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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

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A recipe for the perfect grant application

This opinion piece is over 5 years old

​Deanna Wolf shares her recipe for trust fundraising success

Dry Ingredients:

Deanna Wolf
Deanna Wolf

250g recently identified need
150g freshly prepared budget
100ml beneficiaries
50g simple outcomes
50g realistic impacts

Optional Toppings:

15ml innovation
25ml creative risk
50g activities/equipment


Blend dry ingredients well. Carefully fold in outcomes and impacts. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 250C. Let cool over night. Optional: whilst warm, sprinkle with innovation, creative risk, activities or equipment to ensure a unique treat. Keep secure for up to 6 months.

It’s not rocket science.

The thing is, the ‘perfect’ grant application isn’t an easy recipe. At any point a myriad of elements - guidelines, project design, deadlines and budgets - can alter your plans. It requires flexibility, ethics, diplomacy, and swift responses. Sometimes it requires precision, sometimes ambiguity. It ALWAYS requires good spelling and grammar.

Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that gaining experience in trust fundraising isn’t about increasing my breadth of knowledge with new skills, but by deepening it. It’s applying basic skills and becoming more proficient in them over time as I prepare and submit applications. Here are my basics:

1) Be clear about need. I cannot stress this enough. It’s not about ‘want’, increasing income or targets year-on-year, or plugging budget gaps. It IS about fulfilling needs that impact on beneficiaries and society. Even if the need is one step removed (e.g. training someone who could find the cure for cancer turns a scholarship from ‘want’ to ‘need’).

2) Can you deliver the project or service? If not, what needs to be in place? Can you get it? If necessary, review and redesign how you will address that need.

3) Do you have service delivery staff and senior management approval? Front-line staff buy-in and understanding are essential for success. Many funders require highest level sign-off. Avoid surprising your CEO with last minute approval requests.

4) Is your budget realistic? Have you included all your directly related costs? Have you checked that the individual line items are sensible and affordable? Was it approved by your Finance team? Do you already have some funding?

5) Who are your competitors? Where is your service in the spectrum across your locality, region, and nation? Be realistic and prove it. Don’t try to pull the wool over your potential funders’ eyes – they probably have a better idea of what services are being delivered at what quality than any of us do.

6) Do your research. Use any resources to which you have access to avoid scattergun approaches. Find and meet funder guidelines. Call them to ask appropriate questions for clarification. Do NOT ask for funding over the telephone. Do your trustees know their trustees? Network.

7) Plan your argument and case for support. Present your case clearly, logically - you are telling a very important story. Lead your audience in, stir their emotions, and convince them. Ensure a strong underlying business case, but pull heartstrings too. Tailor it to each funder whether a one off application or you are working from a master case.

8) Grammar and spelling. If it is written well, you see the message. If it is written poorly you see the mistakes. Spell-check, and if possible get someone else to sense-check, proofread and copy-edit your application before it is sent.

9) Follow the instructions. The guidelines are often the first test: If you follow them, you’ll probably follow their terms & conditions. Meet specific word counts or deadlines.

10) Acceptance, stewardship and rejection. Say thank you sincerely and in a timely manner. Deliver on your promises or requests. Keep in touch with your funder about your progress and your project’s problems. Key to developing a long-term relationship with a funder is keeping track of activities and submitting reports on time. Success rates are typically 1:4. Learn to handle rejection that WILL come your way. Seek feedback, then move to the next application. Above all else, maintain good records.

Whilst trust funding, like baking, isn’t rocket science, its devil is in the detail. Over time, you’ll find your own writing style. Write often. Write about what you love and hate. Bring that to your fundraising practice. I wish you luck, synonyms, and great projects.

And cake.

Deanna Wolf is trust fundraising senior consultant at Money Tree Fundraising

This blog originally appeared on the Institute of Fundraising website.