It is getting harder every year to secure grant funding for major repairs to historic churches. As the need increases the available pot of money shrinks, and the terms and conditions attached to successful grant applications become ever more onerous. Gone are the days of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Grants for Places of Worship (GPOW) scheme and the government’s Listed Places of Worship Roof Repair Fund. For major project funding from the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund churches are now treated as though they were “heritage organisations” and must compete against museums, art galleries, local authorities, preserved railways, etc., for grants. The Heritage Fund is the only funder offering grants of over £100,000 though there are several other organisations which can make grants in the £300 - £100,000 range.
It is estimated that, overall, for every £1 available there are between £8 and £12 of applications. There is no guaranteed formula for success as funders often reject good applications because there simply isn’t enough money to go around. One thing is guaranteed though: a badly-written grant application stands no chance whatsoever of being accepted!
Here are our Top Ten Tips, based upon years of experience, for giving your grant application its best chance of success – things you need to bear in mind as you complete your application forms, together with a few DOs and DON’Ts. This article is geared towards churches applying for funding for a building repair or improvement project but the basic principles are applicable to all projects.
1. Only apply to relevant funders!
This should really go without saying, but you need to check BEFORE you start an application that the funder to which you are applying will support the project for which you need the money.
The Church Urban Fund, for example, will not fund building projects, even in deprived areas (it targets its funding to a specific range of anti-poverty initiatives). Some funders will only support Listed churches (e.g. the HLF Repair Grants programme) whilst others will accept applications regardless of Listing status. Applying to a funder which won’t support your type of project is just a waste of time.
2. Read the Application Guidance.
Without exception, every grant-making body has, either on its website or in printed form, guidance notes explaining how to fill in the form and what documentation you need to include to support the application. They are all different, so (for example) if you have just completed an application to the National Churches Trust don’t assume that the guidelines for applying to the Garfield Weston Foundation are the same. They aren’t! If you make mistakes which are obviously the result of not having read the guidance, your application is more likely to fail.
2.5. Read the Application Guidance again!
Seriously, make absolutely sure you know what is asked of you. I can’t stress enough how important this is.
3. Be aware of the Deadline.
Most grant funders have a deadline for applications – make sure you know when yours is. Plan the application process, give yourself time to work up a good application and don’t leave it till the last minute – a rushed application is guaranteed to be a poor one.
Where a grant programme has deadlines every three or four months, it is always better to submit a good application to meet a future cut-off date than to submit a half-baked one now.
4. Use a photocopied blank form to draft your application.
Some bodies expect you to complete a paper application form. Where this is the case, take a photocopy before you write on the original, and use this copy to draft your application. Make any changes, crossings-out, etc., on the copy and only complete the original form once you have got everything right. Treat the grant application form as though it was the application form for your dream job and you won’t go far wrong.
5. Give EVIDENCE that there is a real need for your project.
Quote reports from specialist advisers and consultants. Include good quality photographs of the defects and problems your project sets out to rectify.
Nobody could argue that the rainwater goods shown in the photograph (above left) don't need urgent replacement and indeed this photograph helped secure the church a £99,500 grant from the Roof Repair Fund in 2015.
To support claims that your project will benefit a deprived area, quote statistics from your local Council or from the Church Urban Fund. Always include details of any consultation you have carried out.
6. Give DETAIL, not generalisations!
Grant funders want to know what is unique about your project and why they should invest their limited funds with you rather than another applicant. So, make it easier for them to decide.
“The historic stained glass windows need repairing”. Great, there are 2,000 other churches with the same problem.
“The four stained glass windows, designed by the noted artist Henry Holiday (1839-1927) and depicting the four Evangelists were installed between 1885 and 1889 in memory of the Rector’s grandparents. Pevsner (1969) cited these windows as a particularly fine example of the artist’s work. In recent years the ferramenta have become rusted and brittle, and the gradual softening of the lead cames has resulted in a distinct outward bow. The window depicting St. John also has two holes resulting from a pellet gun attack several years ago”. Much better.
Some funders – including the Heritage Fund – give “word limits” for some sections of the application form. If, for example, a limit of 200 words is specified they don’t expect you to hit that number exactly, but a detailed 150-word answer will be viewed much better than a generalised 20-word one.
7. Write the Summary LAST!
The Summary is the most important part of your application – if it’s no good it may be the only section that gets read.
Use it to draw together all the elements of your application into a compelling explanation of why the assessors should read on. Make the assessors want to find out more about your proposed project. Make them want to support you!
8. Apply to several funders.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Most grant funders have a maximum percentage of any project that they will fund, and they are always pleased to see evidence that applicants are making the effort to secure funding from as many sources as possible.
9. Don’t cut-and-paste between applications.
Many of the people who assess grant applications have been doing it for years and – just like teachers marking homework – they can spot lazy shortcuts. Each application you make is worth the same level of attention in terms of showing how your project meets the funder’s desired outcomes; as these vary from funder to funder you should tailor each response accordingly. An answer – even to a seemingly identical question – which meets one funder’s requirements may well not meet those of another.
10. If at first you don’t succeed…
Try again. And again if necessary. Most grant awarding bodies receive between two and four times as many applications as their limited funds allow them to support and this means that some good applications have to be turned down. You may have to wait six, twelve or even 24 months before reapplying.
Some funders will give feedback as to why your initial application wasn’t successful (the Heritage Fund for example); others – such as the Garfield Weston Foundation – will not. If you are fortunate enough to get such feedback, make sure you take action upon it when you reapply!
We cannot guarantee that following the advice given above will result in every application you make being successful but following the above advice should mean that your applications convey a serious and professional image of your project and of the people running it, and that in itself can make a real difference to your chances of success.
Links to Funders Websites
* - Landfill Tax Credit funder: in order to apply your project must be located within ten miles of an active landfill site or transfer station operated by the parent company. Not all Church of England Birmingham churches are, for instance postcodes B27 and B28 are outside the eligible area for Biffa Award.
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