Top ten tips for landing a grant

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Ian Pembridge, Senior Researcher at DSC (Directory of Social Change) shares his top ten tips for landing a grant.

The Directory of Social Change (DSC) has been publishing information on grant-making charities for over 40 years. So, it’s fair to say that we’ve learned a few things along the way. In this short blog we share our ‘top ten’ practical tips to help boost your chances of securing a grant.

1. Accounts count

A grant-makers’ decision to accept or reject an application may by influenced by more than just your proposal. Grant-makers may also check your account filing history.

In 2013, DSC asked a sample of grant-makers if they check applicants’ filing history on the Charity Commission website. A total of 53% said that they did, of which 17% reported that they would refuse an application if accounts were submitted late.

Grant-makers need to assess the risk to their investment before they commit. If your charity has submitted accounts after the deadline, it doesn’t inspire confidence in your governance or your timekeeping and may harm your chances of securing funding, so don’t get caught out.

2. Keep an eye on timescales

The timescales for decision-making vary greatly between grant-making charities, with some trustee boards only meeting once a year to discuss applications. Be sure to factor this into your planning. If a grant-maker does not have a website, dates of trustee meetings can often be found in annual reports and accounts which are usually available on the Charity Commission or OSCR website.

DSC crowd funding

Consider crowdfunding platforms as part of your digital fundraising strategy.

3. Consider crowdfunding

In recent years, popular crowdfunding platforms such as JustGiving, which raise money for projects by consolidating small donations by members of the public, have become an essential element of any digital fundraising strategy. While most crowdfunding platforms focus on individual fundraising, platforms such as Spacehive and The Good Exchange have more recently begun to collaborate with grant-making charities, companies and local councils to offer innovative solutions to the challenges of grant-funding.

4. Develop strong relationships with your funders

Your funder is also your partner, so working together and maintaining good communication is key. Establish a strong relationship with your funder by sharing information about progress and the positive impact their funding is having on your beneficiaries.

When applying for a grant, some funders may ask for references from former or current funders, so its always good to have a track record of excellent partnerships.

5. ‘Show off’ your funders

Some funders may view causes with support already behind them, or charities with a history of delivering funded work as a safer investment. A simple way to demonstrate a strong track record of working with funders is to list them on your website (with their permission) along with details of work that their funding helped you to deliver. It’s also a good idea to mention relevant examples of successful funder partnerships in your applications.

6. Keep an eye out for new grant-makers

Researching recently registered charities can give fundraisers a head-start in applying for funds. It also provides a chance to establish relationships with those new to grant-giving. The Charity Commission registers over 1,200 grant-makers each year, some of which will have the potential to fund your charity.

Information on newly registered charities is often scarce, and the amount of research involved in retrieving the relevant data is time consuming. For this reason, DSC publishes The Guide to New Trusts each year, which contains 100 new grant-making charities, carefully selected for the guide.

7. Invest in fundraising

Across the UK there are thousands of grant-makers big and small, supporting all kinds of charitable causes, so finding the one to suit you may feel like a needle in a haystack!

Researching funders, deciphering eligibility criteria and finding out what funders potentially support can be a massive endeavour for charities with limited resources. Fortunately, DSC have done the heavy-lifting for you. Our Funds Online website allows you to concentrate on the application, rather than the research.

8. Make it measurable

Grant-makers increasingly want to demonstrate the impact of their funding, so questions on how a grant’s impact will be evaluated are becoming commonplace on funding applications.

Getting this right may give you the edge. If your proposal can clearly state what the outcomes will be and crucially how you will measure their impact, then your application will be all the more enticing to a funder.

It’s important to choose outcomes that are actually measurable, because a funder will recognise those which are not. So be specific and consider your evaluation at the proposal stage. Getting this right will also help your charity demonstrate its own impact, which in-turn can be used to support future funding applications and inspire confidence from grant-makers.

9. Tempting, not impossible!

Sometimes a project looks great on paper, but in reality, the timescale and costing make it unachievable. Trying to create a proposal that will tempt a funder can easily lead to developing an over-ambitious project.

Experienced grant-makers will notice when a proposal is too ambitious, which risks the application being rejected entirely. There is also the risk of being awarded a grant to undertake a project which is unachievable, and the effect of failing to deliver on overly optimistic proposals can carry a significant reputational risk to your charity.

So, be ambitious but also realistic in your application by making sure that your proposed costings, timescales and staffing are completely achievable. Finally, when writing your application, consider other competing priorities, which although not connected to your proposal, may affect your charity’s ability to deliver what you are promising.

DSC grant review

Impartial assessment of your proposal.

10. A fresh pair of eyes

Before submitting any application, find someone impartial to assess your proposal. As well as spotting any errors, they may be able to provide constructive criticism and raise new questions that will help further refine your proposal.

Some funders will also send your proposal to independent reviewers for assessment, so it’s a good idea to take the same approach before you apply. It’s always better that your team find any issues, rather than the funder and their assessors.

DSC can help you to help others

Whether through our research, training or resources to help your fundraising, DSC has the tools to help.

Funds Online is DSC’s latest resource to help you to find funding. Search over 8,000 funders, collectively giving £8 billion, or for those who prefer print, DSC provide a wide range of specialised funding guides to help you find the funding you need. Visit us online at dsc.org.uk/fundraising to find out more.

DSC’s research team are on hand to support all your evaluation, impact and wider research needs. Visit us online at dsc.org.uk/research or email us at research@dsc.org.uk to see how we can help.

The views on this page are those of the DSC (Directory of Social Change).


DSC is an event partner of Charity Bank’s Road to Growth events, a series of free regional events exclusively for leaders of charities and social enterprises as part of our commitment to support the social sector.

The half-day sessions this September and October will provide insight on the state of the social sector at a time of change. Panelists will share research and insights on the challenges and opportunities that exist and give examples of how charities and social enterprises are responding.

Road to Growth