I talk to many schools about their reasons for not wanting to write bids themselves. These include: lack of time to dedicate to the bid-writing process, competing priorities, lack of expertise, dread about putting pen to paper, fear of rejection and lack of experience. If you are serious about raising funds for your school then it might be time to think about employing a bid writer.
Why use a bid writer?
A bid writer may have insider knowledge of funders’ priorities, as well as their application-review processes. They can advise you on which aspects of your proposed expenditure are fundable, how likely it is that you will actually secure funding, which grant programmes are most suited to your needs, how long you can expect the process to take and what a winning bid should look like.
A bid writer also knows how to write a compelling bid. They will be able to ask you incisive and nuanced questions to elicit the right information. They bring a level of objectivity to the process, helping to identify the pertinent details and define what is relevant. This can help by cutting out unnecessary or irrelevant detail that those close to the project often include, and which can take up valuable space in a bid. They can also make sure that details you might take for granted, or assume the reader already knows, aren’t missed and are explained.
How does the process work?
At the beginning, the bid writer will want to find out about your funding needs and will advise on funding options. Once you’ve commissioned them, the next stage will usually consist of consultation, information gathering and writing. When a full draft is ready, the bid writer will usually share this with you to gather your feedback. Once finalised, they will support you through the submission process.
A bid writer rarely does this work in isolation from the school, so you need to be prepared to invest some time in communicating with them. This is a good thing, though; your bid will accurately reflect your school’s situation and needs. How much time you’ll need to invest usually depends on the size and complexity of the project.
For smaller bids, say up to £10,000, a bid writer might require an hour or two of your time to talk about your project and to gather financial and contact information. For larger bids, such as building projects or sports facilities, you should expect to spend more time – a few days – on project management, legal documentation and stakeholder consultation.
Find a bid writer who meets your needs
Some bid writers specialise in funding for schools. They should have good knowledge of grants programmes that meet your needs – languages, sciences, arts, history, ICT, and so on. Others are project specialists and have expertise in writing bids for specific projects, such as buildings, sports facilities or heritage activities.
They should be best placed to guide you through or manage the more detailed bid requirements, such as planning permission, safety assessments and plans. Make a list of all your requirements, check your bid writer’s relevant experience and ask for testimonials to help you make a decision. But remember, success isn’t guaranteed, whether you use a bid writer or do it yourself.
How much will it cost?
There are three main pricing models. There are ‘no win, no fee’ bid-writing services that usually take a percentage payment of the grant amount won if successful. This typically ranges from five to 12 per cent. You cannot use the grant won to cover these costs, so you will need to make sure that you can pay the bid writer from another source.
Others may charge a fixed fee for the work or charge by the day, which can vary from £150 to £600 per day. Remember, this is an investment in expertise and your school can often learn a lot about bid writing during the process. You should think about a bid writer as an extended member of your team. There is, of course, also a cost to writing a bid in-house.
Using suppliers who offer to seek funding
Depending on who is actually writing the bid, this may work just as well. Just be wary if these services are unsolicited. Funders are often suspicious of this and will want to be sure that you are bidding for something that represents a genuine priority for your school.
Some funders will ask you directly about this, so make sure you feel comfortable dealing with the funder if this were to happen. You should ask the supplier how the process works. Who is going to write the bid? Are they going to consult you? Do they use templates? What input from you is required? If you are unsure, you can always access the funding independently of them.
When should you write a bid yourself?
Sometimes it makes sense to do it yourself. This often comes down to an assessment of your existing skill set (are you confident in your ability to write a bid?), the time you have to dedicate to bid writing (can you allocate time in your day?) and your willingness to take it on (do you feel motivated and supported?).
In particular, for bids that place a large informational demand on a school, you may want to keep the bid-writing process in-house. Writing bids can be a great learning process, especially if you want to continue writing bids in the future. You will develop your skills and learn the ropes. Once you’ve written your first one, you may find that you are bitten by the bid-writing bug! If this is the case and you end up writing several bids a year then maybe bid writing training (possibly for multiple members of your team) is a worthwhile investment.
Rachel Gordon runs 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.