At the heart of communities, schools hold an unrivalled position, with existing networks that engage children and families in the area, and detailed knowledge of the challenges that communities face. Working with schools can help funders increase their understanding of a problem or geographical area and enable them to start working within a particular community. Both national and local grant-givers share this interest.
Grant givers have their own priorities and your success will be based on how your project meets these objectives. Criteria is often based on location, who will benefit, and the issue you are trying to address. Charitable bodies are ultimately accountable to their governing board, and must be able to justify their funding decisions. So if a grant giver wants to increase sports participation for young people, tell them how your project will help them to do this. It's all about finding common interests between your organisation and theirs, and communicating these clearly.
There are hundreds of potential funding opportunities out there for schools. They come from a variety of sources, from national grant givers with multi-million-pound pots of money to small and local charitable trusts. Many national and local companies also have charitable arms through which they focus their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. You just need to find the right grant to match your needs by researching different funders, and using their websites and grant guidance notes to make sense of their interests and priorities.
Many schools are automatically awarded 'exempt charity status' under charity law (there are exceptions). This recognises schools as charitable organisations without the need for them to apply for registered charity status. Academies and free schools are now automatically given exempt charity status. This is good news, as these schools are eligible to apply for most grants specified for registered charities, but always check the grant guidelines. Independent schools are not given exempt charity status, so many choose to set up their own registered charities. Around 70% of PTAs are registered with the Charity Commission, and can be a useful resource throughout the grant application process.
Some grant programmes are designed especially for schools, to help them achieve more during curriculum time or expand curriculum-related provision outside the normal school day. This could include grants for literacy projects, science activities or field trips. Other grants will only be given to schools for activities that are clearly beyond their statutory remit. This distinction is an important one to note. Some funders expect that statutory activities should be covered by school budgets, but will consider giving grants to schools that want to expand their work into new areas and respond to needs within the wider community. This could include family welfare projects, community sports provision or adult skills development.
Once you have found a grant programme of interest, do not underestimate the importance of checking the eligibility criteria and reading the guidance notes. This will help you to assess your school's eligibility and the suitability of your project for securing grant funding. It saves you valuable time in the long run, ensuring that you do not apply for a grant that you have no chance of winning, and it avoids wasting the funder's time.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to secure grants for general or unspecified purposes, or to cover retrospective costs. Instead, you should be applying for grants for well-defined projects, events or activities that have a clear purpose and identifiable need. You should be clear about what funding you require, how you are going to use it, and the tangible impact it will have.
Grants can be used to cover all kinds of costs - equipment purchase, classroom resources, new buildings or refurbishment, staff development, project running costs and salaries. Good budgets are planned, researched and detailed. Keep a record of how you have worked out your costs, including any quotes received, as funders may ask to see them. Also, make sure that you have the necessary legal and policy documentation in place, such as planning permission and insurance. If your project has ongoing costs, explain how you will meet them. If you are asking the funder to make a contribution towards a much larger total project cost, it is important to provide details of how you will fund the work, including any money secured so far and any pending or planned grant applications.
Grant fundraising can be a time-consuming activity, so it is important that you plan your time effectively. Dedicate at least weekly hour-long blocks in your diary for bid writing and related activities. This should help you to keep focused and maintain momentum. Don't forget that a lot of grant programmes have application deadlines. You don't want to miss a deadline, so work out how long it is going to take you to research and write an application, and allocate time accordingly. Remember to include enough time to plan, draft, edit and proofread your work, which could take longer than first anticipated.
Some funders like to hear from prospective applicants and speak to them about their project. They may give you initial feedback on your ideas before you begin the application process. Others may wish to visit your school to learn more about your circumstances and the challenges you face. Over time, it is possible to foster a long-lasting funding relationship where you repeatedly receive support from them. Keep in touch with funders and let them know about the difference you are making with their grant funding.
Rachel Gordon heads up the School Funding Service, which helps schools across the UK win grants for a wide range of projects, from playgrounds and sports equipment, to after-school clubs and extended services. She writes bids for schools and advises them on how to maximise their funding potential. Visit schoolfundingservice.co.uk