How to Write Great Applications: Top 5 learnings from the AFP one-day course

How to Write Great Applications: Top 5 learnings from the AFP one-day course

Two weeks on from attending the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy ‘How to Write Great Applications’ one-day course in Oxford, and I am putting into practice what I learned. As our trainer Fern Potter rightly said, ‘training without doing’ can be wasted. So, I was delighted to time the course (completely incidentally) with my need to write four Trusts and Foundation applications in the subsequent weeks.

But what did I learn? Here are the five key things that I am using this week in my writing.

Writing tips

So you think you’re a great writer? Even if that is the case, writing for a new or different audience often brings challenges that we don’t normally face in our written work. Sitting with the course slides beside me and going through Fern’s expert writing tips specifically tailored to application writing has helped raise the standard of my applications and process for developing them.

For example, the trainer highlighted the problem of using unsubstantiated adjectives to make work seem more impactful. If you genuinely think your work is “unique”, “innovative” or “high-standard”, use data or external reviews to back up this claim.

Having a list of key dos and don’ts, along with examples of great writing has helped me to analyse my own work with fresh eyes.

Try starting with the question ‘who am I writing for?’. Think about what the funder needs to know about this project and go through each aspect of a Trust’s criteria to ensure your work is relevant to someone who may know nothing about your organisation or cause.  

Research is key!

80% of application writing is research. Yes that’s right, 80%. I’ve blocked out my time accordingly, suiting it to my own style of writing. You can glean so much important information before you even start to type that better informs your applications.

Looking at the Charity Commission site for the Trusts you are approaching is a great place to start. You’ll find a wealth of great information within Annual Accounts that will help you avoid obvious mistakes and come across as informed from the outset.

Be ambitious

It may feel a bit awkward to be asking for a lot of money but if you don’t ask you don’t get. Dialling down your ambition, or asking for less money than you actually need, won’t increase your chances of success. This ties into doing your research – if a Trust only gives up to £5,000, don’t ask for a £30,000 grant. Once you know the parameters for each funder, you can be bold in your ask to them. If you need £30,000, ask for £30,000 and back it up with strong evidence, a well costed budget, and a great ‘why’. If you do this effectively, Trustees will support you as much as they can.

Ask: who do you know?

Your Board are an invaluable source of connections and should be a core part of your organisation’s fundraising team. Knowing the tactful way to utilise existing networks is a great way to increase your chances in applications. Even if you are able to have a conversation about the suitability of your work with a decision maker at a Trust prior to submitting an application, you will be building on an existing relationship and will have a link at the Trust who is expecting your application. Alternatively, you’ll save yourself a lot of time not applying somewhere that can’t support you!

Next time you apply to a Trust or Foundation, circulate a list of Trustees to your Board and ask if anyone happens to know anyone on the list. People may say “I don’t know anyone!”, but then will remember a connection when prompted with a finite list.  

Start with a template/Case for Support

When fundraising for a campaign, invest time in building a Case for Support to use as a template when developing a specific application for a Trust. If you spend time clarifying a universal ‘story’ for your organisation, gathering facts and figures about the need for your work and your expected outcomes, and working on how you communicate the project, each application will take less time as you adapt from this template. You can then take this template to individuals outside of the charity and ask if the messaging makes sense. People will be much happier to give feedback on one document than dozens of applications!

Writing applications can feel like a challenge, particularly when you’re new to fundraising or approaching a new organisation. But with practice, good advice, and a solid plan, you can write fantastic applications for your charity.

What writing advice do you have? Do you have any tips to help others with approaching Trusts and Foundations? Tweet us @OfficialCause4