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Top tips for grant applications

OCF distributes around £1 million in grants every year to charities across Oxfordshire that are working at the grassroots level. This incorporates funds awarded at OCF’s discretion, according to our strategic priorities, as well as grants made through donor-advised funds and national funders.

These are our tips for creating a good grant application.

Avoid the most common mistakes

We cannot guarantee following these tips will lead to an automatic success but at the very least it will organise your thoughts and ideas for your project AND help you avoid some of the most common mistakes that lead to rejection. We are normally heavily oversubscribed with grant applications but do sometimes recommend exceptional projects directly to our funders.

1. Read the criteria

The most common reason for rejection – the application is not suitable for the round. Look at the criteria and any priority outcomes for a particular programme, fund or round. Don’t try to shoehorn your project into round that it doesn’t fit – it will only be a waste of your time (and ours).

2. Lead with the need

Show how your work addresses disadvantage, bringing in human stories or stats where possible. Demonstrate how your work will make a tangible improvement to people’s lives. Who will benefit? How many people are in need of your service? Try to use some stats to show you know the volume of need. Use government stats, Local Insight or your own data and experience. Have a look in our Knowledge Hub Insights Library and for access to Local Insight reports and mapping tool.

3. Get your house in order

Accounts, constitution, reserves, governance, policies – have them ready to be attached to any application. Make sure your documents make sense and are up to date.

4. Be succinct
  • Choose a title for the project that is accessible and self-explanatory.
  • Get straight to the point without waffling (we have lots of applications to read!)
  • Assume we know nothing at all about your organisation or sector (don’t use jargon or acronyms).

Get someone to proofread before you submit – if they can understand your application it is more likely that we will too but don’t forget to get them to check it against the criteria.

5. Focus on realistic outcomes

Give us expected outcomes not outputs – eg We will spend £500 on food for the poor is an output.  20 poor people will be fed for a week is an outcome. Be realistic with your outcomes. Think about indicators – how will you show that your outcome has been achieved? Use previous experience of how you have helped someone in the past and how their life has changed.

6. Don’t compete – collaborate

Do you know if there is another group doing similar (or complementary) work in your area?  We might and won’t be impressed if you don’t.  Are you working with them? If you are working with another organisation, don’t forget them – we always view collaborations favourably.

7. Ensure your budget is clear and adds up

You’ll look silly if your budget does not add back up to your total! And you are likely to get rejected. Itemise your budget and research the costs. We don’t expect it to be accurate to the penny but reasonable (based on our knowledge and your research). Don’t add items in to reach the maximum you are allowed to apply for.  Apply for what you need, not what you hope you can get.

8. Prod your referee

Remind your referee to respond in time for your application to meet the deadline. Commonly. a missing reference delays you getting scored in the initial assessment, therefore jeopardising your chances. If we don’t receive one at all, we will withdraw your application.

9. Be open and honest

The more information you openly give us, the easier it is for us to assess. Tell us about other funding or the full extent of funding needed; what will happen when our funding runs out?  Can your project go ahead if we only provide part funding?

10. Check, check and check again

Check the simple things – is the amount of income correct against the criteria?  Are the reserves correct?  If they are high (more than a year’s running costs) or low (less than three months running costs), have I explained why? Have I included my documents? Does it all make sense – we’re not sticklers for good grammar and spelling but we need to understand what you want to do and what you are asking us for.

And an extra tip!

If in doubt, ask us

Don’t struggle on alone – we’re at the end of an email or phone and can give focused answers to tricky questions, or help you with the practicalities. Our contact details are here. (But don’t do this on the closing date – we might be too busy!)  Applications that come early in the round will find their way to an assessor who is less stressed than those that come at the end.

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