When I first joined the education sector back in the dark ages, grants that schools could bid for were much more readily available. During my first few years as an SBM, the amount of additional income I was able to generate through bid writing could cover my salary. My headteacher at the time even used to say that it was a good performance target for me to work to. I’d hate to have that now!
That’s not to say that it’s become impossible to attract donations and monies through bidding for grant funding – just that it’s now a far more structured and time intensive process. And if you adopt some particular processes and habits, you can significantly increase your chances of success.
What’s out there?
There are many places where you can look for grants, including Funding Central (fundingcentral.org.uk), GrantNav (grantnav.threesixtygiving.org) and Beehive (beehivegiving.org). Your LA or school partnership may also keep lists or offer resources that can connect you with fund providers and explain what they’ll support.
Do your homework – be clear as to exactly what support you actually need, and make you’ll be able to describe and relate it to the funders to whom you’ll be applying. Drawing up a business or project management plan around your proposal will enable you to examine the various aspects of your project – resourcing, viability sustainability – in a structured and detailed way. Doing this before the grant application stage will make it easier to match your project with an appropriate funder and present a convincing case.
Before starting the bid process proper, ensure that you’ve also done some research around the area your project is intended to support. Ask all stakeholders who’ll be affected by the project for their views, and gather supporting data that will help prove to funders that the need is there, and that it’s a project worth supporting.
This can also be used as an opportunity to seek additional support from your stakeholder group, since parents and relatives will often know of further potential funding sources themselves and how to access them. I’ve previously been able to secure match funding from major banks for projects this way, and it can also a good way of getting parents more involved.
If the body responsible for matching your application to its fund can’t identify a clear correlation between your bid and the fund’s terms, your application will go no further. Most funders will receive a whole host of applications; if the criteria don’t match, bids will simply be thrown out without any further consideration.
It may be possible to secure match funding through another form of support or funding source and file more than one grant application per project. Give some thought as to whether you might be able to to attract local partners, collaborate with another school or even raise some of the necessary funds with the aid of parental support.
It’s worth noting that funders tend to prefer forming part of a larger funding strategy to being the sole supporter of a project. From their point of view, they won’t want to bear the full impact in terms of cost and reputational harm if the project turns out to be unsuccessful.
Bear in mind that most funders will typically concentrate their support on certain types of project. Some will be looking to make one-off investments in projects that involve a very specific outcome, such as a new build or renovation. Others might prefer to support an ongoing project which is intended to have a significant lifespan. What you include in those bids will obviously need to be different, though the first option will be easier to quantify.
With long-term projects, you’ll have to consider the implications of what the ongoing costs will involve, while also looking at any accompanying statutory responsibilities and the financial implications they might have. Funding agreements will often include a clause that allows the funder to withdraw support in the event of any unforeseen circumstances, restrictions or sudden cessation once the project has begun, in order to protect their investment (and that of shareholders, if applicable).
If your project doesn’t match a particular funding criteria, there’s often no reason why you can’t rethink it, re-badge it and start again (though be aware that some funds will have restrictions in place regarding reapplications). On a similar note, once you’ve written your project and bidding rationale, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel each time. Use it to apply to multiple funders – the basics of what you need will be there, and will just need matching to the fund in question.
If your school has an active PTA, your project can become something for its members to get actively involved in and provide a challenging, yet rewarding activity for those members possessing the appropriate skills. It could even reach beyond the PTA and succeed in engaging others from your parent community who have a particular interest in the area relevant to your project.
Use social media to advertise what you’re doing to as wide an audience as possible. Sometimes charity really does begin at home, and you may well find that other members of your local community are keen to get involved and support you.
You’ll likely find that the most wellresourced funders will be big businesses with charitable intent, and local business or support organisations who would appreciate some public awareness of the support they’ve provided for a particular cause or charity.
Think about what you can offer them in return for that support. You have a significant stakeholder base – not just the children and their parents, but also their relatives, work colleagues and social contacts. They can give your funders something tangible in return (a larger base of potential customers, positive word of mouth), and also potentially increase the audience for your project.
Above all, be tenacious, don’t give up and be prepared to innovate. Don’t assume that a rejection automatically means having to rethink your intentions. When looked at in a certain way, every rejection can be turned into an opportunity to improve your practice and sharpen your application skills.
And finally – always remember to say thank you!
9 Application tips
1. Be clear as to what you’re raising funds for
2. Check that the needs of your project match the application criteria of each fund you approach
3. Research the market and test your ideas
4. Look into the possibility of securing match funding for your project
5. Calculate the overall lifespan and lifecycle of your project
6. Where permitted, don’t be afraid to reapply
7. Consider enlisting some outside support for your application process from the school community
8. Share your efforts – both successes and failures
9. Give something back
Sue Birchall is a consultant, speaker, writer, trainer and business manager at The Malling School, Kent.