How to write a strong COVID-19 funding application

In July, England’s social enterprises submitted their applications for the first round of funding in the Social Enterprise Support Fund, with over 500 applications submitted in the four-day window.

The £18.7M fund from the National Lottery Community Fund is being delivered through partners UnLtd, The School for Social Entrepreneurs, Resonance, Big Issue Invest and Key Fund.

In the first round, UnLtd assessed hundreds of applications, from social entrepreneurs needing urgent COVID-19 support.

The applications went through four stages - triage, assessment, panel assessment, and review – before being approved or declined.

As Round 2 opens on August 13th, we wanted to share our insights so far to help strengthen your applications. One of our grant assessors shares some of the common pitfalls, and what makes a grant application stand out.

 

Eligibility

In the triage process, applications that didn’t meet the basic eligibility (based in England, asset locked, over a year old, annual income between £25K-£1.5M, financially stable pre-COVID, reliant on trading income) were automatically filtered out.  If your governing documents don’t currently meet the eligibility, a lawyer can help put in an asset lock, redistribution of 51% of profits back into the company, and social purpose into the company objectives. The fund’s aim is helping social entrepreneurs supporting communities most impacted by COVID-19, with further eligibility shaping this. The full FAQ also outlines what could not be covered – like the purchase of large assets, or fund redistribution.  

Action: Review the eligibility and check that your answers are aligned to it.

 

There’s a solution, but what’s the problem?

Assessors are reading dozens of applications a day and don’t know the depths of every social issue. Painting the full picture of why the venture exists will show why it needs funding. A good application clearly outlines the social issue, the solution, and how the grant will enable this solution. Academic writing/analysis isn’t the expectation - just clearly communicate the problem, solution, and execution with as little jargon as possible.

Action: Approach the application with ‘fresh eyes’ – are you reading and filling in gaps with your own knowledge, or is it all on the page already?

 

Positioning

For context, show the assessor what has been tried in response to COVID-19. Our 4Ps framework is a good way to start thinking about this, considering whether the enterprise had to Proceed, Pivot, Pilot or Pause. Identify which applies and explain the decision behind that response and share any other plans to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Is there a plan for future possible lockdowns?

Action: Self-assess organisational response with the 4Ps framework. Explain why in the application, and share other futureproofing.

 

Financial records

The fund is aimed at supporting social enterprises that were financially stable before the pandemic, so clear financial documents will show your stability while proving this. Answers for the question on previous annual turnover will need to be backed up by financial documents. It’s critical that the financial information is as up to date as possible. The projected cashflow information shouldn’t include the grant. Make sure the files attached are in a format that can be opened by any device, and if it’s a PDF – double-check it on another device of your own first!

Action: Gather the financial documents, double-check them, make sure they’re in an open format.

 

COVID-19 link

The Social Enterprise Support Fund is specifically for social enterprises affected by COVID-19, whether that’s through having an urgent increase in delivering support or taking a significant financial hit, which could result in being dissolved. While generic answers can be used for non-specific grants, applicants need to clearly describe the effect of COVID-19 on their enterprise. Will the beneficiaries experience hardship if they can’t access the venture anymore? Has the venture been providing immediate relief to their communities? What sector/government barriers are there to delivering the service or product now?

Action: Review and check how clear it is that COVID-19 has affected the venture and beneficiaries, and why the enterprise will need funding to continue.

 

Evidence of impact

Showing previous and predicted impact highlights why the work is critical to COVID-19 recovery. An approach could be to share the enterprise’s support throughout the pandemic, with statistics on increased demand, supported by previous testimonials, case studies, data, or the latest impact report. These don’t have to be extensive, but uploading files of evidence is useful.

Action: Check that impact is shown in the answers, with a clear link to why this impact is critical right now. Collate a few testimonials and some supporting evidence to attach to your application.

 

Direct impact

The depth and delivery of impact is also important. The assessors will be looking for how close the enterprise is to the beneficiaries, prioritising impact delivered directly to beneficiaries. Enterprises delivering immediate impact to people in need will be prioritised.

Action: Show how the enterprise has direct impact on beneficiaries, and the support through COVID-19 and the recovery.

 

Grant feasibility

As emergency support, the grant needs to be spent within six months. As well as the need, assessors are looking to see if the enterprise has planned how to spend it and the infrastructure to process it. If the grant would be more than the annual trading income, a clear itemised breakdown of how this will be processed and spent will assure the assessor that it’s an appropriate amount.

Action: Consider the current financial position, resource, and staffing to confirm the grant requested could be processed. Clearly list what the grant will be spent on with costs on each line. This can be attached as an extra document. Note – some requests will need multiple quotes, this is on page 12 of the FAQs.

 

Sense check

If you are using another application as a template, tailor the answers based on the eligibility criteria and what the fund is specifically for.

Keep the answers direct for clarity. It may feel impersonal, but the word count should be utilised for information, not filler. Does every question require the full back story, or do previous answers feed into this? Make sure the answer is relevant to the question – avoid using the same answers multiple times.

Plan time for reflection to identify potential blockers to the application being an easy and informative read.

Action: Review the application objectively to refine, edit, and improve it. Reach out for support from other ‘fresh eyes’. Visit the eligibility FAQ again and check if anything has been asked for that isn’t eligible – these will be taken out of budgets by assessors, if the application is successful.

 

For further support with your application:

 

Good luck!

 

September 7th Update: The final round's minimum annual income turnover has been reduced to £20,000

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