We spent the morning looking over seven funding applications, each written by one of the fellows in the first three months of the fellowship. One by one they were dissected and critiqued until papers were strewn across the table frantically covered with notes and highlighted and crossed out sections. The session was at times painful, but an invaluable and significant step in our fellowship journey.
The first thing that immediately struck me was the variation in the organisations to whom we were applying for funding. Fellows had written applications to an embassy, a livery company, a local authority, a private arts foundation, a bank and one of Britain’s largest charities. Naturally, each of these organisations had different application processes, and we learned that cracking these can be half the battle when it comes to successful application writing.
One pitfall a couple of us discovered was that we tried to talk about the positives of our organisation/project rather than use the available word count to answer a prescriptive question plainly and simply. This might sound obvious, but it is always very tempting to squeeze in every point you want to make, and in doing so, creatively avoid the actual question the form is asking. It is imperative however, that the form or prescribed structure for the application takes president in how you approach writing about your project. There is a reason why the blanket or ‘machine gun’ approach to fundraising doesn’t usually work, submitting a bespoke application to different funders, however more time consuming, really will reap rewards.
“I thought it was valuable to analyse funding requests for such varied projects – it emphasises that whilst there are rules of best practice, there is no ‘one-size-fits’ all method when it comes to bid writing.” Jill Richens, Fellow at A New Direction
Another common mistake: We could all have been more specific, especially with things such as target audiences and selection processes of participants or artists. We had demonstrated a fear that we couldn’t be specific about any details that were unconfirmed or may be subject change. A key tip is to be transparent; you can always inform a funder should there be any changes. They will be aware that projects do not always run according to plan, and some degree of flexibility is usually agreeable. It is important not to let the fear of inaccuracy or changes affect the application.
Some other useful pointers that came out of the session were:
- Have confidence in what you are fundraising for – and your enthusiasm will leap out of the pages
- Fundraising applications for projects should have people and impact at the heart – who is the project for? What impact will your work have on the target audience?
- What is the funder actually funding? Describe your work clearly
- Use plain, simple language that is appropriate to the funder – specialist Arts foundations can understand some complex art historical vocabulary whereas embassies will need plain English; your application may be translated before it is assessed
- Explain complicated organisational structures – funders are unlikely to give money to you if they don’t understand who will be receiving the money or how it will be managed
- If you have had a previous relationship with the funder, mention it in your application
- Mission statements and key wording for your organisation should have ‘the public’ as the focus e.g. ‘The Public’s art centre…’
Going into this new year, I have made it my mission to take all these points on board, and keep improving through practice and evaluation. No application will ever be perfect, and often technique and style is subjective – it’s definitely not a science. However, a pair of fresh eyes on a piece of writing will always shed new light, and keep those blinkers at bay!
“It was constructive criticism and great to really be experiencing application processes for real as opposed to talking about then generally.” Emma Pickering, Fellow at Sadler’s Wells
After the session, the Fellows relished the opportunity to sample the gastronomic delights of Spitalfields Market – well deserved I think!
If you have any hints or tips on application or bid writing, we’d love to hear from you! Tweet us @artsfundraising or leave a comment below.