How to write your bid or grant application

First, here’s why …

In a previous life I worked for a local authority. The last role I had involved evaluating applications from organisations who were bidding to provide local services on behalf of the council. From small community groups to large national organisations, they all had lots to offer.

But what always struck me was how the applications themselves varied: some just didn’t say what they needed to say. This meant some organisations lost out not because they couldn’t deliver the services, but because they didn’t write what was required.

I am writing this for all those who strive daily to meet the needs of their community but who struggle with the formality of bid writing and grant applications. The principles also apply to any type of application process where you have to answer specific questions. Of course I can’t guarantee your success, but I hope my tips will help you along the way.

1. Be prepared for form filling

Whether it’s a grant application or a bid to deliver services, there is likely to be a form to fill in. This is so that the evaluators receive the same information from each bidder, and are able to assess applications against set criteria.

2. Answer the question

The essential thing is to answer the question. This may sound obvious, but it is so easy to get carried away with trying to squeeze all your positive stories into the application. These will count for nothing if you haven’t answered the question.

3. Watch out for word limits

There is likely to be a word limit to each section or question, to level the playing field for all bidders and to give you some indication of the detail needed. Some electronic forms will stop you entering too many words; others will let you go on. But beware: evaluators will often only read information up to the word limit.

4. Explain everything

Don’t assume that the evaluators know anything about you or your organisation. Be concise, but do explain anything that is not common knowledge. Do this even if the evaluators know you well – they have to put all that prior knowledge aside and assess all applications objectively, based on the set criteria and questions.

5. Work together

If you are doing this on behalf of an organisation, write collectively rather than alone. Maybe hold a planning session where everyone can contribute under each question or heading. It’s amazing how this can spark new ideas!

6. Focus on ‘outcomes’

Increasingly, you will find that bids and grant applications require you to focus on ‘outcomes’. These are the end benefits of the service you are delivering or the project you are funding. When you find yourself writing something descriptive, ask the question ‘So what?’ Focus on why you do what you do and how you know you’re doing it well.

7. Be positive

Be positive in your writing. However, do not over-inflate achievements without evidence to back them up. Be realistic about weaknesses, focusing on lessons learned and plans for improvement.

8. Ask questions

Look for ‘Help’ and ‘FAQ’ sections. If you’re not sure about something, ask the organisation behind the form. It’s better than misunderstanding the question or giving an incomplete answer. You should also be able to see answers given to other bidders’ questions – and these might relate to things you hadn’t thought of.

9. Check and submit your application

Share your application with colleagues or ask a friend or indeed a professional to check it before you submit it. Make sure it is clear, accurate and easy to read. Check you have attached all the supplementary information and documents required. Don’t leave it till the last minute: to be fair to all applicants, bids will have a strict closing time. If you are completing a form online, leave some contingency time for system problems, and make sure you actually click on the send/submit button!

10. Get feedback

Whether or not you are successful in your application, ask the evaluators for feedback, which you can then apply to your next bid.

Good luck with your bid!