Guest Post – An introduction to Bid-writing and Arts Funding

By Laura H Drane www.lauraHdrane.com @LauraHD
Oct 2019

So you’ve got an idea, and you need some financial help getting it off the ground. Where could you get access to some money and how do you put yourself in the best position to be successful?

TYPES AND SOURCES OF FUNDING

The first thing to think about is different sources of potential funding and what’s in your mix (being aware that in some cases it’s originated from the same source but channelled through different routes).

Public or statutory funds might be accessed through local authorities, government departments, one of the Arts Councils or the National Lottery’s distributors like the Heritage Fund or Community Fund.

Private funds might come from companies, trusts and foundations, or individuals. Businesses tend to support in one of three ways – cash sponsorship, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, or in-kind or pro bono support (free stuff or free advice/ expertise). Trusts and foundations would cover everything from the multi-million pound heavyweights like the Wellcome Trust, through to a much smaller charity set up for a specific locality or in memory of a local person.

Individual giving is still alive and well. It can be small or large, regular or one-off, online or in person. Examples include friends’ or membership schemes, crowdfunding or online platforms like Patreon, an online donate button, a collection box, legacies/bequests, a gift from a major donor. And traditional fundraising is still effective – think how many times you’ve been asked to sponsor someone to do something or buy a raffle ticket or come to a gala event or bid in a silent auction or contribute to a bake off.

Sometimes earning a bit more income can seem easier than all of these other routes – you’re potentially more in control of it and can play to your strengths. That might mean running an extra paid-for workshop, selling some more tickets, making some merch, or hiring out that asset.

A few other routes may include: academic Research Councils, BIDs/ LEPs, loans from banks, angel investors, and more. For up-to-date information about UK-EU funding see www.creativeeuropeuk.eu

Last but not least – want some free money from HMRC? Make sure you claim Gift Aid if you’re eligible, and also look at what creative/ cultural tax reliefs are currently provided, for anything from R&D and innovation, to production/ touring.

FROM APPLICATION TO EVALUATION

If you’re going to have to write something to get this financial support – be it a request letter or a formal bid or application – then bear some of these tips in mind:

  • Plan WELL in advance; in most cases you’ll need months to research, plan and apply
  • Think laterally and creatively about your applications – to whom might you apply and for what?
  • Be realistic because competition is stiff and funds are limited – you’ll have to sell yourself and stand out to be in with a chance
  • Stay focussed on your project aim(s) by not just chasing the money, and do sell the benefits both to you and the funder

If you are sure that an application to a funder is the right thing for you, make sure you do your research – what are their aims, when are the deadlines, what are their applications processes, have they got limits for the amounts they award, do they want match-funding, how long will it take them to decide and let you know, etc? Most importantly, try to think about it from their position – they have a vision and goals, and give away money to try and achieve those, and if they choose to fund you, you are helping them do that.

Early on in your planning, be sure to draw up an accurate budget (inc contingency, plus any cash match and in-kind support). Check what they will and won’t fund – for example, some have guidance on whether they will fund overheads/ core costs/ management fees, others have rules on purchasing capital items.

Applications come in a huge variety of different styles and forms – be sure to only submit whatever the funder wants to see! Most now are via an online portal but some still want a two-page letter, a business plan, or even a meet-and-greet. Occasionally they will expect you to complete a first stage application before proceeding to a second round. Never aim to submit right on the deadline – try to give yourself a day or even a week’s grace! And try to keep an up-to-date folder of useful docs to hand (eg insurance certificates, annual reports/ accounts) as this saves you having to hunt all of those attachments out each time.

So you’ve done your research, found a match, made the application, and had the notice that you’ve been successful! Well done! Now what? Once you’ve been notified, accept their terms, and do write and say thank you! When the payment schedule has been agreed, ensure that you appropriately credit the funder with their logo or tag line in any publicity or when promoting the project more generally.

In terms of evaluation and reporting, almost every funder will want a written submission about your work after completion (usually withholding a % of your funds until received). Make sure you find out what information they will want after the end of the project/work IN ADVANCE to ensure that you keep the right records as you go. Do invite them to any public events or performances, and keep them in the loop during the project, especially if you have to make changes. They’re unlikely to ask for their money back; more likely they will want to understand why your plans had to change to learn lessons. 

SOME OTHER DOS AND DON’TS, TIPS AND TRICKS

  • Carefully read ALL their guidance. If in doubt, and if they invite contact, then phone or email them to check before wasting their time and yours.
  • Even if you involve others in generating ideas for what you might write, always only have one author. You can immediately tell as the reader if one person answered this question and another that.
  • Work in partnership or collaborate with another organisation. Even more so these days, funders like to see their money go further and help more people and a partnership can do that (and maybe consider writing a “pre-nup” in advance in case it doesn’t go smoothly).
  • No two funders are the same – so don’t risk sending identical information to them all.
  • Be careful about “double-funding” – the nice problem of being so successful that you get two or more lots of funding for exactly the same project/ work. If this happens (unlikely, but it does!), be sure to contact both funders and tell them – they might let you keep both awards and expand the project accordingly.
  • Do keep a record of all your research into funders and their schemes if you can even if you don’t apply now – it will help when you might want to remember and consider applying with something else in the future.
  • Ideally after you’ve written your text, you get an external reader who doesn’t know much about your idea to read it and ask you questions to help you understand what came across/ what didn’t. Otherwise, build in enough time to leave it for a day or two to come back to it fresh. Lastly if time is really tight, then read it out loud to yourself from a screen or printed copy – it really does work!
  • Remember that every funder is basically looking for a good idea that will be well managed and give value for money. Some will also take interest in whether others are investing in you or will do so if you get an award, because that shows competence.

THINKING ABOUT HOW TO WRITE  

Putting fingers to keyboard can seem daunting but hopefully these tips might make the act of writing flow a bit more easily:

  • Acknowledge that you have a preferred writing style, tone, voice and work with it by trying to be consistent, rather than trying to change it too much
  • Mirror key words from their guidance or questions back to them in your answers
  • Use bullet points to break up text and help reduce word/ character counts
  • Make sure your application is a mix of story and stats – an application with all narrative and no evidence or research or SMART targets is flimsy
  • Remember that all funders are interested in your creds and experience yes, but are funding you to go from where you are now to over there in the future – don’t overly dwell on past glories
  • If you’re struggling to covey something or it’s all superlatives (innovative, unique, incredible) try to give clarity using: “For example…”

In short, think about this like a job application – you want to stand out for all the right reasons; you wouldn’t send the same covering letter to McDonalds and Deloitte so don’t just cut and paste; demonstrate how you meet their person spec and job description so that they can choose you to help them achieve the organisation’s goals; etc.

To conclude, almost every funder of any sort that I’ve worked with in the last 20 years has wanted to see evidence of need and potential for impact. And no you don’t need a professional bidwriter or fundraiser – do it yourself, build your research, hone your skills and if you really want to involve someone like that, keep your costs down and ask them to proof a major draft and ask questions/ give feedback. Good luck!

Other information, links and advice

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