NZ Principal Magazine Article

How do I write a winning Grant Application?


New Zealand Principal, June 2015

Volume 30, Number 2, pp.19–20

the writing room

WANT TO DO something that would benefit your children but can't find the money? A school can achieve great things through successful grant applications. Although perceived as time-consuming there is a lot of support out there to help you. We talk to Wairakei Primary School, recipient of many grants largely due to one talented teacher aide. We also speak to a funder and get their take on what makes a winning grant application. 

What projects?

Paula Farquhar, Principal of Wairakei Primary School believes that understanding the purpose of your application is the key, 'Identify the school and community needs first and then look for the appropriate funding body, not vice versa. To facilitate this Wairakei includes their fund raising strategy in their Annual Plan, asking teachers to provide wishlists. This enables the school to identify what type of funding they require. Is it capital or operational? Would it be classed as a community project, an environmental project, a literacy or numeracy programme or sports-related? Will it improve learning achievement for a minority group? The school can then focus their search for an appropriate funding body. More importantly, it also means that from the outset there is a genuine intention to use the gift for a valued project that will be resourced and supported by the school. Supporting documentation will not need to be 'created' solely for an application but will be a part of the school's annual planning.

Resourcing the application process

Terri Eggleton, Community Development Advisor at Bay Trust stresses that grant applications should be taken seriously, 'They are gifts from charities who want to make a difference and have their own reporting responsibilities. For every grant that you receive, other organisations have by necessity been declined. Thus both the application and reporting processes have to be thorough. As a result they do take work to administer, particularly the first time that you apply and need to collate all the information required.

Wairakei Primary school are lucky to have on staff a wonderful teacher aide. 'Diana Fitzsimmons has been with the school for 15 years and knows the community and understands the needs of the children inside out, explains Paula. 'She has an hour and a half a week out of the classroom for fund raising work but that can increase depending on need.

Diana had no prior knowledge about fund raising and freely admits that she 'had no idea what she was doing for her first grant application' which was handed to her at lunchtime to be in the post by the end of the day! However she is now 'a well-oiled machine' and her successes have included $445,000 from the Lotteries Commission to relocate the community hall onto the school site and refurbish it, $20,000 from the Lions Foundation for the hall furniture, $7,000 from Bay Community Trust for sound and lighting, $10,000 from the Treemendous School Makeovers to restore a gully and most recently a number of grants to support the conversion of the old swimming pool into an aquaponics organic food garden. A higlight of the latter project for Diana was supporting the students to submit and win a $5000 grant from the 0-1 Environmental Fund who now use the students' application as an exemplar on their website.

Sources of funding

Once you have decided on the project and have designated personnel (or added it to your own to-do list!), the next task is to identify a funding body that has objectives that align with your own strategy. Many funders have clear goals which are updated annually. Some may not support education per se but will fund a project that would benefit the community as in the case of Lottery funding for the relocation of the Wairakei Community Hall.

There is an online database of funders is a fee based service but you can access it for free at libraries or via a library's online portal. Paula also keeps a close eye on flyers and emails.

Terri from Bay Trust says, 'Read the funder's website, check their priorities and call them if you have any doubts about your eligibility. Many organisations have someone at the end ofthe phone who will support you through the whole process.

Larger organisations such as the Lotteries Commission have staffon the ground who can meet with you face to face. Some even hold free workshops.

The Process

Diana recommends creating a Fund Raising folder. Gradually collate all the kinds of information that is required such as: school contact information; 'Vital statistics' - staff numbers, student numbers, decile number, volunteer numbers, banking details, GST number, legal status and proof of any affiliation (e.g. a PTA may be registered with the Charities Commission or Incorporated for tax purposes); audited financial statements; a copy of the Principal's Report; a copy of the minutes of the last Board ofTrustees meeting and a document that summarises the aims and objectives of your organisation - a summary ofyour strategic plan would suffice.

Once this information is ready to hand for every funding application, you can simply focus on the what, who and how of the project. Even if you are asking for funding for sports kits or IT equipment, by framing the purchase as a project you should be able to pull together a project title, a project summary including the need for the expenditure, project goals, benefactors and how the impact of the project will be measured. Many funders ask for excerpts from a relevant strategy document if applying for ICT or curriculum-focused funding. For larger projects they may request feasibility studies or evidence that background research has been conducted. Some funders may request detailed project plans but they will usually provide a template and support for this.

Accompanying this you will need:

  • Evidence that the organisation has made the decision to apply for funding such as a minuted resolution from of a Board of Trustees meeting.
  • Project costs and breakdown.
  • Two or three competitive quotes or a letter of explanation as to why there is only one quote. For example there is only one manufacturer in New Zealand.

Diana keeps copies of all her grant applications in her folder, allowing generic information to be quickly copied and pasted. This also ensures that the school does not apply to the same organisation too often. After a grant has been awarded the school always completes the required reporting and provides a written letter of thanks and photos of the outcomes.

Making it a winning application

Keep in the back of your mind that a regional trust such as the Bay Trust would expect to receive a few hundred applications a year. The Lotteries Commission will receive thousands. Terri highlights three key components of a winning application: clarity ('Don't write a nove!,), completeness ('Don't forget to attach a required document') and timeliness ('Try submitting your application at least a week or two in advance of the cut-off date to give the funding body an opportunity to contact you to clear up any issues.)

Terri also recommends avoiding repeated references to attachments meaning that the reader has to plough through long documents to find relevant information. Plus as funding bodies move to online forms the attachments may not be forwarded to the reader at all. All the critical information needs to be included in the form itself.

It is a fine balancing act between not overloading the reader but at the same time making them very aware of the needs of your school and community, as the reader may be neither local nor an expert on education.

Paula and Diana agree absolutely with Terri, adding only that many funders like to see details of other income sources contributing to the project. This could include other grants, fund-raising events planned, working bees or resources that are being donated. Expand on other equipment that you have already purchased or intend to purchase to support the project, thereby showing your financial commitment to the project. Detailing who on staff or what external expertise will be involved and what they will bring to the project also demonstrates commitment.

The charitable trusts want to award funds to deserving causes and most will do everything that they can to help you reach your goal. In the words of Diana writing a successful grant application simply requires 'getting across an understanding of how the project will benefit the community and the kids.

With thanks to Wairakei Primary School and Bay Trust for their input.

NZ Principal magazine here 


Jenny Barrett runs The Writing Room Ltd providing organisations and businesses with freelance writing services including managing, writing or proofing grant applications.

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