This is a painfully competitive time for submitting funding bids, as evidenced by the record breaking submissions received by The National Lottery Community Fund.
On the back of a review of failed bids submitted to last year’s highly-competitive round of the Young Londoner’s Fund here’s an 11-point guide to upping your bid quality.
- Evidence about need
Your evidence about need should include data and anecdote. It also needs to be local: what’s happening in your immediately vicinity and experienced by your organisation. National and regional statistics suggest you yourself don’t know what’s going on.
Most importantly, you need to show you understand what the data means. Funders what to be funding experts, the people at the frontline of rapid and complex social change. So don’t just report a statistic, contextualise it and explain its causes and effects. There is no better way to show your expertise than writing a bid that is interesting and shares new knowledge.
- Be best practice
Does your service design match the best in your field? Funders know what this looks like, so do you?
Look amongst your peers and how you compare. In the London youth sector for example, there are fantastic organisations like Iconic Steps who are able to successfully engage over 90% of their intended cohort. That sets a standard of credibility, track record, and ability to engage young people that others should be seeking to emulate.
Each sector will have its core practice on which successful outcomes depend but practice which applies across all services includes:
- Active meaningful involvement of users
- Continuous organisational learning
- Partnership working
Funders may also have their own distinct view on good practice. The Young Londoner’s Fund specifically want a ‘public health approach’ to tackling violence and youth disengagement. How does your work fit with this? Look across the five frequent funders in your field and see what philosophies of practice they highlight and what kind of organisations they invest in.
- What argument is required?
What is the scale and focus of the funder? Some want to invest in systems change, some on the whole organisation, and some just on the specific service they’re funding. Know which it is your funder wants and fix your argument on that.
In a time of emergency the likelihood is they want to focus on immediate and direct impact on users. However look out for ways in which their investment can lead to longer term benefits, like improved working practice and learning and preparation for any further lockdowns.
- Explain the logic of your service
This is easy to overlook especially when you’ve been delivering your service for years. A compelling bid will explain the rationale and logic of your proposed service and what outcomes it produces.
I recommend workshopping this with colleagues, even if the service is well established. Having a lot of eyes on it will help you think through any improvements you could make to the model and draw out key points. Don’t be afraid to talk about risks and dependencies as well: what you do is complex and its worth showing funders you understand complexity rather than pretending the world is simple.
Writing the bid
- Understanding the funder
What matters to the funder: what outcomes are they investing in? Root through all their papers about the fund and highlight the key ideas and language. I always think what is it that a person would take as good news to their managers, and is my proposal that good news? This helps me to think about what motivates them and whether the bid is aiding that.
- Answer the exact question
Sounds basic but so often people get this wrong. Answer the specifics of the question and answer this in full. If you’re tired, overwhelmed, been staring at the page for hours, have a chat with a someone about the question and that will help you refocus. Before I write the final draft I write out the questions again and double check that’s what I’ve answered.
- Outcomes-led argument
State your outcomes. Then restate them.
Your outcomes are what the funder is buying. So make them clear. If in doubt make them your first and final lines.
- Check for consistency
You’d be surprised the number of bids that start saying they’re working with 8-13 year olds and by the final paragraph are offering to work with everyone under 21. This is where mapping the service out beforehand helps because it means you’re really exact about the detail of your proposal.
- Credibility and track record
A common mistake is to assume your track record speaks for itself: it doesn’t. This bid is speaking for you so you need to evidence the depth and credibility of your skills and proven track record.
Evidence your credibility by user quotes, success rates, and quotes from stakeholders happy to endorse you. This isn’t about numbers of users but about the outcomes you’ve achieved with them.
As a tip: throughout the period of bid delivery, keep sharing your successes with funders so that you’re always building your credibility with them.
Budget and monitoring
- Full cost recovery
Really please don’t put in bids which don’t give you full cost recovery. Not only are you risking the quality and sustainability of your service and keeping your staff stuck in lower pay, but you’re dragging down income across the sector.
As a commissioner, getting bids I knew were underpriced was exasperating. You do everyone a disservice. Work out your full cost recovery, add a continency, and submit that.
People can go a little haywire when it comes to promises around monitoring, as if outlandish offers of regular user surveys are what will win the money. It won’t.
Over-promising on monitoring will come back and bite you. It costs money and time and can alienate users. Only offer to collect data that (a) shows in the simplest way you did what you said you would (b) helps you improve. If at any point you want to know more you can add new mechanisms but don’t promise it upfront.