My Top 3 Tips for Writing Grant Applications" by Emma Beeston

Jan 20, 2017

When I ask charities what their top challenge is, funding comes up pretty much every time. With more cuts to statutory funding and increased competition for grants, I can’t see that 2017 is going to be any easier. For those of you gearing up for another tough year of fundraising – especially those where fundraising is one of your tasks on a very long list - here are my Top 3 Tips for writing successful grant application:

1. Read the guidance: I know that this is an obvious thing to say but you would be surprised how many people don’t. Not every funder produces guidance and some are not particularly clear or helpful. But where they do offer guidance make sure you read it all through carefully. I have just been reading the guidance for the Arts Council’s ‘Grants for the Arts’ programme. The word version of their guidance for requests under £15,000 runs to 89 pages and then there are additional information sheets (e.g. if you are applying for help with asset purchases). It is a lot of information but it is clearly written and answered all my questions. It takes time to read all the guidance but that time is much better spent than the time wasted on carefully crafting an application that never stood a chance of getting funded.

2. Use plain English: there is something about filling in an application form that tempts people into using jargon. Funders really aren’t testing your linguistic talents. They just want to know what you do, what difference you make and what you plan to do with their money. Being able to write in a way that is concise and clear is a real skill. It is a delight to read when you come across it. The facts are always more interesting than the flim-flam. So please, no more “we empower disadvantaged people to engage with social opportunities to maximise their wellbeing" in 2017. If your grandmother, son, or friend down the pub does not understand your sentences then start again.

3. Back everything you say with evidence: this doesn’t mean referencing lots of research and demographic data – although this can have its place. What I mean is avoid making vague statements like ‘we are successful’ when with a little bit of thought you can back these up in a way that makes every sentence counts.

Here are just a few examples showing how you can strengthen common ‘throwaway’ phrases:

"we are a long running charity" … to … "we have been working in prisons for 20 years"; 

"our project is successful" …to … "75% of clients reduced their substance misuse"; 

"more people will benefit" … to … "we plan to reach a further 100 people". 

"In 2017 there is a need for our service" …to … "demand has risen by 15%". 

I wish you all the best of luck and look forward to reading many more good applications for great work in the year ahead.

Emma Beeston Consultancyadvises funders and philanthropists on giving strategies and processes; selecting causes and charities; assessments and impact monitoring. Services for charities include external perception reviews; bid reviews; training for fundraisers and non-fundraisers involved in bids. For more details visitEmma's website or

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