Grants 101: Top tips in applying for grants from Community Trusts

Eleanor Cater, FINZ

Many of us work tirelessly applying for grants for charities, clubs, and events. As a grant applicant it can seem at times to be a bit of a hit and miss process: put in your application and cross all your fingers and toes and hope for the best!

Trusts supply over $1,000 million to charities every year, so it's certainly worthwhile to understand how you can go about improving your chances of a successful outcome for your grant application.

Ask those in the know, who sit at the other end of the process approving or declining grant applications, and they will tell you there certainly are ways to approach your application that will give you a much higher chance of success.

From those in the know* here are their top 10 tips:

  1. Know the Trust you are applying to. What are their priorities, what are they looking to achieve? Is a philanthropic or gaming Trust more liklely to support your cause? Do they support national as well as local initiatives? Some Trusts are more strategic than others. Read up about your Trust, talk to those in the know, and really get to know the Trust before you apply. Tony Gill advises that, "all Trusts have their different nuances, find out what funders prefer to fund before you submit that application for something which is low down their priority list."
  2. Know your organisation. What are you trying to achieve? Facts and figures are helpful. Heather Newell says, "the best applications are from those people who really understand their grass roots and are clear on exactly what they are looking to achieve."
  3. Start the application process early so it's not a last minute decision and urgent! Exhibiting good planning and a strategic vision gives the Grants committee faith that the project or mission will succeed.
  4. While this one could seem a little basic - fill in the form accurately! it's a surprisingly common problem; if the form says complete sections A-G, complete sections A-G. Many Trusts work on stretched staff resources and a form filled in incorrectly is easy to decline, as Tony Gill says, "if the applicant can't fill in the form it doesn't give us confidence that they will deliver the outcomes as promised."
  5. Where you can make sure you apply for something tangible, something which is easy to justify as a key part of your project or mission. Be aware that, while some Trusts will be happy to support salaries others are not so comfortable with this, concerned about a future dependency for employment. 
  6. Apply for what you need. Heather Newell gave an example of a small community group applying for $300 for a BBQ so they could fundraise, "our Trust would have been happy to support them with the few thousand dollars they needed for the entire year!"
  7. Make it succinct. Make it clear what yoy are applying for and who it will beneift in one very concise paragraph. Your covering letter's optimal size is 1-1.5 pages long and if there is a box to complete, complete the box - do not write 'see attached!'
  8. Do not bind your application in fancy folders, it is a nuisance for administrators and those considering grant applications do not open the physical envelopes. All are standadised and digitally copied or scanned into a board meeting management system such as Diligent Board Books.
  9. Be clear about other sources of income. Some Trustees think it's important to see how much further effort has been put into fundraising. Others care about any Government funding that has already been invested in the organisation or project. Cheryl Mennie says that an existing Government contract can be helpful for your application as it can give it an extra margin of importance.
  10. Get your completed accountability reports in in good time. Many Trusts will immediately not consider future grant applications if reports are missing or in any way incomplete from past applications.

So rather than taking a standardised, hit them with a 'one size fits all' approach, if you put some thought into your grant applications and follow these tips above you will vastly improve your application's chances of success.

But be aware also that grant funding should only ever be just one part of your fundraising mix. As Heather Newell, fundraising consultant and FINZ Fellow says, "You will never be truly sustainable if grant funding is your main source of income. It has to be just one part of what you are doing. Treat Funders as major givers who are contributors to your overall fundraising strategy."

*based on interviews with Trustees John Burke and Sarah Dow at the Prirua Community Trust, and the FINZ 360 Fundraising training panel discussion in November 2015 with Tony Gill from the New Zealand Community Trust, Heather Newell, CFRE, FFINZ (also a professional fundraising consultant and Trustee with the Rimutaka Licensing Trust) and Cheryl Mennie from Public Trust and TG McCarthy Trust.

Grants 101: Top tips in applying for grants from Community Trusts



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