Show the need, evidence what could help, use design thinking, talk about capacity, experience, risks, reuse, collaboration, budget and sustainability.
This article will help you write a strong digital funding application. Its tips will help you apply both to digitally confident funders and those with less experience.
You should read this article after reading How to get ready to apply for digital grant funding. Implement its advice before you start your application. That way you will have:
- Identified the problem and researched it
- Selected an approach or methodology you have learnt about
- Considered how reuse and collaboration feature in your project
- Developed a fair budget and timescale suited to an iterative approach
- Researched potential funders
Different types of digital funding applications
The word ‘digital’ has different meanings in the charity sector.
The advice in this article mainly applies to grant applications to:
- Research and test digital ideas
- Develop a digital service or project (public-facing or internal)
- Improve people’s digital skills (people you help or your own people)
It applies less to digital infrastructure projects e.g. hardware and software grants.
Here are 7 tips for creating a winning application.
1. Show the need or problem
How to get ready for a digital funding application explained the need to research the problem. User research is essential. Use what you learn to show:
- Social impact - show how the problem affects your beneficiaries. Show its direct impact on their day to day lives. If your are applying for money to help your organisation's staff to a better job (e.g. improve their digital skills, develop a new database etc) then show how their need has a knock on effect on your beneficiaries.
- User impact (e.g. beneficiaries, carers, professionals, your staff) - show how current approaches to solving the problem, where beneficiaries are trying to do something or use a service, don’t work. For example your website’s advice pages aren’t mobile-friendly, making it difficult for people to access.
For the win: Include quotes and statistics from your research.
“We expect applicants to explain to us where digital fits in to their delivery and what they need in order to increase their skills and capacity” - Funder 2, Catalyst Research
2. Show evidence of what might help solve the problem
Unless you’ve already worked through both the Discover and Define phases of the design process (including testing potential solutions) then you can’t be certain what will solve the problem. That's OK and normal. Working iteratively helps deal with
However, you should examine your user research and note any ideas or hunches that you get. For example:
- People’s digital habits might give clues to what type of solution they might use
- You or others may have tried and failed to solve the problem before. Learn from this to help you understand what doesn’t work and why.
- You might have found some analogous examples of what does work, or what functions are most important to people
3. Explain your design approach
Outline the design approach you will take. State if it’s a proven approach and who has used it before. This gives funders confidence, especially if they aren’t familiar with design theories and practices. Explain jargon or avoid it altogether.
Explain how your approach will reuse existing practice or resources. Be specific about what you expect to use and why it is relevant.
Also explain where collaboration fits into your approach. Collaborating with other non-profits increases the value to a funder as more people and organisations learn and grow capacity.
You should also explain whether the work is new or a continuation of an existing development.
“I had a whole proposal but I couldn't judge it because I didn't understand the tech terms they used.” - Funder 5, Catalyst Research
4. Make your project match your experience and capacity
The bigger or more ambitious your proposal the more digital project experience your funder will expect. Experience could include leading a website redesign, running a digital skills programme, initiating a digital inclusion project or digitalising part of an existing service, or something else.
You should explain what happened when you did that work and what you learnt.
You should also explain how the work fits into your organisation's digital strategy.
Describe the people who will be involved in the work and their skills and experience. Be clear about their capacity to lead this work and what training they’ll have access to. If you’ve a digital lead on your board, mention them - this will help a lot.
Do the same with any external people who’ll be involved. Show their experience and relevant skills, including previous work with organisations like yours. State whether it is a new collaboration and explain why they are the right people to help you.
For the win: show your weaknesses and how you will address these. This will show the funder you are thinking realistically.
5. Be honest about the challenges, risks and assumptions
Every digital project will generate unexpected challenges and risks. List these and include, for each one, how you will meet the challenge or minimise the risk.
Doing this is particularly important when applying to funders who are less digitally confident. Go the extra mile on your list.
Explain any technical terms or jargon. Don’t assume they will understand digital terms.
6. Explain sustainability and future development possibilities
Help the funder see that your project is part of a bigger plan. Show them how the work will fit into your organisation’s digital transformation. Explain what you expect to happen after the work ends. This should include how you might fund it and what the next stage of development could look.
Doing all of this will give your funder confidence that you have a strategy and a plan and that digital has an important place in that, rather than being an add on.
For the win: reference an example of how you or another have sustained or further developed a digital project beyond an initial grant.
7. Vary your budget and grant length
Digital budgets vary depending on what you are doing. A website budget might be less than £10k and last a couple of months. A digital inclusion project may run for 3 years or more. A research project may last 3 months and be less than £5k. A digital development project could be 18 months and over £50k.
You should ask for what you need. But also consider splitting your project into stages and going for a smaller amount first to get you through the Discovery and Define stages. Then you can use evidence from that to help you apply for a bigger amount.
Show any external service's day rates and explain if they would be charging a discounted rate to your charity.
For the win: Link to your external service's profile on Dovetail and benchmark their rates against others’ to show value for money.
Show funders that they need to fund more digital work by delivering something amazing with your grant.