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Applying for a grant? Stand out from the rest

24 April 2020

How do you give your grant application the best chance? Advice was solicited by Rebecca Paveley

People at Kirk on the Water try out their canal legs

People at Kirk on the Water try out their canal legs

ASK anyone who has successfully bid for grant money for any project how they did it, and the answer in­­­variably includes hours of prepara­tion, form-filling, and attention to detail, with a strong dose of perse­ver­­ance and a dash of creativity thrown in.

In the Christian funding sector, in which the pool of grant-making bodies willing to fund specifically Christian work is small — worth around £35 million a year in the UK — the answer is the same: it is very competitive, and applicants have to work hard to stand out. But potential applicants should not be put off, because many Christian grant-givers give money to many of those who apply: as high as 90 to 95 per cent of ap­plicants receive some funding.

Jeremy Noles, who works for the Allchurches Trust, says that, last year, it gave out about 1200 grants — a total of £17.8 million — to churches, charities, and schools. The value of those grants ranged from £1000 to £75,000, and that 90 per cent of all those who applied for funding were successful.

The key to winning funding, he says, is to think about “outcomes rather than outputs”. If the project is to renovate a building, for example, the funder wants to hear about the people who will benefit, not just about how the building will be safe­guarded for the future.

“Sometimes, we get applications where it’s not clear where the money is really going, and who is going to benefit from it. . . So it’s not about getting another 20 people through your doors, it’s about how people’s lives are going to change.”

The Revd Jack Holt, with members of the congregation of Polworth Parish Church, setting up lunch on the narrowboat

The Joseph Rank Trust also says that it does not turn away many ap­­pli­cants. Last year, it gave out £2.89 million in grants to 94 applicants, and says that there is no “typical” grant. The secretary of the trust, Dr John Higgs, advises applicants to “read [a funder’s] website, not once but twice, and then, if in any doubt, contact the funder for a chat. Communication is key.”

A recent study of the Christian funding sector by the think tank Theos found that the hardest areas to win grant money for were core costs, infrastructure for projects, and evangelistic projects.

According to the report, “Mar­mite” areas for Christian funders included “around half our inter­viewees’ explicitly stat­ing they would not fund evangelis­tic activities under any circumstance, while a few saw that as their primary purpose. Church buildings and staff salaries were another such issue. . .”

The Henry Smith Trust is one funder that does fund evangelistic projects; but its grant pot for these projects is small. Just £1.1 million of the £38 million it gives in grants is set aside for Christian projects, and most of it currently funds needy clergy and their dependants. Churches can, however, apply for funding outside the Christian pro­jects scheme if their projects are about social action.

If the church or community pro­ject has a heritage focus — even if the work also has a missional pur­pose — then applications can be made to some of the larger grant funders, such as the National Lot­tery.


DAVID JONES, a churchwarden of St Elizabeth of Hungary, Aspull, in Wigan, led his church’s £700,000 fund-raising effort to pay for essen­tial renovations, which also served to open up the church. Over the course of ten years of fund-raising, he was suc­cessful in getting grants from a mix of Christian and other funders, large and small.

Mr Jones was nominated for Ec­­clesiastical Insurance’s Little Deeds, Big Difference competition in 2018 for his efforts. He said: “Today, any work must be done as a community project and/or a heritage project. Without these aims, funds are very difficult to obtain, as churches are no longer a priority with many grant bodies.

“You must be prepared to open up your building other than for services, widen your scope, and edu­cate people about its heritage with open days.”

He advises applicants: “You need total dedication, and be prepared to fill in a lot of forms. Think carefully about your answers, and ensure you have read properly what grant bodies expect.”

A sponsored haircut given after a Sunday-morning service in June 2017, raising £1100 towards the fund-raising total at St Elizabeth of Hungary, Aspull

Angus Saer, a former church­warden of St John’s, Kingston Lisle, a 12th-century church in Oxford dio­­­cese, led an extraordinary £400,000 fund-raising effort that has trans­formed the small church, which, at one point, had a regular congrega­tion of just five people.

Although he describes himself as a “fund-raising novice”, and with a full-time job, he took on the project — which included a repair bill for the church roof, walls, and timbers, new heating and lighting, improved seating and flooring, and the con­servation and restoration of heritage features.

Having called in an architect to ask how much work was need to “future-proof the church” for the next 50 years, the answer came to £430,000. Far from being deterred, the church decided to take it on, and do it all in one go.

Mr Saer said: “We didn’t want to do a drip, drip, drip of funding re­quests: we wanted to do it all in one go. We were given money from the National Lottery, Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust, and the National Churches Trust. In all, we had money from 23 funding bodies, some of whom gave us multiple grants. “

His advice to other church fund-raising projects is to spend time doing your research. “Make appli­cations personal and relevant; don’t write a round robin. Keep it short and pithy, and well written.”

He also went from door to door explaining how the church was funded — not through the Govern­ment or by the land­owners, but by the village community — and asking people to set up direct debits to the church of £10 or £2 a month. As a result, planned giving quadrupled — and so did the congregation.

The Aspull church fund-raising group receive a cheque for £10,000 from Ecclesiastical Insurance in the best community fund-raiser category (for a worm-chasing fund-raiser) in the 2015 Church Times competition

He said: “My target was to get 100 per cent of our running costs paid for by regular giving, so that wedd­ings and funeral fees were a surplus. By the time I finished, we had 108 per cent.”

In total, Mr Saer reckons that he devoted up to 2000 hours to the pro­ject. Although he has now moved away from the village, he still goes back to its monthly service.


NEITHER Mr Saer nor Mr Jones was a fund-raiser by background, Mr Noles says: “For really big, signifi­cant projects it may be worth thinking about hir­ing a fund-raiser; sometimes, the expertise is worth it, but most are done by volunteers, and we put lots of tips on our website to help people.”

Sandra Holt is another such vol­un­­teer, who had the tricky task of fund-raising to buy a canal boat to fund a project for mission (in part­ner­ship with a charity working with young people from Edinburgh), with the aim of building up the self-esteem and social skills of disadvan­taged young people.

She found that many grant fun­ders were wary of funding a boat, but she was not put off.

“It was very labour-intensive, like applying for a job: you can’t just upload a CV. You have to think of the requirement of the funder, and you can’t be bland. Each application took hours. I probably put in 20 applications, and we were successful in fewer than ten. Most were very small, but it’s so encouraging when you hear back that the funder has bought into your vision, even if they haven’t given much money.”

St Elizabeth of Hungary, Aspull

For this initiative, the All Aboard: Navigating Life Together project for the Kirk on the Water, Polwarth, the “game-changer” was winning £50,000 in an Ecclesiastical Insur­ance competition last October. This has provided enough to buy a boat, and Mrs Holt will now go back to other funders to help with running costs — although the coronavirus outbreak has delayed the project, as has the need to find a boat that will be fully accessible.

Once bought, the boat will used by children from the charity for five days a week, and the parish will have it at evenings and weekends, when it will host a “canal-shed” group that does carpentry, and a “Who Let the Dads Out” group (News, 13 April 2018), among other uses.

Mrs Holt advises perseverance, and a degree of phlegmatism, too: “If it was a straight road from having the idea for a project to ‘Here you are: it’s done,’ it wouldn’t be such a good story. And I tell people: God is in the story.”


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