Ask any funder their top reason for turning down an application and they will say “because the applicant did not read the guidance”. This has sadly been the case for the many years I have been involved in grant making, despite all the training sessions and guides out there for fundraisers. Which begs the question: why don’t people read the guidance? Or if they do read it, why do they go ahead and apply anyway even though they don’t fit with the criteria.
These are the seven reasons I have come up with. They fall into three categories: one is excusable once; three are operational and the final three relate to a mindset.
1. Not found
People don’t always know to look for any guidance. If someone is new to bid writing, then this is fair enough. Hopefully this will be pointed out to them early on and then there is no excuse for making this mistake twice.
People can struggle with reading and so it is up to funders to help with this – after all they are trying to fund work that achieves social change not testing literacy. The guidance is not always clear or consistent and can be jargon-rich. Some funders help by being available to talk to potential applicants or using films and webinars to explain their criteria and funding process.
3. Too tedious
Reading lists of we do fund … and we don’t fund … do not make for riveting reading. WikiHow has a whole list of ways to tackle boring books. And whilst I find their line “think of getting through a boring book as training for life” an incredibly depressing thought, the suggestions they have to take breaks, read away from interruptions, when most awake etc are all useful.
4. Too time consuming
Of course, everyone is busy and finding time to read is hard. But this is a classic case of spend time now to save it later. You will save yourself an awful lot of wasted effort if you find out that you are not eligible and there is no point applying.
Treating applications as the end goal can be perpetuated by actual targets set for fundraisers for applications made. Or it can come from the sense that the Trustees and others will judge you if you have not populated a pipeline with many bids. The focus should always be on being effective – so your applications have a good chance of success – and not just volume.
The complacency effect happens where you think you know the guidance already or that you were funded before so must still fit. This can be a mistake where criteria and priorities have changed.
Fundraisers are usually wonderfully optimistic and resilient souls and so hope sometimes wins over judgment. There is a danger of putting in a speculative application just in case it might be considered. And in other cases, passion clouds reality. Because the bid writer is so excited about their work and the difference it makes, they assume that funders will be equally blown away and will make an exception. If you think this applies to you, try a phone call – but only after you’ve read the guidance.
Whatever the reason, the advice remains the same. Before spending time on writing a bid, you must read the guidance. And if you don’t fit with the criteria, don’t just go ahead and apply anyway. Put your precious time into another application, where you have a much better chance of being funded.