Completing proposals and applications

Funding is essentially about selling a good idea to someone who has the money or resources to make it happen. If you can interest them in your idea they will want to support you. So it is vital that you argue a good case and present it well.

The ingredients of a good application or proposal

Most funders receive thousands of requests each year. Think carefully about how you can make your application or proposal stand out from the crowd. At the very least you should be aware of the traps that could prevent your application getting the attention it deserves.

You will need to make a number of key points, which will catch the funders' attention, arouse interest in your work, and 'sell' your project or proposal. Ask yourself:

  • Why on earth should anyone support us?
  • What is so important about what we are doing?
  • Why is it necessary?
  • What will it achieve?
  • And why should this particular funder want to support it?

Six essential elements of an application or proposal:

1. Who you are
Type of organisation, key activities, mission, aims and objectives.

2. The need you meet
Describe the problem, support this by evidence and say why this is important.

3. The solution you offer
Be clear about the actual or expected results of your work, and how these will be measured. Be realistic - make sure what you want to do is workable, in reasonable time and gives value for money. Define clearly how you will overcome any problems. Support your case - look at other business areas / communities where a similar project has taken place.

4. Why you should do it
Need to establish credibility. Why should you be the group to run the project? What is different about the way you do things? How effectively will you manage the project? Sell your case. Success breeds success.

5. The amount you need
Breakdown of costing e.g. capital versus revenue, budgets, full cost recovery.

6. The future you have
What happens when the grant funding runs out? Sustainability - emphasis long-term viability.

Putting together an application or proposal

Government, Lottery and European funders usually require completion of an application form. Charitable trusts, companies and individuals usually request a letter of submission.

Request the form now
Receiving the guidance notes and application form prior to your application can alert you to deadlines and raise issues you need to resolve before completing the form. Copies of these forms should be circulated amongst key members of the organisation enabling them to consult with others involved in delivering the project.

Guidance notes
Must be read before completing the form. They explain how to complete the form (black ink, capitals etc). They give explicit clues as to the issues that the funder wants you to address.

Analysing the form
These are often lengthy and large so take time to digest the form itself.

  • Look for 'hidden nasties'
  • Play to strengths
  • Identify scoring sections
  • Other key non-scoring parts
  • Buttons to hit throughout
  • Identify potential pitfalls - for example, does the funding come with unacceptable conditions for your project? Such as, does the grant have to be returned if outcomes are not met?

Key facts
However many times an application for funding is made, there are some key facts, which are often, if not always, requested. It is wise to have these details prepared and stored to save time and repeated research. If more than one person is putting together applications, then this will be a real time-saver and ensure standardisation of information.

Writing a letter

Some funders do not have standard forms and the most usual way to apply to charitable trusts is by letter. When writing a letter you must first get the funder interested in your idea or project, and then supply them with all the information they need in order to make a decision.

What needs to go into a letter?

  • Project title- an unusual title can make you stand out from the crowd
  • About your organisation- what you do, your mission, aims and objectives, how long have you been going, how many users do you have, why are you different, successes, what support you have received.
  • Summary of the project- in brief spell out exactly what you are applying for and how much it will cost.
  • Why you want the funds- specific information about the needs or problems you have identified, supported by independent evidence and who will benefit from your project.
  • Description of the project- what do you intend to do meet the needs you have identified, what will it achieve (outcomes), timescales and how you will measure success.
  • Breakdown of costs- you may need to produce a detailed budget on a separate sheet.
  • Why should they fund you?- does it fit with the funders' criteria
  • Financial sustainability- copy of latest accounts, what happens when the funding runs out?
  • Who your other supporters are- funders like to support success

Language and writing


  • Key points are essential not a piece of beautiful prose.
  • Use clear and non-specialist language - no jargon or acronyms
  • If the application or letter is hand written, avoid filling every inch of the box or writing too small.
  • Entering information on electronic forms eliminates this problem, but watch the word count
  • If there is room for a number of sentences, use the first one as a summary.
  • If hand written, choose a member of the team with the best hand writing

Common mistakes:

  • Using overly complex or flowery language
  • Ignoring or dismissing certain questions and overuse of 'not applicable'
  • Writing too much or too small
  • Not answering the question directly
  • Using the final form as a draft and making a mess of it
  • Missing a deadline for submission
  • Not reading the guidance notes