Six tips for a winning grant application

After helping hundreds of voluntary organisations with funding applications, we’ve picked up a few ideas on what makes a winning application.  Our six tips for grant fundraisers are a good place to get started.

Keep focused on the difference you want to make through your project.

When writing your application, focus on two questions.  What do you want to change?  And how does your planned project help bring about that change?  Even if it seems obvious to you, make sure that you spell out exactly how the activities you want to run with help to achieve the change you want to bring about. 

Don’t assume your reader knows anything about your work

The grants officer that reads your application probably doesn’t know anything about your organisation, or the area you work in.  So make sure that your application says clearly who you are, what you do, and what the local issues you deal with are about.  It’s a good idea to ask someone who doesn’t know your group to read your draft application.  Do they understand what you’re trying to say?

Speak the same language as your funder

When you’re writing your application, try to use the same language as your funder does in their guidelines.  For example, if they talk about benefiting “the elderly and infirm”, you should use that phrase too. 

Be creative when it comes to showing evidence of need

Most Trusts will expect you to say how you know there is a need for your project.  If you don’t have time for surveys or focus groups, this is the time to think creatively.  Phone or text your members to ask for their views.  Ask for a show of hands at a meeting.  See if the council or local NHS has done any research in this area.  What you find out might not be formal research, but it certainly counts as evidence of need.

Only start an application if your project is a good fit with the funder

Don’t be tempted to make an application unless your project is a good match for a Trust’s funding priorities.  You might hope they’ll bend their rules for you.  But they won’t, and your application will end up on the rejection pile.  Or worse, you might end up trying to squeeze your project to fit funding criteria that aren’t appropriate. 

Be realistic in your budgeting

Some people think their application has a better chance of success if they ask for less money than they need.  Others are tempted to ask for more than they need, in case the funder asks them to cut costs.  But it’s better to avoid either approach.  Under-costing a project looks can seem like bad budgeting.  And excessively over-costing a project can just seem untrustworthy.

And remember, simple things can make a big difference...

  • Keep a back-up copy of your application.  Computers break down.  USB drives go missing.  Make sure your draft application is saved in at least two places and avoid the horror of starting from scratch the day before the deadline.
  • Be specific: give facts and figures whenever possible.  Detail inspires confidence.  Vagueness just makes it sound like you haven’t thought things through properly.
  • Spelling and grammar not your strong point?  Then give yourself time to ask someone to check your draft application.
  • Don’t use jargon.  A good test is to ask yourself whether the man who sat next to you on the bus would understand what you’re writing. 
  • Don’t leave your application to the last minute.  If you’re going to bother applying, do it properly.  It’s less stressful, and you’ll have a better chance of success. 
  • Type your application, if possible.  It looks much more professional.
  • Check and double-check that you’ve enclosed all the supporting papers that are needed.  Then ask a friend or colleague to check one last time.


Voluntary Action Westminster is a registered charity (no. 1068824) and is registered as a company in England and Wales with company number 03518124.  Copyright Voluntary Action Westminster 2009

Developed by Third Sector Design