applying for funding, there are a number of potential pitfalls and obstacles that may lessen your chances of success and can cause problems along the way.

Below, I have compiled a list of some of the most important aspects to consider. By considering this advice, your project will have a stronger chance of receiving those much needed funds and realising its full potential.

A clear idea

First, make sure you have a clear idea of what your project is and what you want to achieve.

You will no doubt have a vague idea in your mind of the kind of project you want to deliver, what you will achieve and the kinds of people you will help. This is a great starting step in terms of shaping your project, however it is important that you have a much clearer and well-thought-out idea before you even begin to consider researching funding opportunities or writing applications.

I have found that this is one of the most crucial aspects of applying for funds, as the most well-thought-out projects are likely to be the most favoured by funders.

This includes having a clear and detailed budget, knowing how you would promote your new project, and having a delivery plan in place for when, hopefully, a grant is received.
It is also important to know clearly about the types of people you will be working with, what you want to achieve, and the issues you are addressing, so that when you start your research into funding opportunities, you will be looking in the right places.

Researching the right funders

Once you have all the details sorted for your project, you can then look into the types of funding programme that are available. Many fundraisers rely greatly on Funding Central, which offers a wealth of knowledge in terms of funders and funding news and is worth spending time getting to know (see further information).

Another great way to access information on funding opportunities is by signing up to grant fundraising newsletters. These will send you regular updates on funding streams, and are often sent out by voluntary service groups, usually free of charge.

For example, Get Grants offers a free newsletter service, which offers funding deadlines, recent funding news and featured funders to help with your search.

While deciding what grants to apply for, it is essential that you are aware of each funder’s eligibility criteria and ensure that all aspects of your project are what the funder is interested in. If not, you could easily end up spending hours writing an application just to realise that your project or your organisation is not what the funder is looking for.

If you are really unsure, there is no harm speaking directly to the funder just to make sure you are eligible, something they will welcome.

Prepare for writing an application

After you have decided and checked that your project is eligible for a certain grant programme, you can then start to write your application. It is worthwhile reading as much information about the funder as possible, and any guidelines and notes available to help you complete the application in the way the funder wants.

Applications come in various shapes and sizes, from long structured application forms with character-limited boxes to fill, to one side of A4 detailing your project in brief. It is highly advisable to be aware of each funder’s particular application form and their individual processes before you even start the dreaded paperwork.

When completing any kind of application form, it is vital that you answer all the questions and provide the information that the funder requires. Failure to do so will result in an automatic rejection, as staff often have hundreds if not thousands of applications to consider and don’t have the time or resources to contact individuals about missing information.

Make sure you answer the question!

Fundraising is essentially quite simple – as long as you have a good project and answer the questions clearly, concisely and with what the funder is asking you for, you have a good chance of being successful. Many people, however, struggle to know what the funder wants to know. This sees them fall into the habit of writing what they want the funder to know, and not what the funder is interested in.

When experienced fundraisers write application forms, they regularly think of the application as a story, which helps not only the funder to visualise the project more clearly, but also gives you a better idea of what the project will look like in reality.

This approach can help you answer questions more easily, and enable you to talk more freely about why your project is needed and what it will help to achieve – often the hardest parts of applications. As part of this, I like to include evidence such as statistics, results from surveys and conversations in order to strengthen the argument for why a project is needed and truly hit home to the funder that your project is worth funding.

Applying and the application process

Once you are happy with your application, all you have to do now is submit. You will most likely have to send extra documents along with your application form, and these may include annual accounts, a detailed budget, quotes and any other information the funder may ask for.

They may also request information after receiving your application, or ask for further information while assessing your form. You might receive a phone call from the funder, or they may even arrange a visit to meet you and speak about your project in detail.

Therefore, it is essential that you have all your documents to hand just in case. It is vital to keep good records of correspondence with the funder and copies of your application.
You might have to answer questions a few months after you applied, and there is nothing worse than being put on the spot and not being able to answer a simple question. No-one wants to have worked so hard to get to this point only to have your
chances scuppered by a lack of documentation or poor records.


These are the some of the crucial steps involved in obtaining grant funding and, if followed, you should have a better chance of receiving the funding that you need.

Remember that rejections do happen, which can be tough, but the key is not to be too disheartened and to keep applying, as that is the nature of fundraising.

  • John Ellery is founder of Get Grants, a training provider specialising in bid-writing training and information for organisations seeking funds.

Further information


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin