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Understanding a grant fund

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Picking the right grants

Grant applications take time. Sometimes applications take time even when the amount of money offered is quite small. Many funds have very low success rates. Grant funders often complain that people who apply have not read their guidelines.

You want to make good use of the time and energy you spend on grant applications. This means you need to understand each fund you are interested in. Then you need to pick and choose which applications you go ahead with.

Check the published criteria

Once you find a fund that you think is a match for your work you must read the information about it carefully. You'll be looking for information that funders label in different ways. Here are some common names:

  • eligibility criteria
  • exclusions
  • our objectives.

There are two types of information you need.

Do we meet the factual criteria they have set?

This might include:

  • annual income of your organisation
  • location (of organisation or project)
  • type of organisation (legal status)
  • total cost of project
  • size of grant you need
  • length of time the organisation has been running.

Never apply to a grant fund if your organisation does not meet these criteria.

Do we meet the subjective criteria or objectives they have set?

This covers information about what the grant fund is trying to achieve. Different funders will express this in different ways.

  • If it’s clear to you that your project is not a good fit, don’t waste time applying.
  • If you're not sure whether your project meets the objectives or criteria, see if they provide a way for you to contact and ask them what they think.
  • If you think your project is probably a good fit or you haven’t been able to check move on to the next step.

Research beyond the criteria

Sometimes organisations have no subjective criteria or objectives. Or the objectives they do have are so broad it is hard to decide what they want to fund. To find out if it is worth writing an application to them you have to get creative. You can try different steps depending on how much time you have available.

  • Go to their website and look for past projects.
  • Go to their website and find a copy of their annual report to see if it describes past projects.
  • Use open data. Grantnav has information about projects funded by over 130 different UK funders. You can use its search and filters to see who has received funding from them. Go to Grantnav.
  • If you can’t find out through these steps, then use Charity Commission records. Each funder should have annual reports that you can look at to see if they contain past projects. Search for a registered charity.
  • Give them a call and talk to them if you can.

There are several things you should be looking for when you do this research.

  • Do the projects feel like the type of work you do?
  • Where are they taking place? Is your area represented? If not, can you check if that is because no one applies or because the funder actually favours another area?
  • Have they funded other organisations you know or work with? Did that organisation enjoy working with the funder? Would they give you a recommendation?
  • Is the grant that funded these projects the same one you're looking at?

Just because an organisation has funded projects similar to yours doesn’t mean it will fund yours. But it is a good indicator that it is worth the time to apply.

If the funder hasn’t given grants to any organisations like yours before, it won’t usually be a good use of time for you to apply. There are two things that could change this.

  • Have they recently launched a new fund for projects like yours?
  • Do you or your board or committee have connections with them? Have they encouraged you to apply?

Making your decision

Sometimes you will still be struggling to decide whether an application is worth your time. Then try to find out more.

  • What are the success rates? These are sometimes published on the website or in annual reports.
  • Do people find them an easy funder to work with? We recommend joining networks of organisations that do similar work to you and asking around.

Don’t forget that success rates for most non-lottery grant applications are low. Make your chance of success higher by researching the grants you find properly before you submit your application. Only apply if you strongly believe you fit their criteria. Never apply if the fund says ‘no unsolicited applications’ unless they've invited an application from you.

Next steps

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 November 2020

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