name labels

Grant fundraising: finding funding

There are over 8,800 grant-giving bodies in the UK, but if you've never applied for external funding before, the whole thing can seem quite daunting. We asked fundraising consultant John Ellery and experts from Funding Central to explain the process.

When attempting to obtain grant funds for a school, a number of factors will influence success: the suitability of your project for the grant, identification of an appropriate fund, the quality of the application, the level of detail in the project delivery plan, the set outcomes achieved by your project, and the sustainability or legacy of your project. As Toby Lovatt, Funding Central's Senior Project Officer says, 'If you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail!'. By doing your homework, you improve your chances of success. Your application should communicate what makes your school and your project special - infect others with your enthusiasm!

What information will we need in place before starting the application process?

Most applications consist of the same questions posed and worded in different ways. Consider these before completing any applications:

  • Why is your project needed?
  • How will it be delivered?
  • What impact will it have?
  • What is your budget?

To answer these questions, you should consult the children at your school and potentially the wider community. Back up your application by collecting relevant statistics to prove that people are interested in your proposal. Consider who will be responsible for delivering the project and explore the full costs. It is important to make sure your project costs are accurate to ensure that if funding is granted, your project is deliverable. It also shows the funder that you really are serious to go ahead with your plans. Detailed quotes for large projects are usually essential.

Do we need to be a registered charity?

Whilst having registered charity status will increase the number of grant sources for which your PTA is eligible, this certainly isn't essential. Non-registered groups and schools also have a good number of sources to choose from, for both small and large-sized grants.

How do we find a grant, how long should we allow for this part of the process, and are there any costs involved?

Increase your success rate by identifying a grant source that has aims strongly aligned with your project. Finding the right grant source is an essential stage in the application process. You can keep up to date with available grants by signing up to a range of newsletters - the most subscribed list is the government-commissioned Funding Central (fundingcentral.org.uk). Some newsletters offer information about grants that are solely suitable for schools or PTAs, however the majority of these have a subscription fee of around £200. Most schools should be able to access this public information without incurring a fee.

How many trusts should we apply to - one for the full amount or several for parts of the whole project?

You can either apply for your whole project costs or split it into smaller amounts. The benefit of the latter approach is that if some applications are unsuccessful, then you should still be able to progress with elements of your project. Whilst completing a number of applications will take longer than a single, larger one, the likelihood of a smaller application being successful is much bigger. But check the criteria carefully. As Toby Lovatt says, 'A scattergun approach may feel reassuring, but by being more discerning you can make better use of your time. The criteria are a bit like the minimum qualifications for a job. Don't bother applying if you don't meet them.'. Check deadlines and make sure you prepare your application well ahead, including all the relevant supplementary information required.

Who should lead the application process?

For many schools, a member of staff will take on the role of grant fundraiser. This enables an individual to develop their skills, learn from any rejections and ensure projects complement one another. An approach often used by small charities is to have a team of people working together on grant applications, utilising a range of skills and experience to maximise success. Having finance officers, delivery staff (teachers), subject leads and site supervisors jointly involved in the application process can help produce high-quality application forms and ensure the projects are ultimately deliverable and impactful.
For some schools, grant fundraising is taken on by the PTA - with a specific individual assigned to take the lead. Ideally, this would be an individual with project development, tendering or financial management experience gained outside the education sector. However, it's important to work with the school to state the educational impact that a project will have.

Bear in mind that the more people you involve, the more important coordination becomes if you're going to meet your application deadline(s). Many schools struggle to identify someone with experience and knowledge of grant fundraising and with the added issue of finding the time to commit to grant fundraising efforts, schools are turning to external consultant fundraisers. With experience in the charity sector, consultant fundraisers use this knowledge to succeed with school grant applications, however check the credentials of any consultant before you use their services. By using this approach schools usually find their success rate increases, with good consultants taking up very little of staff time to complete applications. It is important to ensure that the success will more than cover the costs of the consultant, however many offer a commission-based arrangement to mitigate risk.

For more information

  • Ellery Consulting works with a wide range of schools and PTAs offering grant fundraising services and bid writing training courses.
  • Funding Central is a free resource managed by NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations). As well as listing thousands of funding opportunities, they also offer a wealth of online tools and guidance.

Share this page