Effective fundraising applications

Written by: Brin Best | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The secret to fundraising success can often come down to writing and compiling effective applications. Brin Best offers nine steps to planning and writing successful funding applications

One of the key elements in any school fundraising strategy is the preparation of the funding applications that will allow you to enhance provision and extend opportunities for your children and the wider community.

I know from experience, however, that such funding applications can feel like intimidating make-or-break documents, or can even strike fear into those who are completing them for the first time.

The aim of this article is to the demystify the bid-writing process and provide some practical advice that will help to unlock the secrets of successful applications, whether they be to National Lottery-funded schemes, to grant-giving bodies or to businesses.

I recommend, in all your funding applications, that you are guided by the following nine steps to success. They are based on the work of hundreds of schools, who together have secured many millions of pounds in external income.

Understanding the approach needed

One of the pitfalls that many schools encounter is a lack of understanding over the approach that is needed to complete successful applications. I encourage schools to complete their applications with the same care and attention to detail that they would use if they were completing a job application. Applications are – ultimately – an exercise in persuasive writing: you are making a proposal, backed up with evidence and justification, to convince budget holders to award you a grant. Because obtaining that money may well have been a hard-fought process for the funder, they quite rightly want to make sure that you meet their criteria – and that any grant given will make a difference in your school.

Do your research

I sometimes come across schools that think a “scattergun” approach to funding applications is the best way to ensure they meet their external fundraising targets. These schools obtain application forms in an unfocused way from a wide range of funding bodies, and fire them off – in an untargeted fashion – in the hope that some will be successful. In many cases the application to each funder is identical.

My experience is that the opposite approach is always more successful. If you carry out some careful research into the kinds of projects that funders award grants to, and then tailor each application to each funder, you are much more likely to access the funds you need.

Funding bodies have particular priority areas they wish to fund, and these can vary through the year. Obtaining up-to-date information (they are often happy to talk to you) and ensuring your application dovetails with funders’ priorities is one of the keys to successful fundraising. It also helps you avoid wasting time on applications which are, in all reality, pretty futile.

Focus on your specific project

In previous articles for Headteacher Update (see link at the end of this article), I have mentioned the need to think of school fundraising in terms of funding projects to achieve specific outcomes, not simply the acquisition of funds towards an overall target figure. This principle is never more significant than in funding applications, where the aim is to set out a specific project, outline its aims and intended outcomes, justify its need and explain how much it will cost. The essence of a highly effective funding bid is that is makes a convincing case for how it will make a difference in your school, adding something new and significant which is currently lacking. Like it or not, you will find it very difficult to fund the status quo in your school, even if you think you are doing a great job!

Make the intended outcomes clear

Funders will be much more likely to award you a grant if you explain clearly what the intended outcomes of your project will be. These outcomes stem from the broader aims of your project, but are more specific and involve a timescale. You should pay attention to the following questions:

  • Who will the beneficiaries of your project be? Be as specific as possible, recognising that funders are generally more likely to be convinced by a project that focuses on a target group, rather than “all children”.
  • How will they benefit? For example, are you looking to improve specific knowledge, skills or personal qualities, or a mixture of all three?
  • When will the benefit be derived? Provide a timescale for this.
  • How will the beneficiaries be able to use this benefit beyond school?

If you feel this is all very mechanistic and is far removed from the vital work going in classrooms, console yourself by recognising that you are competing with thousands of other schools for the same funds, many of which will be highly strategic in their applications in the way described above.

Demonstrate the need

One of the most common mistakes that schools make in their funding applications is a failure to explain the need for their project. Just because a funder is giving grants to schools doesn’t mean it is an expert in how they work, or the terminology surrounding education. In short, do not assume anything about the knowledge of the person reading your application. Instead guide them carefully through the need for your project and how it will make a difference to your children or the wider community.

Your application will be more convincing if you can provide statistics or evidence to demonstrate the need for your project, rather than simply saying you feel it is necessary. For example, a school that wishes to organise a major literacy campaign with the help of a “writer in residence” could use lower-than-average reading levels in a target pupil group to justify its need.

Build-in community reach

You have probably noticed that in several places in this article I have made reference to the benefit of your project to the wider community. This is because, increasingly, funding bodies wish to support work that will have an impact for your children – but also beyond the children on your roll. The more you are able to show community benefit in your project, the more likely it is that most funding bodies will find it attractive. There is a certain art to building wider community relevance into a project that you consider is primarily for your children, but the examples in the panel, see above right, illustrate how other schools have tackled this issue.

Pay close attention to the budget

The key point about preparing the budget for a funding application is that this part of the application needs to come across as highly professional in its own right. If the person writing the funding bid is not familiar with budgeting or project management, then it is vital that this person seeks the help of a suitably qualified person (such as the school business manager/bursar/finance officer). Funding bodies will quickly identify a budget that is unrealistic, or ill-considered. Make sure that your budget also includes around 10 per cent for contingencies. It is surprising how often such a contingency fund is needed when things don’t quite work out as planned.

Get a proof-reader to improve the bid

You should always get an additional person to proof-read your application before sending it off. As well as helping to clean up any small errors, this person can help by putting themselves in the shoes of a funder and asking questions such as:

  • Has the project been explained clearly?
  • Is the need justified?
  • Is the budget realistic and set out within a reasonable time-frame?
  • Will the project really make a difference to the target group?

When you get too close to a bid it is easy to lose sight of these questions – or how well you have explained your case to the funder as a whole.

Signed off by the headteacher

This might seem obvious but I am surprised how often I encounter a school where a significant funding bid has been prepared without the knowledge of the headteacher, even if just to “save time”. There are so many reasons to involve your headteacher in the process of bid-writing, perhaps the most significant being that if anything goes wrong they are the person who will be accountable to the funding body.

  • Brin Best is an award-winning educational consultant with 25 years’ experience of fundraising in schools. He is the author of several books, including Cost-effective Fundraising for Schools. To read his previous articles for Headteacher Update, go to http://bit.ly/2EtpQWd

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