How to make your application stand out

Top of the class

Grant-makers often receive hundreds of submissions. How can you make your application for funding stand out from the others to get the support you need?

Submitting a formal application can be a gruelling process. Some forms are detailed and wearisome, but the process needn’t be so. The key to effective applications is avoiding two common mistakes:

  • Sending an application that contains poor or irrelevant ideas.
  • Sending an application that is poorly presented.

Many people find the bid writing process a chore and the blank pages of the application form a minefield. The fact is, you're going to have to overcome your fears and make that application. It is better, therefore, to view the process as an opportunity to make your case for funding and expend your energies on putting together a compelling proposal. Ensure that you make clear:

  • The problem or opportunity presented to your school.
  • How you will engage with the problem or opportunity.
  • The actions you will take.
  • What you hope to achieve from your project.
  • How you will measure the relative success of your project.
  • How the project will affect the school.
  • That the school has the necessary skills and resources to complete the project successfully.

Help at hand

Many funding bodies issue guidance on the application process to ensure that it is fair, transparent and based on known criteria. In addition, application forms can also show:

  • How suitable the project is, according to the funder's criteria.
  • Whether a recommendation can be made to the trustees.

Many funds now operate what is, in effect, a two-stage application process. In some cases, funders favour an outline of the project. If suitable, then a formal application form is issued to the applicant. In others, an initial proposal form has to be completed prior to an invitation to complete the full application form. This helps funders sift out the projects that are irrelevant to their remit. By the same token, it prevents schools from wasting too much time on irrelevant applications.

Go for it

Once your school has decided to take the plunge with an application for funding, and which subsequently proves to be successful, then the chances of future applications being approved by other funders as well are greatly increased. A school that has been successful with one application is a more effective school in the eyes of other funders. This means that it is important to emphasise the successes of previous or current projects, not just in terms of the sums of money raised, but also by spelling out the outcomes and benefits to the school.

Tell them

It is important to assume that the funder has no prior knowledge of your school or any of its projects, even if there has been extensive press coverage. Furthermore, the funder is likely not to be familiar with your local community or any of the issues that exercise it. By explaining the background of your school and its local community, you provide a context for your project. If the two don't match, then a funder will be less convinced of your proposal. Equally, perhaps you should rethink the project in terms of its relevance to your school.

Break it down

In submitting your application, it is worth dividing the context into school and community. Examples and statistics relating to the school include:

  • League tables to show a rise or fall in educational attainment (it is particularly worth noting any value added scores).
  • Ofsted/ISI and performance and assessment (PANDA) reports to include positive quotes on achievements and areas of need where they are relevant to your application.
  • Data about number of pupils with free school meals.
  • Data on absenteeism and exclusions, comparing them to the local and national averages.
  • Details of behaviour management strategies.

Examples and statistics relating to the community include:

  • Population statistics, including profile of ethnicity and religious background.
  • Neighbourhood statistics, including number of owner-householders.
  • Data on unemployment levels in the area.
  • Data on crime.
  • Data on health.
  • Data on take-up of further education.
  • Other general census data.
  • Surveys of residents (not just of parents) carried out by local organisations that demonstrate the need for your project. For details on how to compile these statistics, see the contact information at the end of this article.

What do you want?

Your prospective funder will ask to see a list of positive outcomes to your project. This, of course, is a speculative exercise. However, your application will not be well received if you make claims that cannot be substantiated, such as “pupils' educational attainment in national tests will improve by 15 per cent”. This may well prove to be the case, but cannot be known at the start of the project.

You may, of course, have confidence that your project will engage pupils more in their learning, which will lead to an improvement in educational attainment, or reduce absenteeism or improve behaviour in the classroom. But this cannot be measured at the start.

Quality first

The funder will want to feel secure that its funding will be effectively used. Any support that it gives to your school must be regarded by the funder as a valuable use of its assets. If the project can evolve to provide more benefits in the future, the funder will see value in being part of an ongoing, enabling initiative, and may also be willing to approve future applications for funding for the opportunities to come.

It is important, therefore, to bear in mind the following when listing your project objectives:

  • Your objectives must match those of the funder.
  • Your objectives must specify the purpose of the project (measurable only when relevant).
  • Ensure that there is human interest in your application: how the project will affect pupils, staff, parents and members of the community.

Stories involving benefits to the school members and community will create greater appeal. Use examples of some of the different people who will benefit from your project. After all, humans relate better to other humans rather than to organisations or concepts.

Get active

Use active language in your application as this will engage the assessor more. It is more positive and persuasive, so will have a greater chance of convincing the funder that the project is going to happen and will work. Examples of active language include:

  • “This project is necessary because”; and
  • “We will”.

Passive language is vague and wishy-washy. Examples include:

  • “This project aims to”; and
  • “It is hoped that”.

Plain speaking

It is also important that you use plain English. A common mistake is to complicate an application by using pompous language. Never “utilise” when you mean “use”, or “ameliorate the learning process” when you mean “improve teaching”.

Clarify and emphasise

Since initial assessment of your application will consist of a brief read-through, it is important to use certain techniques to enhance your message.

Bold type is easy to spot, and so is useful when trying to reinforce your message to the assessor. Italics are less effective.

Headings and subheads break your text up, helping you to divide up your main ideas. During the initial read-through, the assessor will be able to see your overall plan, in rather the same way as a contents page.

By using numbered lists, you can emphasise the sequence of project objectives, but also this technique gives a sense of urgency. Bullet points are more effective when the points you are making our equally effective or do not run to a particular sequence. They help to give a strong impression of a well thought out project.

Typefaces are important. If a type style is not specified, use a serif typeface such as Times New Roman. Serif faces are easier to read.

Do not justify the text (that is, do not make every line of your text the same length). It is distracting to the reader as some words are stretched to fill the line. Also, it is difficult for the reader to track down between lines.

Contact information for school and community statistics: