Applying to a fund: where should I start?

14 August 2018

Head of Grants, Deborah Smart, often gets asked by charities and social enterprises how their funding applications could be improved. Here are her top tips on how to put together the perfect proposal.

Every charity or social enterprise will have to write and submit funding applications at some point in its life. Every application is slightly different, and for a lot of organisations completing a funding application form can seem very daunting. 

My role at Social Investment Business is to oversee all our grant programmes and this means that, over the years, I have reviewed many hundreds of grant applications. This means I’m often asked by for advice on completing funding applications and these are my golden rules.

  1. Preparation is key

What were we always told before exams at school? Read the question! Reading the application form closely and the guidance notes before you start writing anything will help you to understand exactly what type of information you need to provide and help keep your answers focused on what we need to know.  We, like many other funders, publish detailed guidance notes that explain exactly what we need you to tell us.  Reading them before you start writing your application can save you time in the long run.

  1. Avoid generic answers

We understand that often you are writing more than one funding application at any one time.  But, most grant makers can spot a generic answer from a mile away. Make sure your answers are specific to the fund you are applying to. We provide the guidance notes to tell you what information we need from each question. Top tip; have the guidance to hand when you write your application and tick things off when you’ve covered them.

  1. Ask for what you need

Every fund will outline the type of work, support or items it will fund.  But even with that information to hand people often ask me ‘what do you want to pay for?’ The answer to that question is always ‘Ask us for what you need’. Obviously, this needs to be within the parameters of the fund. But what any funder really wants to see is an application that will truly help your organisation to better deliver its mission to its beneficiaries. 

  1. Is the funding right for you?

We know that funding is scarce. And anytime new funding comes on stream it can seem tempting to apply for it. But if the fund isn’t offering the type of support you need, you need to consider whether it is really worth you applying. Every funder will stick to the criteria it has published, so even if the work you are doing is great and your application is well written, if you have applied for something that the guidance says we won’t fund your application won’t be successful.

  1. Don’t leave it until the last minute to apply!

This is always the tip I stress the most.  Unfortunately, we often have deadlines. And we understand that you want as much time as possible to work on your application.  However, if you try and apply at the last minute and something goes wrong you could end up missing out. If you submit ahead of time and have problems we have time to help with whatever has happened.

Finally, the other biggest piece of advice I can give is that if you have a question – any question about the funding on offer, whether you are eligible, or anything else about applying - just call us and ask. We’re here Monday – Friday, 9-5 and always happy to help no matter what your query is.  So, give us a call and have a chat; it always brightens our day to talk to the people we are here to help.


Deborah Smart

Director of Grants

Deborah directs the delivery of our grant programmes and has over a decade of experience in social finance and grant-making.  She entered the social finance sector in 2005 with The Social Enterprise Loan Fund, and joined SIB in 2009.

Deborah is a 2015 Clore Social Fellow, and in her free time volunteers with a small broadcasting charity in Essex.

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The Social Investment Business is the trading name for the Social Investment Business Foundation, Registered Company No. 05777484 (England), Registered Charity No. 1117185 (England & Wales), The Social Investment Business Limited, Registered in England No. 06490609, VAT No. 927456693, Futurebuilders-England Limited, Registered in England No. 05066676 and Forward Enterprise FM Ltd, Registered in England No.11238102. Registered Office: CAN Mezzanine, Borough, 7-14 Great Dover Street, London, SE1 4YR.

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