How to write a strong SESF funding application

Anny Ma

Communications Officer

19th November 2021



The Social Enterprise Support Fund is re-opening shortly providing essential financial support to help social enterprises in England to rebuild, restart or grow their income from trading , following the impact of COVID-19.

The £16.3m 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; offering grants of £10k - £100k.

As Round 1 opens on November 25th, we wanted to share our insights to help strengthen your applications.

Applications will go through four stages - triage, eligibility, assessment, and panel assessment, before being approved or declined. One of our grant assessors shares some of the common pitfalls, and what makes a grant application stand out through the process.


In the eligibility process, applications that don't meet the basic eligibility (based in England, asset locked, at least one year old, annual income between £20k-£1.8m, financially resilient, and reliant on trading income) are 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.


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.


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?

Fund priorities

The fund's aim is helping social entrepreneurs to get their social enterprises back on track, and particularly support social enterprises to work with communities that are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. The full FAQ also outlines what could not be covered – like the purchase of large assets, or fund redistribution.


Review the priorities and check that you've addressed them in your answers

The Social Enterprise Support Fund is specifically for social enterprises to rebuild from COVID-19, which are supporting people facing increased social and economic challenges as a result of COVID-19.

While generic answers can be used for non-specific grants, applicants need to clearly describe the effect of COVID-19 had or continues to have on your enterprise. Will the beneficiaries experience hardship if they can't access the venture anymore? Has the venture been providing immediate relief to your communities? What sector/government barriers are there to delivering the service or product now?


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

Financial records

The fund is aimed at supporting social enterprises that are financially resilient, so clear financial documents will show your stability while proving this. You must make sure you have all the correct documents for your application to be assessed.

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!


Gather the financial documents, double-check them, make sure they're in an open format

Evidence of impact

Showing previous and predicted impact highlights why the work is critical to COVID-19 recovery. An approach could be to share your 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 evidence is useful.


Check that impact is shown in the answers, with a clear link to why this impact is critical right now. Upload a social impact report, or a case study with your application.

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


Show how the enterprise has direct impact on the people you work with, what support through COVID-19 has been and will be during the recovery.

Grant feasibility

The grant needs to be spent within twelve months. As well as the need, assessors are looking to see if your enterprise has planned how to spend it, and has the infrastructure to process it. If the grant would be more than your annual trading income, add an explanation as to why.

We're also offering the opportunity to access business support to strengthen your social enterprise as part of the grant, so it is also a good idea to address what kind of support you'd benefit from.


Consider your 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 in the budget section. There is a list of costs that can and cannot be covered by the grant in the application guidance.

Sense check

If you are using another application as a template, tailor the answers based on the eligibility criteria and for the fund's priorities.

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.


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:

Visit the fund's website:

Read the FAQs

Email [email protected]

Good luck!

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