An introduction to grants

Ben Wittenberg, director of policy, publishing and research at Directory of Social Change, explains all

If you can’t ask parents to support another event, or you need to cover the cost of a more substantial project, then applying to a grant-making trust could be the solution for you. Ben Wittenberg, director of policy, publishing and research at The Directory of Social Change, explains how simple the process can be.

Grant-making trusts are charities which exist to give money through grants to other organisations who then do the work. Collectively they provide approximately £4 billion in the UK every year.

The first step

Know what you want to achieve, in terms that will help you identify a like-minded funder willing to support you so you can find the right trust. Most funders will have criteria based on one or more of the following:

  • location
  • who will benefit
  • the problem or cause you are trying to address.

How to find prospective funders

  • Check your local authority – their website may have a grant finding search engine
  • Get some direction from your local Council for Voluntary Service either online or in person
  • Using a search engine to find information about who is funding similar work in your area
  • The Directory of Social Change publishes a number of print directories of grant makers, most of which will be available at your local library, or can be bought from their website
  • Access the school grants database at FundEd

Create your shortlist

This is the only really tricky part of the process – narrowing your list down to a handful of funders that are right for you. The best thing about grant-making trusts is that there are thousands of them, all funding different things in different ways, which means you are highly likely to find a potential funder, no matter what it is you want to do. The worst part is exactly the same. Find out absolutely everything you can about the trusts you have identified and make sure you are eligible; the resources above will help. Some trusts have their own website, and you can find more information about them at the Charity Commission.

Improving your chances

Each grant-making trust will have slightly different criteria for funding – look out for:

  • specific exclusions
  • areas of interest
  • limits to the size of grant they will give
  • the types of organisation they support
  • who they have funded before

This should get you to a point where you are ready to start applying to a targeted list of funders with whom you have an excellent chance of success. As a rule, if you don’t meet a trust’s stated criteria, don’t apply to it.

The numbers game

Decide how many applications to make, and for how much. If your project is within the parameters of a number of trusts, then apply to all of them. If your shortlist has a handful of trusts that give a maximum grant of £25,000 and you are looking for £75,000, consider making multiple applications for part-funding. Be aware of the application timescales they all work to, and be prepared for what you’ll do if you only get part of the money you are requesting.

Fill in the form

The easy bit – writing the application – you know what you want to do, you know who will benefit from it, and the trust you are applying to exists to achieve the same outcomes. All you have to do is communicate that to them well. If they have an application form, that will give you the structure and the information they need to assess your application. If you are asked to apply ‘in writing to the correspondent’, don’t panic! Keep your application clear and focus on the following:

  • what you are going to do
  • who will benefit and the outcomes you expect to see
  • how much it will cost
  • how long it will take

Ultimately, all funders want to know two things from their applicants: will supporting this project help us to achieve our objectives? And can the applicant deliver what they are proposing?

Top tips for applying to grant-making trusts

  • Read the guidelines!
  • Read the guidelines again!
  • Do you meet the funder’s eligibility criteria? If not, move on and find one where you do.
  • If the funder does not have specific guidelines, then try to ensure you are at least familiar with any geographical preference the trust may have and note organisations that have been successful in the past – is their project similar to your own?
  • If the trust or foundation states that they are willing to offer help and advice before you apply, contact them to discuss your proposal –an initial telephone call could save both of you a lot of time and effort in the long run.
  • If the funder uses an application form, make sure that you complete it as thoroughly as you can – incomplete application forms are likely to be the first ones to be filtered out.
  • Where there is no application form, be concise in your written letter of application and include your latest annual report and accounts. Don’t enclose any unnecessary materials at this stage – most trusts don’t have time to read them, and if they are interested in your proposal, they will request this material at a later stage.
  • Application letters should be no more than four sides of A4 – brevity is the key to getting your application read.
  • The proposal should be written by someone who has a thorough understanding of your organisation, and the project for which you are requesting funds; this person should be the named contact should a potential funder require further information.
  • You must be able to demonstrate a need for the funding and be able to directly relate this need to the ways it will help serve your beneficiaries – the children at your school.
  • Be realistic about how much you are asking for.
  • Don’t rely on a positive response from a single trust or foundation – apply to as many relevant funders as you can to maximise your chances.
  • Be patient, and be prepared never to receive a reply.
  • Some funders acknowledge receipt of every application, but most only contact successful applicants or those in whom they are interested.


Further grants information

The above is intended as guidance only. We recommend that you contact the relevant organisations with specific reference to insurance, legal, health and safety and child protection requirements. Community Inspired Ltd cannot be held responsible for any decisions or actions taken by a PTA, based on the guidance provided.