Three top tips for writing better grant applications

I’ve written hundreds of funding applications for a diverse group of organisations over the last few years, but I still have the occasional moment of head-scratching. The best thing to do when you’re not sure about something is to pick up the phone, or send an email and talk to somebody with more knowledge than yourself – that’s what I do.

Paul Johnson is the Manager at One Community Foundation, Kirklees, an organisation set up in 2010 with the aim of generating funds to support local community groups.

I spent some time chatting to Paul about questions that organisations like yours tend to ask me on a regular basis.

We covered a lot of topics in our 30-minute chat, some I will try to cover in this post, but many are worthy of a post all to themselves – such as ‘Procrastination’, ‘Resources’ and ‘Word Count‘.

I may also go into the following topics in more detail, just let me know if these subjects create more questions for you and I will try to help some more.


Establishing the need

In every application there will be a question that asks you to explain the need for your project, how you have identified the need and what evidence you have to prove it.

When you are talking about the need, this generally refers to the need of ‘the service user’, not the need of your organisation. For example, if you are a school and you want to attract some funding to develop a school garden think about the needs of your pupils, their parents and the wider community. Your school may want a garden area because it will improve the way the school looks, or the quality of teaching you can deliver – but what do the children need? Do they tend to live in homes with small or no gardens? Is there a problem with childhood obesity that learning to grow healthy foods could help to address?

Be careful not to claim anything that you can’t prove, you may need to provide evidence.

So ‘The Need’, could also be described as ‘The Problem’, what is the problem, what are you going to do about it, can you prove that there is a problem, and what are you going to do about it.



How will you make your project sustainable? This question stumps many people and has them tearing their hair out! At first glance, you’d imagine that for funded projects when the money runs out the project simply stops (or you have to find more funding). But – and this is the important point to remember – if you deliver what you say you will, then the project can be sustainable.

Let’s say you are asking for funding to run a six-week course developing leadership skills and confidence for young people. You know the course is good, you know the young people need it, but how will it be sustained? If the project is successful and the young people develop leadership skills and confidence (a change in their behaviour) then the activity will be sustained. So sustainability is that the behaviour has changed in the long-term – not that the project runs for ever.



I’m guilty. Ever so guilty of this. I could write an entire blog about ways that I can procrastinate. The computer keyboard needs cleaning, I need to do more research, I don’t understand the question, the dog needs to go out, the dog needs to come in…

There is a fabulous book that deals with this problem, ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. I’d recommend it to anyone who has to write as part of the daily routine or career.

Give yourself plenty of time to complete an application. Yes, there will be occasions that you come across a potential funding source, and the deadline is tomorrow! Usually though, if you are systematic and organised you should have plenty of time to research and write your application.

Set out a plan of how you are going to achieve this; remember it doesn’t have to be completed in one sitting. Perhaps you can look at the key questions and tackle one or two each day. Read through the form or guidelines from start to finish and if you are not clear about anything then check the organisation’s website for a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section. If you still aren’t sure what to do, or if you’re unsure if you are eligible to apply, then ring them. Prepare a few key questions and simply ask the funder what they think. This will save you a lot of time in the long run.


So, that should hopefully help you in the right direction. Don’t forget, if you need any further support or advice then you can contact me direct. Let me know what else you find confusing about the grant application process in the comments below.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Paul Johnson from One Community Foundation Kirklees and if you would like to know anything about this, or other West Yorkshire Community Foundations, click here.

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