McCracken Consultancy
Strategic Consultancy for charities and third sector organisations
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McCracken Consultancy

Your Best Bid Ever

The competition for winning trust funding is higher than ever before as availability of government funding has dropped significantly over recent years and sees little sign of picking up again. 

I write bids for clients but also review and edit bids.  There is often a lot more work to do to make bid drafts ‘application-ready’ than expected; this is no criticism.  Writing an outstanding bid is a great skill and is enormously time-consuming intensive work. 

Trust funds are having to routinely turn down 90% of applications however they are doing their best to help charities with their applications by giving increasingly clear instructions and insight into how the assessment process is undertaken; this will ensure distribution of funds is ‘fair’ (although this is still highly subjective) but is designed to cut down on wasted work, which is certainly fair.   In my experience not all charities are fulling taking advantage of this advice offered to them however. 

Here follows my 'rules' for writing the 'best bid ever':

  • Read ‘between the lines’ of their general online blurb and guide – how do they see their role?
    • Is it to fund and facilitate projects that are currently being delivered and proved to work or do they want to fund innovation?
    • Is it being saviour to a 'unique' charity in financial difficulty providing funding running costs as a ‘shot in the arm’
    • do they want to fund but also give guidance and be involved in the success of the charity (similar to a charity ‘dragon’ investor)
    • are they ‘risk-averse’ in who they give money to, and wish to focus on financially secure organisations, perhaps with minimal involvement themselves
    • are they more open to risk and open to approaches from financially weaker charities who have a sound strategy for growth requiring their funding to implement?

Prioritise trusts that fit your circumstances as a charity.  Within limits you can choose how to present your organisation and a story can be told in many ways to answer what they want to achieve. Do think about this.

  • Go through with a highlighter the trust's guide to get a feel for their 'key words' as well as criteria for assessment
  • look at the guides for every single question as you answer them, and keep assessment criteria in mind in your answers.
  • Use a broad range of evidence and measurements, quantitative & qualitative, that are relevant and prove a point. Try and find relevant up to date external research too although it can be hard work and time consuming.
  • Know the difference between an output and an outcome! – and soft outcomes can be measured!  Muddling this up winds up decision-makers no-end.  I suggest separating these out even for your own benefit to keep your thinking clear.  An example of an output is ‘200 people receive counselling a year’; a hard outcome could be ‘20% of those who were not working due to mental health issues at the beginning of counselling returned to work by the end of the year’, a soft outcome could be ‘90% said they felt either ‘more or much more confident’ about making decisions for themselves’.
  • Don’t repeat yourself from answer to answer (even if questions seem repetitive).  Think what could they want to know and then which bits of that information would fit which question answer better is one way of thinking of it.  Also think of ‘flow’; the reader is getting to know your charity as they move through the document.
  • In most circumstances use every word in the maximum word allowance given – you should generally find yourself cutting down to get to the word limit not ‘waffling up’. 
  • Use ‘their vocabulary’ - ‘key words’ they keep mentioning (without ‘parroting’ excessively!) – they’ll pick up on them if skim reading and instinctively feel you are ‘on their wavelength’
  • Use formal language, perfect spelling and grammar
  • Never waffle. Don’t use acronyms, ‘lingo’, or long words for effect. They might have already read 20 applications that night after a day’s work, and will likely get impatient quickly.
  • Remember the decision-makers are real people with emotions – really pull those heartstrings
  • If you don’t understand what they are asking for, don’t hesitate to call and ask.
  • If possible take a day’s break before sending off the application or even better ask someone outside the organisation to read your bid and ‘mark it’ against the criteria. Find an honest critic. Are you really worth the money compared to all those other charities as far as a stranger is concerned?

If you are unsuccessful, obviously get feedback if possible, but don’t be surprised if none is forthcoming. Some things will be beyond your control so don’t beat yourself up about it.  Perhaps the foundation made a large award to a charity serving a similar need last year and wish to focus on something else this year.  Perhaps another part of the country ended up receiving a greater proportion of funding and they wish to rebalance the distribution this year.  Comfort yourself that each great bid will make writing the next one easier.  The trust is getting to know you.  You might have ‘just missed out’, and next year they’ll notice your next application more keenly than average, and ‘give you a chance’ to prove yourself a worthy recipient. Remember no matter how fantastic the work you do is, trustees have every right to be wary and need to ensure money is not wasted, and many organisations do fantastic work.

If you want an application for funding turned around quickly, if you would like feedback on your draft bids and help with improving your technique, group bid-writing training, or to develop your trust funding strategy do get in touch.  You can do a lot cost-effectively to make a big and lasting difference to your organisation’s financial stability. Call me on 07792 503 815

Natasha McCracken