The art of writing funding applications
Applying for funding is a skill with its own unique processes and vocabulary that many find insurmountable. But fear no more: TAPE Collective’s Isra Al Kassi is here to offer her tips for navigating that tricky terrain in a way that works for you.
- Isra Al Kassi
- 21 March 2022
With more and more creatives breaking free from institutions and traditional employment there is a greater demand than ever to secure funding to turn a passion project into a sustainable endeavour. Whether tripping over the language used, or being overwhelmed with the sheer information asked for, applying for funding is rarely a straightforward process and comes with barriers which has creatives losing hope at ever having the resources to attempt an application.
It’s true what they say: writing funding applications is a skill. There’s a procedure and language in place which you, unfortunately, have to learn and use but that’s not to say that your passion, and urgency shouldn’t seep through those very words. Ultimately there is a need for your project to exist, and a need for it to be funded: express that clearly.
TAPE Collective has been running on passion and very little sleep for the past six years. We were operating for five years before we secured our first funding, and had previously relied on our own funds or ticket sales. After that first seal of approval we were inspired to continue trying. Through trial and error we’ve received small pots of funding to deliver key projects and programmes to further establish who we are and what we do, and just as importantly help us learn and develop our ideas more. Having been on both sides of writing funding applications and deciding who gets them, I’ve learned a few things on the way.
There will always be – no matter the length of guidelines and illusion of rules and regulations – favouritism in assessment. Organisations with a proven track record, whether through previously funded programmes or a strong history of delivered projects and outcomes, are more likely to be successful with their application. If this is your first time applying for funding, make sure to start small and be aware of the work that goes into an application. Sometimes the rejection doesn’t make sense and ultimately it’s a numbers game where it may feel like funding bodies don’t always follow the rules they set themselves.
“Know your organisations, your team, your audience and your budget so well that answering questions about your project is a breeze.”Isra Al Kassi
Know your organisations, your team, your audience and your budget so well that answering questions about your project is a breeze. If you find yourself struggling with expressing your intention, plan and outcome, you may find yourself not ready to apply for funding. Another thing, I often see people trying to fit or create a new project based on what funding is available. Don’t ever do this, instead, only apply for funding if there’s a project in place which you’ve developed for a while and instead find appropriate funding for it.
This includes simple things such as producing a realistic budget based on real research and calculations; fewer guesstimates and more realistic quotes. Just because a max funding opportunity is set at £20k doesn’t mean that’s what you need to apply for. Apply for what you need and be realistic with your costs. This includes being aware of any in-kind support or other cash funding that needs to be factored into your calculations.
Be very clear about what your organisation is and what it does. You’ll save time if you’re aware of the limitations of your company status. You don’t have to be a charity to apply for funding, but if you stumble upon a fund which is only open to charities you have a decision to make; either consider registering as a charity (it’s a process) or move onto another funding application. If you’re looking to cast the net wide and apply for a number of grants, it’s a good idea to have a go-to doc that you can refer to. Summarise your company’s ethos, background, track record, intentions and expertise and you’ll have a strong statement to base your applications on. You should never find yourself in a position where you’re having to completely overhaul and customise your project to applications. Read the guidelines carefully and have a look at previously funded projects to better assess what the funder is looking for. If you’re trying to mould yourself, company and project to a funding application, it’ll show and you’ll find yourself struggling to deliver something so far removed from what you truly stand for.
“Funding applications are draining… It’s not a one-person job.”Isra Al Kassi
In addition to a good idea, you need a solid team, plan and proof of delivery so make sure to build strong partnerships and collaborations. Any good business development requires an awareness of other organisations which do similar work to yours or run activities who complement your work. This is also an excellent way of being aware of what’s out there in terms of funding and opportunities. Beyond looking at the big funders it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for organisations who offer one-off grants – this may be a good start for small pots of funding to help you get started and removes the barrier of not only having to learn a whole new application language but offers the opportunity to try out an idea before building on it further.
Funding bodies – especially the larger ones which have established themselves as the go-to funders for creative projects – have the tendency to ask for information which serve as box-ticking exercises. That narrative has to shift, and one way of doing that as organisations is to view every single rejection, feedback and survey as a genuine benefit to strengthen your project and future applications.
Finally: ask for help. Funding applications are draining and require the ability to budget, research, write copy, project manage and have a clear understanding of evaluation and monitoring. It’s not a one-person job. Most funders will offer sessions, either one-to-one or group workshops to help you better understand what they’re looking for. There are consultants and experts out there who can support your application, but if there is no budget to invest then look at funding libraries online or ask someone who has experience if they could look through your application or offer advice.
We can’t pretend to be accessible if we’re only awarding funds to those with the resources to afford full time fundraising teams or create barriers by insisting on a certain language to be used in funding applications. Many of the things outlined above touch on the continued frustration of writing funding applications; a cycle which perpetuates that in order to get funding, you have to have established yourself without any funding. I hope to see a shift where access is taken seriously and isn’t just lip service. This includes offering more transparency and making it easier for new ideas to be supported. Until then, we keep going and join in on the efforts to offer transparency and support.
About the Author
T A P E is a film collective funded by Angela Moneka and Isra Al Kassi who work across production and exhibition respectively. T A P E launched as a response to the lack of representation on screen, wanting to platform and highlight the sheer variety of under-served films out there. T A P E is currently the LSFF special events and industry programme producers and are on tour with their programme But Where Are You Really From?