How to find grant funding
Finding trusts, foundations and other grant funding opportunities for your charity can be tricky. In this guide we walk you through approaches that can fire up your fundraising through better grant funding prospect research.
The first step in any successful fundraising campaign is prospect research; researching funders, typically charitable trusts and foundations as well as statutory sources to see which grant makers and funding opportunities are available and which align most closely with what you hope to achieve. Ideally this should form part of your feasibility assessment; before you invest too much time and effort in any new venture, you want to be confident that it is something others also see as a priority. It can also help you understand more about which aspects of your work are best suited to grant fundraising and which are best covered by other sources of income.
Our guide to effective prospect research will help you navigate the world of prospect research, avoid some of the potential pitfalls and bring you closer to finding grant funding to help you on your way.
Grant Funding Research Infographic
Our infographic below provides a quick overview of the process for researching grant funding opportunities. Scroll down for the full detailed guidance.
Grant Funding Research – Full Guide
Finding Grant Funders – Where to begin
Prospect research is a really good example of perfect planning preventing poor performance, so it is worthwhile doing your homework and this in turn will make the process of applying for funding much easier. Start by investing sufficient time to research a wide range of grant-makers; then you can match those that align with your objects to different aspects of your work. Do this as early as possible and in advance of funding being required. You will want to be aware of funder deadlines in good time and bear in mind that once you start submitting bids it can take 3 months to a year (average 6 months) for your application to be considered.
If your organisation is new to grant fundraising, try allocating several days to this in the first instance. Remember that funders programmes can and do change and it is useful to refresh research on a regular basis.
Search for funding opportunities online, through funding portals/databases e.g. Grants Online, GrantFinder, Funding Central and by signing up for funding bulletins. Some of these will operate on a paid subscription basis but there is also plenty of free information at your fingertips.
Sometimes similar charities will acknowledge funders they have received awards from on their websites. They may also be listed in their accounts, available to view through the Charity Commission website.
It is often worthwhile reviewing the accounts of funders you are considering applying to, for lists of grant recipients. This will give you a sense of whether they have supported similar causes, the nature of their grant making in practice which may differ from/ refine their stated objects. It will also indicate how much would be appropriate to request.
In addition your Local Authority may allocate grant funding to local projects that help them to fulfil their strategy on particular issues, so it is worthwhile keeping an eye on council websites. If there is a lot of new or proposed building in your neighbourhood, there may also be the opportunity to benefit from a ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’ where developers are obliged to invest in the communities their developments are likely to affect. This can also apply to landfill sites and power plants. Similarly, you will find that some large companies will have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy may be interested in supporting work where they have branches.
Navigating Grant Funding Criteria
Try to screen potential funders to eliminate those that aren’t suitable as quickly as possible. By all means keep an open mind and it can be beneficial to be funder led and think how you could package up relevant work creatively. However, you should avoid the temptation to try to force your work to fit a funder’s criteria where there is a mismatch; grant makers will see through this and your application will likely be rejected. Your initial scan should bear in mind considerations such as:
‘No unsolicited applications’
This usually means the grant funder is proactive in identifying appropriate charity partners and invites a select few to bid, or, where a charitable trust or foundation has been endowed by a bequest it may be restricted to particular charities named in a will.
It is not always a complete barrier however; if you feel that a trust is a particularly good match for your charity’s area of work, it may be worth a letter of introduction or exploring your networks to see whether it is possible to secure an invitation to apply.
‘Supports UK, with a preference for…’
Where there is a stated preference for a particular geographic area (which is not where your charity is based or delivering services) take a look at where the grants are being made in practice. Some funds have been set up principally to benefit a specific area, with the flexibility to make some awards to national charities where they see fit, whose work also broadly benefits their area of interest. In these cases if your charity is neither situated within nor delivering work within the area of preference, it is probably best to move on.
‘Supports general charitable purposes and…’
Many charitable trusts are set up with broad objectives to allow the Trustees flexibility in their grant making. While many grant makers are genuinely open to a wide variety of causes, once again, review their giving history. This can help you identify any particular patterns (e.g. grants are for causes with religious affiliations) and can also save a lot of time if your charity is not the best fit.
Many funders will impose a limit on organisational turnover of charities they will consider, to ensure that their funding is distributed where it is likely to have the greatest impact e.g. only charities with income under £1M are eligible to apply. If your charity is lucky enough to enjoy a healthy income this is another way to filter out unsuitable grant makers. Equally, bear in mind if you are newly registered that it may be a requirement to evidence a year of accounts at the point you apply.
When you’ve narrowed down your list remember to read the funder’s guidelines and any list of exclusions in full. It may sound obvious, but you would be amazed at the number of ineligible applications funders receive and many charitable trusts and foundations will shy away from work that appears to fall under statutory responsibility. Bear in mind also that there are often restrictions and eligibility criteria hidden in application forms that do not appear in the funders’ guidelines. Failure to read the guidelines / application forms is a pet hate for grant makers and good projects / funding bids can end up being rejected for avoidable reasons.
Making a grant enquiry
If you’ve done your research and something in a funder’s guidelines is confusing you, or the application process isn’t clear, it may be worth giving them a call. Even if you just want to get their views on your eligibility, it can be really helpful to pick up the phone and make contact.
Some grant-makers really welcome a discussion first, while others aren’t so keen (for example where a fund is administered at arm’s length by a firm of solicitors or is actually a vehicle for private family philanthropy, registered to a home address). Consider this before you call and be mindful of any published guidance on making an enquiry.
If you are able to discuss your proposal with the funder and your application has been encouraged, it can be helpful to reference this in the cover letter accompanying your bid or relevant section of an application form.
Organising your research
Organising your prospect research will make it much easier to track your funding applications and keep an eye on the charitable trusts, foundations and statutory funders you intend to approach. Use your fundraising CRM or start with a simple Excel workbook. For each potential funder you find, add details covering the following in separate columns:
- Funder name and application format – e.g. Simple letter, application form, etc.
- Next deadline, if applicable
- Typical grant size / appropriate amount to request. Make sure your target is realistic. It should be proportionate to the size of the funding pot, other grants distributed and your own organisational turnover
- Scheme objectives/funding priorities
- Comments – e.g. Related projects/organisations they’ve funded recently
- Priority / Rank – Use a scale to help you prioritise your best prospects.
- Finally, add a ‘Project/focus’ column to your workbook and try to fit each suitable prospect to specific projects or areas of your work. Some might consider an application for core funding as a general contribution to what you do.
- As time goes on and if you don’t have a dedicated database, this will also help you track whether you have previously made applications to a particular funder successfully/unsuccessfully and help you work out the likely success or return on investment from each application.
At the end of this process, you should have a good list of funding bid opportunities, all linked to what your organisation does, the projects you have on the horizon and the outcomes you aspire to. Remember, grant-makers are trying to achieve their charitable objects in the same way that you are – you just need to find those that align most closely.
Note that many funders will expect to see your latest set of audited accounts when you apply (some will accept management accounts if you are a start-up; check if you are unsure) or request copies certain specific policies e.g. safeguarding if your charity works with children, so it is wise to make sure these areas are sound before you begin submitting bids. Make sure that any deviation from your reserves policy is clearly explained in your accounts to ensure that when the funder does their own due diligence your charity meets expectations.
When you are ready to start making applications, you might want to take a look at our guide to Grant Fundraising – 12 Top Bid Writing Tips.
We hope you find these tips useful. Our team of fundraising consultants at Charity Fundraising Ltd have secured funding from over 450 different grant-makers: Trusts and Foundations; Lottery distributors, Statutory bodies and corporates. If you want a bit of support, think about getting some advice from an experienced consultant.
More details on our grant funding prospect research service.
To discuss how we can support your charity, please get in touch.