Look beyond what you want to achieve with your bid and consider the relevance and/or benefits to a funder.
Taking an objective view will save you many hours spent on fruitless applications.
While it is important for you and the supporters within the school to be enthusiastic about your project, you have to find ways of presenting it to third parties to evoke the same sense of excitement in them.
Effective fundraising projects have certain key attributes:
- Have specific and achievable targets for costs and time-scales.
- Understand the needs of funders (for instance, by helping funders achieve their own stated aims or bringing them recognition).
- Have some reference to the national curriculum.
- Have assigned responsibilities for project management from school stakeholders.
- Have the potential for community participation.
- Focus on the changes you want to make and the benefits to the school.
- Have an appealing name for the project.
- Would not normally be funded by statutory sources.
At the start of your project, it is important to involve pupils, parents and staff to create a sense of ownership and a direct feeling of contribution to ideas. If this is achieved, this will help inform your application with clear objectives. The grant-maker will recognise the enthusiasm and purpose of your project. Learning through Landscapes, for example, helps schools transform their playgrounds. But it finds that when children have been involved in the early discussions of a project, that the plans have a stronger sense of purpose and creativity. On occasion, their ideas require less funding. Children are as likely to be stimulated by old tyres, counting games painted on the playgrounds and a few flower tubs.
Some projects may be for stand-alone initiatives. Others will require sustainable support. In the latter case, it is not feasible to include a salary for someone to maintain the project unless it will generate the necessary income. Furthermore, grant-makers will not support funding usually covered by statutory sources. In a similar vein, funders will not get excited by a banal request for funding to buy more bin liners.
Once you have agreed, discussed and developed your project with your stakeholders, it is important to draw up an achievable timetable of establishing and completing the project. This gives a sharp focus on when you need to achieve your fundraising goals and, at the same time, supports your bid for funding as it demonstrates your control of the project step by step.
Many schools submit their bids on the basis that the project will only start when they have raised the money. All their strategic thinking goes into the bid itself, not on how the project will be managed. This always ends in failure. While this appears to be a classic "horse and cart" situation, it is actually necessary to carry out your project research first.
When making your fundraising bids, it is vital to estimate how long the fundraising process will take. This, of course, is difficult. However, you must make reasonable assumptions. Contact your main prospective fundraising sources and find out any deadlines for applications, how long the assessment process takes, and the time taken to release funds for successful bids. By working on the basis that your bid will be successful, you can establish reasonable time-frames and demonstrate apparent confidence in your bid.
Marketing professionals refer to a product's unique selling proposition. The same applies to your project. What is so special about it? Why should a funder support your project and not someone else's?
Of course, you are going to think that your project is special, otherwise you would not commit the time and effort to launch it. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it the first of its kind in your area?
- Will it act as a model for other schools?
- Will it benefit others from outside your school?
- What will other people find in it that is genuinely exciting?
- Have potential funders supported similar projects elsewhere?
- How much did they give and why?
However you describe your project, be honest. For large grants, funders will want to see the progress your project is making, possibly even up to a year after it has been launched. So if you claimed in your bid that you wanted particular sports equipment as part of your extended schools initiative, but later changed your mind, then you risk being asked to repay the sum given.
During your initial planning, consider whether your proposals have any benefits to other schools in your area, your local authority, a local consortium or other organisation. Joint bids can enhance the success rate of applications since they demonstrate that there is a wider need than just for your school.
Be careful, though, to ensure that any project you undertake actually represents a benefit to your school and isn't just a useful fit with someone else's vision.
Whatever you do, ensure that you have a vision and the plan to realise it.
According to funders, there are five key errors that applicants make:
- Ensure you meet the grant-maker's criteria.
- Think about impact: how will funding help your beneficiaries?
- Consider the longer term: funders cannot fund projects indefinitely and so need to know how a project can be made sustainable.
- Consider capacity needed: will you need additional internal support? If so, be open about it.
- Emphasise what is special about your project.