The deadline for this year’s round of the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives is fast approaching. This is a programme administered by The National Archives in partnership with a group of charitable trusts to offer strategic funding to open up archive collections for research. It’s the first year I haven’t been the programme administrator, so I’m feeling a little nostalgic about being involved in something so successful and fulfilling. (You might like to take a look at the Five Year Review of the programme to see why I’ve enjoyed being part of it so much.)
I’ve also been an assessor for a wide range of archive grant programmes in the past decade, and I thought as my swansong I might share some key tips with you. These don’t appear in any guidance for applicants but they are essential to a successful application, whatever the programme and well beyond the archives sector.
It’s often the little things
You are applying for a grant of thousands, if not millions, of pounds. You’re probably very busy, and have many tasks on your plate. But taking a few minutes to proof-read your application could be the best time you spend on it. Remember you will be in a competitive application process: don’t miss out by giving a sloppy first impression.
Spelling all the names and addresses correctly; making sure your costs add up; sending only what is requested and relevant to your application (but sending everything you’re asked for); making sure you’re not sending a draft with tracked changes: these are really basic points. But you would be amazed how often they get overlooked.
I doubt that you have ever had feedback on an unsuccessful application that says, “It was just a bit meh.” But it’s feedback that all assessors sometimes long to give. In a competitive application process, if you can’t be convincing about your project, why would anyone want to fund it? This isn’t about having a wacky title, it’s about identifying potential outcomes in a really convincing way. For example, if you ‘re making the case for your project being of interest to particular groups, do also say how you will let them know it’s actually happening.
On the other hand, don’t get so excited about your project that you lose sight of the funders’ objectives. They will be looking for projects which relate to the goals of their funding stream, and which take on board the guidance to potential applicants. Applying for something which excites you but is irrelevant to the funder is not a great strategy. Have a look at the criteria they use, and the projects they celebrate, and see whether you are a good match.
Building a relationship
Never forget that a grants programme is run by human beings! This matters. If you are unsuccessful with one bid, you may want to resubmit it, or go back to the programme for a different application. Remember that there is the potential to build a relationship with the grant funder throughout your contact with them, and that can be positive or negative.
For example, don’t be afraid to get in touch if there are areas of the application you are unclear about after reading all the guidance. It’s not an exam. Asking for help is more productive than guessing, and will help the grant administrator to tweak guidance if several applicants have trouble with the same thing. If you aren’t certain that the programme is for you, get in touch and discuss it.
If you’re given feedback on a proposal or a preliminary application, do read it and refer to it in your full application – or if it’s very negative feedback, withdraw and think again. Feedback is designed by the funders to get better applications in, and ignoring it will almost certainly be disastrous.
An application is just the start
Think about how you receive bad news. Most grant programmes are very competitive. Inevitably, you will be disappointed at times. Try not to take this personally, but instead use the experience to improve in future. Whether you hope to come back with that project in a future round, or learn lessons and move on, it’s likely you will be in touch with the funders again. As an administrator, I can say with a lot of feeling that the week when you send out sixty or eighty rejection letters is a difficult one. I’m always grateful to the people who take it with grace.
If you do receive a grant, remember that is also a crucial part of your relationship with funders. Keep them in the loop about the project and share its successes. Stick to the terms of the grant, including publicity and acknowledgements. If there are problems, let funders know early enough to be able to help you find solutions. If the project goes well, deliver and document the benefits you committed to in your application – if you don’t, how likely are you to be funded in future?
All clear? Good luck!