logo: Environmental Funders NetworkCJS Focus on Fundraising & Promotion


Published:  22 May 2017


In Association with: Environmental Funders Network

Relevant Writing
By Hugh Raven, John Ellerman Foundation


It troubles me when I hear grant-making colleagues comment that the worst applications they receive are from environmental NGOs. Arts ones are generally better, though suffer from arts-speak; health can be over-technical. Education bids need to show the applicant is well educated. Social welfare applications vary, as you might expect. Occasionally an environment application is very good. Far more often, it isnít. It pains me, as an environmentalist, to admit we often donít show ourselves at our best.


So I thought Iíd suggest some tips Ė Ravenís Rules for Relevant Writing, if you will. I hope you find them useful.


1. Read the guidelines.
Donít waste your time, or the readersí, with applications to organisations that have already said Ė albeit implicitly Ė they wonít fund you. Check the website too, and see what else they fund. If the guidelines rule out unsolicited appeals, save your energy and donít send one. Likewise capital projects. If the foundation only supports work at a national scale, donít submit for routine work on a county basis. London is London Ė it isnít England, still less the UK. Interpretations of Ďnationalí will vary, but if in doubt, address and explain it in your application. Read the preferences and exclusions in detail: they will not have been dreamt up overnight, and will be carefully crafted to save potential applicants time.


2. Be clear about what you want to achieve.
Most foundations these days obsess about outcomes, and many think hard about what that actually means, and how it can be measured. Iím guessing very few have cracked it, but they will want to know that youíre thinking about it too. More workshops on climate change is not an outcome. An outcome is lower carbon emissions and energy bills.


Some things are very hard to measure Ė changing public opinion, for example, is notoriously difficult to prove. But you can at least show youíve tried your best.


3. Take care how you write it.
If you donít know the difference between principals and principles, theyíre and their, donít presume that your readers wonít either. They probably will. Look it up. Donít use jargon. Avoid basic errors. Donít say itís unique, critical, or innovative, unless it is. Iíve been amazed to see how many applicants mis-spell the name of the organisation to which theyíre applying. See it through their eyes: if they work for, say, the Porcupine Foundation, they donít need to be particularly prickly to be dismayed if you call it procupine. When you think youíre finished, get someone outside your organisation to look it over. A fresh pair of eyes is usually helpful.


4. Pay attention to the numbers.
Few grant-makers are trained accountants (though some are), but all will know the basics of reading a statutory return, and will have read enough spreadsheets, management accounts and budgets to know what stacks up and what doesnít. Make them easy to understand, and explain apparent anomalies. Be sure to understand them yourself, so when questioned, you know what youíre talking about. Be clear about your reserves Ė and if youíve got three yearsí unrestricted funding in the bank, youíll struggle to raise more.


5. Show you can work with others.
If you can demonstrate you complement the work of similar organisations, it will help: get them to send you a supportive quote. Better still, append helpful letters on headed paper to your application from organisations that might be expected to be rivals or competitors. If you canít, consider how you might develop a partnership Ė and put it in the bid. Itís not essential, but it casts a constructive light.


6. Tailor the bid to the funder.
Make sure youíre familiar with the funderís process, and how much information they require and when. If stage one required two pages, donít send four. Check out their average grant size, and unless youíve very good reason, donít depart too far from that figure in your bid.


7. Be available and responsive.
Youíve got to hope your application is going to be favourably received. Even the best-written ones often leave questions begging. So be around to give a timely response. Donít submit the week before you go off on sabbatical Ė or if you do, make sure a colleague is very well briefed. Few things will irritate a grants assessor more than not getting an answer to legitimate follow-up questions.


8. Donít overdo it.
Foundation staff, in my experience, are usually (but not always) courteous, attentive, and good at their jobs. They want to develop a friendly relationship with you on a professional basis. They donít want to be your best mate, and certainly donít expect to be hassled. Respond to their questions, then leave them alone. The telephone is often the best means of first contact, then e-mail, unless the Ďphone is what they suggest. Email is flexible and less time-sensitive, so you and they can answer when itís convenient to do so. Donít send too much information: excess is as burdensome to them as too little.


We need more funding for the environment, but we can do a lot better ourselves. I hope these tips are useful. Please think about them when youíre preparing your bids. Good luck.


Hugh Raven chairs the Environmental Funders Network. Heís a trustee of the John Ellerman Foundation, and co-owner of Ardtornish Estate.

Find out more about the network on www.greenfunders.org  

The article first appeared on the Environmental Funders Network Blog www.greenfunders.org/blog  

Contacted June 2018 - believed to be correct

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