7 tips for writing winning bids as a start-up

20 Aug 2019

Cropped photo of a female School for Social Entrepreneurs student reading an impact report.

SSE student Dr Kathy Adcock has never written an unsuccessful grant-funding bid, and she recently won three years of funding from Comic Relief. We asked her for her top tips on writing winning bids.

You’re a start-up.  You need cash – now! Although sustainability is unlikely to come through grant funding alone, being able to strategically and successfully bid for grants is a key skill that you’ll need to learn fast.  Competition for grants is fierce, so ace this skill and supercharge your enterprise. Here are some tips to get you started:

Be ready

Grants are often open to applications for a short time period. To make best use of this window, you’ll need to know which grant making bodies will open for bids and when. You’ll also need to know which grants are a good fit for your organisation, as bidding for something that isn’t a good fit is unlikely to be successful. Do your research on this; mark dates in your planner; go! Get started with the SSE list of grant providers or check out Funding Central.

Stronger together

As a start-up you may lack credibility or a track record of being an effective grant holder, so getting into partnership with an organisation that is better established can be a good move.  But be careful; do your homework on potential partners like you would before taking someone home to meet your mum.  If the partnership is to be successful, you’ll need shared values and an ability to weather storms together. Relationships are crucial, so if you don’t get a good feeling from their key players, don’t do it.

Ensure your enterprise has the required structure and governance

It’s easy to get excited over a relevant grant, only to realise you aren’t eligible. Grants often have strict eligibility requirements over what types and sizes of organisations can bid, and the governance required in those organisations. If you’re not eligible, this gives you helpful information on how you need to develop as an enterprise to get there. You could also consider partnering with a larger grant holder where you can benefit from their structure and governance arrangements.

Pitch a solution fit for purpose

Strong bids demonstrate an understanding of local need and evidence how their solution meets this. Do your homework by reading published stats and go out and talk to beneficiaries and stakeholders. Grant applications are increasingly asking for solutions that can demonstrate co-production in their development. But this isn’t the only reason to co-produce; respond to users’ views and you will learn how to make your solution even better. The most important thing in co-production is that it’s authentic and respects users and the process. There are several co-production toolkits available, like this one.

Run a pilot

If you’ve had an idea that you haven’t yet tested, then you’re not in a strong position for a medium or large funding bid. Be humble. Bid for a small grant to run your pilot, and explain why you think the pilot is likely to be effective. Small grants are available in the strangest of places, so work your contacts and talk about your enterprise at dinner (without being too annoying!).

Learn to love impact data

Great impact data demonstrates the social, economic and environmental impact of your work; it uses both hard data and qualitative commentary. Understand which metrics are of value for your project and present them in an engaging way. Don’t shy away from quantitative measures of change. They may require more work to understand, but if you can get your head around them, it will give you an edge over competitors. Infographics are great, and user voices are even better. Capture these through case studies and consider using video to bring your project to life.

Write well

I mean it. A well written bid will communicate in a clear and compelling way, maximising the persuasiveness of your content. Guidelines and word counts apply to you, so respect them. If you don’t have some required information they ask for, don’t ignore this and hope for the best; acknowledge the gap and say what you’re going to do about it.  Use an authentic voice so the reader knows you’re not a hired grant writer, and leave enough time to proof-read so that you don’t undermine your application with typos.

Dr Kathy Adcock is a Clinical Psychologist and the founder and director of In Your Corner. She is a current start-up student at SSE London. Let her know what you think of her tips, @DrKathyAdcock on Twitter & @iycboxing on all social.