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We had a chat with Alice Wilcock, Senior Manager (volunteering) at Team London, which is the mayor’s office for volunteering and social action, about how charities can best apply for grants, and what funders are looking for from charities in their applications.
What is a good grant application? What are funders looking for?
When you’re applying for a grant, it’s vital to read the application form and the guidance notes. It’s very basic and obvious but lots of people fail to do so properly. The funder will usually go to quite a lot of trouble to make sure that the guidance notes give very clear outlines for what they’re looking for. Take notice of how the funder is asking you to set out your application, so if there are word or page limits, they’re there for a reason. Often you can either lose the extra work you put in or it won’t be counted for marking if you go over any limits. Unfortunately, because many charities are very strapped for cash these days, they’re trying to shoe horn their activity into an application process that doesn’t actually fit them. Although it can be tempting, don’t do it because you’re wasting your time and the time of the organisation you’re applying for.
The key first thing is to assess how much of a match there is between the funder’s criteria and your own charitable objects.
What practical things can a charity do to help their application?
It always helps to have the governance aspect of your organisation, all the key documents, ready to hand. Often with applications there’s an “expression of interest” stage and certain key documents will have to be presented for every funding application. Having up to date versions of your insurance certificates, your accounts, details about your trustees, details of your key charitable successes and achievements of the past year, ready and waiting so that they can be used again and again, is a real time saver.
When you’re looking at the application form itself, the thing to remember is that funders are interested in outcome, they’re not necessarily interested in output, though that will vary from funder to funder. Constantly have in mind the outcome that you’re going to achieve and the difference you will make through the work you’re going to do. Bear in mind that someone picking up your form will not be familiar with your charity and your activities in the way that you are, so getting a fresh pair of eyes to look at your application before you send it off, preferably from someone not actually connected to your organisation is a great idea, this way, you will make sure that it’s really understandable for someone who’s not familiar with your organisation.
Why is social impact important to you?
Social impact is really important because funders want to make sure they’re getting the most for their money. We want to make sure that we’re allocating resources to the people who will use them best. In terms of the outcomes that you can be looking at for funding, you can divide these into hard outcomes and soft outcomes. E.g if you’re looking to help young people find jobs, the hard outcome would be sustained employment, but softer outcomes might be that along the way they’ll improve in confidence, they’ll improve their skills, their networks with employers, have better relationships with their peers, and they’ll understand more about how their work fits in with the rest of the community. So those are different kinds of outcomes that you can get from the same project.
How can charities improve their social impact?
Go back to your mission and vision as a charity or organisation. Are you keeping to that? Are you having the impact that you want to have? If you’re doing activities that don’t match with your vision, then why are you doing them? You shouldn’t be.