Grants enable many voluntary and community organisations to provide services that make a real difference to people’s lives. Finding and applying for grants takes time and many grants come with strings attached that require careful management. NCVO aims to simplify funding for voluntary organisations and the Funding Central website provides a list of opportunities, funding advice and support and much more. 

What are grants?

Grants are subsidies. The grant-giving body (or ‘funder’) offers funding for specified activities, usually following an application process. The recipient must use the grant for the purposes specified and the money is restricted. Grants are, therefore, different to donations as donations are normally unrestricted.

Grant funding is changing with increasing levels of competition and some funders preferring to offer contracts or loans. Increasingly, voluntary and community organisations are combining grant funding with other options such as trading, contracting and social investment or loan finance.

Purpose of grants

Grants offer the opportunity to undertake activity that cannot generate enough income to cover its costs. Grants are ideal for supporting research and development, building capacity or for new activities which over time could become self-financing. Grants are also widely used for projects and to cover the core operating costs of voluntary and community organisations such as salaries and overheads.

Grant challenges

  • Short-term nature - if the activity is to continue after funding ends and it is funded through grants, there needs to be a plan for how it will be funded longer-term (also known as an exit strategy).
  • Specifications - many funders have specific priorities for types of activity they want to fund and this doesn’t always correspond with what organisations want to do.
  • Oversubscribed funding - the total amount of grant funding received by the voluntary and community sector has fallen in recent years and is likely to fall further as a consequence of the recession. There are also more organisations and groups looking for funding which means greater competition.
  • Organisation management - funders may have terms and conditions that require you to manage your organisation in a particular way. For example, you may need to introduce additional financial procedures and systems.
  • Time - each funder has their own criteria, priorities and processes, which means every application has to be tailored. Once you’ve managed to submit your application form it takes time to get a decision – on average from two to six months depending on the individual funder and scale of grant requested.

Help with applying for grants

There are over 8,000 grant giving bodies in the UK, so choosing where to apply can seem like a daunting task. Our website Funding Central can help you identify the most relevant funders, both nationally and locally. 


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