Funding story: Application forms: what the applicants think

A series of boxes to tick can be restrictive, but giving applicants free rein can leave them feeling lost.

Last week's Funding Story looked at the less structured 'first stage' application forms that seem to be regaining popularity. The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, one of the biggest funders, recently reverted to a radically simplified form. But what do applicants think? Is structure helpful, or does it just mean they spend a lot of time ticking boxes?

"It depends what you're being asked," says Angus Nelson, major projects manager at the British Heart Foundation. But he is generally keen on a less structured first stage, not least because it's much less time-consuming. "I think if your project's good enough, you should be able to sum it up with ease," he says.

For very small organisations, time constraints are even more of an issue. "It's a huge amount of investment of time for us to complete something quite extensive," says Zoe Bunter, development manager at invertebrate conservation charity Buglife.

"On the other hand, something very unstructured has its own difficulties, because if the funder is not asking the questions, you're not sure if you're answering them, and we don't have a huge department that can pore over applications. A broader form can be much more useful for us, but only as long as some good guidance about what is expected is also provided."

Glen Whitehead, senior trust fundraiser at homelessness charity Shelter, says that quite a few funders don't have any application forms at all, which can be a problem in itself. "I do feel that having some sort of form creates a more level playing field," he says. "Of the ones that do, generally the individuality of the forms reflects the individuality of the trusts.

"The larger ones tend to make very detailed requests, although some of the smaller funders can occasionally have very long forms. This seems counterproductive in terms of the grants the smaller funders give, and I do think that they could be aware of the time requirements."

A concise first stage appears to be popular, although not without problems. Matt Shardlow, director of Buglife, says a straightforward first stage can be taken as a sign that funding is more likely.

"Often, there's a correlation between the complications on the form and the restrictions of the funding," he says.

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