Anna Taylor: Make it simpler to apply for grants

Our columnist encourages funders to develop more 'charity-friendly' application processes

Anna Taylor
Anna Taylor

Grant-makers: you can save charities money and you can save yourselves money. Make this the year when you make your grant application process as charity-friendly as possible.

Hours and sometimes days are wasted by charities grappling with overly complicated grant application processes. Grant-makers also waste their own time, as well as that of fundraisers, by failing to be clear about what they will and will not fund.

While it is extremely useful for grant-makers to set up websites - a trend I have noticed - moving to online application forms is not. Have you ever filled out an extensive online application form? I have - lots of them. Technical glitches, having to get each section to an exact number of characters, no appropriate option from drop-down menus: it's a time-consuming nightmare.

The most 'charity-friendly' application processes invite a short letter and proposal - perhaps guided by a few key points that the funder outlines on its website, in its annual report, or in the publications of the Directory of Social Change.

Failing that, the least frustrating forms are fully editable Word documents for which there is a maximum total length (as opposed to non-extendable boxes for some questions). The Department for International Development's application process is exemplary.

Non-editable PDF application forms - which require downloading and printing out - are still common, but not helpful. Does it make sense for grant-makers to spend time trying to decipher handwritten text rather than reading answers that are clearly typed? Will my project be judged by my handwriting? If not, it would be far better to have editable forms that can be completed on screen.

Surprisingly few grant-makers encourage submissions by email rather than post. This would save charities postage and also help grant-makers with circulating shortlisted applications to decision-makers speedily and cost-effectively - without having to do battle with the photocopier.

Are you a grant-maker worried about being snowed under by applications? The answer is to be much more explicit in your guidelines about what sorts of work you are particularly keen to fund and what kind of projects or charities will not be considered.

You may have broad charitable objectives, but to make the best possible use of your funds, it probably still makes sense to have a grant-making policy so you can develop expertise in given areas - perhaps ones neglected by other donors.

Alternatively, it may make sense to pick themes for the year, or for a number of years, and publicise these - making clear you will consider applications outside the chosen areas only in exceptional circumstances. This is a far better response than making your application process even more tortuous in order to put applicants off.

Anna Taylor is a freelance fundraiser, writer and researcher, and former director of Child In Need India

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