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A Guide to Making Applications and Proposals

A practical guide to assist you in making effective applications and proposals for opportunities and funding. Includes useful tips on: initial research, what to include and final checklists.

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Making applications for commissions, residencies and funding is all part of taking your business forward. So understanding how to get your ideas and work successfully considered and supported is important. 

Make a proposal

Although completing an application is time consuming and the success rate is low, succeeding opens up exciting opportunities. Even so, it’s important to think about whether making an application is worth your time and effort. 

First decide what you want to do and how to take your proposal forward. Then identify a funder or partner that fits your objectives. You also need to consider whether you’re looking for support or offering skills to:

  • Develop an idea through research, development, travel or collaborations
  • Make the idea happen with a support team, others’ skills, materials, production resources or equipment
  • Present the idea to an audience with marketing, exhibiting, performing, publishing or touring

You might be able to apply for support for all stages of a project in one proposal. Or you may need to develop separate proposals for different stages and submit them to a range of potential supporters. It’s also helpful to show how they’ll impact your work and be a part of a wider plan.

Remember to reflect how the opportunity, award or proposal will:

  • Fit with your overall development
  • Further your creative development
  • Challenge you
  • Make a difference to you or others

Do the research

There’s no other way to find the best supporter for your proposal than through research. And you’ll need to do a lot to get it right. 

This is also true when you’re trying to match your work to calls for applications. If your proposal doesn’t meet the eligibility criteria or suit an organisation’s remit, it will be rejected. 

Make sure you’re the right fit by finding out what kind of audience the funder or clients the partner works with and in what context. Does your work relate to that context? 

Everyone likes to have their work acknowledged – including your potential funder. If you’re aware of their work, they’ll be more inclined to show an interest in yours and possibly collaborate in the future.

Every funder has their own objectives and constraints. So your proposal shouldn’t just be about your needs. It also should reflect what they’re looking for.

A Guide to Making Applications and Proposals

Remember to include…

Convincing people that a brilliant idea deserves to be a reality takes proof. If you’re responding to a call for applications, you may need to provide the proof within a specific template and guidelines. 

If you have little or no guidance to go on, here’s a few things to do for your application or tender:

  • Identify the resources and support you have and need
  • Highlight your skills, competence, and commitment with solid examples
  • Gather materials to reflect your experience, support your proposal and illustrate your idea
  • Explain and provide context – the reader doesn’t know your project as well as you do
  • Show the scale of activity matches your budget, timescale and energy
  • Be ambitious but don’t spread yourself too thin or lose your focus
  • Also avoid making a generic application - be specific to what they support and are interested in.

Setting up your proposal

No one wants to read a long, confusing document. So be creative and present your proposal in a clear and engaging way. After all, your application is your mini-advertisement. So show your very best, including flawless spelling and grammar.

Make it easy and enjoyable for your potential funder to review your application. Organise your evidence and examples under headings like: 

  • Introduction – an explanation of what you want to do and why. This could be a first paragraph or cover letter. You should also be able to summarise this in a 25-word statement.
  • The plan – outline your proposal details and how you plan to achieve your aims – a page will do. You may want to complement this with a longer business or marketing plan and samples of your idea.
  • Resources – identify the people, skills, equipment, space and materials you need to take your proposal forward. This is typically presented as a budget (and possibly cash flow). Also include free or in-kind support, and any CVs and biographies relevant to them.
  • Timeframe – outline your deadlines and the milestones that will keep you on target.
  • Experience – evidence of your skills, commitment and suitability for the proposal. Back this up with examples of your current practice, your CV and biography.

Do a final review

Our funders, applicants and staff have great insight when it comes to developing a winning proposal. Top tips you might find helpful include: 

  • Read the criteria and follow the guidelines – they’re there to ensure everyone is judged at the same level. They also help the panel and their administration team to make a fair decision.
  • Give yourself plenty of time – to read the guidelines, go through the application form and contact the funding administrator with any queries.
  • Get someone to read your application – to check grammar and spelling, and pinpoint areas that need to be clarified.

Check and check again – even if your proposal is a good one, it will be rejected if it fails the eligibility criteria, is not relevant to the aims of the fund, is incomplete or arrives after the deadline. So check to ensure:

  • You have the latest version of the guidelines and application form
  • You understand the eligibility criteria – if in doubts, contact the funding administrator
  • Your proposal is suitable for the fund you’re applying to
  • Your project start date does not begin until after the deadline date for decision-making
  • Your project timescale is relevant to the fund you are applying to
  • You have answered all the questions
  • Your budget is correct – applications with errors in budget calculations will be rejected
  • Your request aligns with the minimum and maximum limits you can apply for through a particular fund 
  • You have the appropriate level of partnership funding, if required, and it’s eligible to match the fund you are applying to
  • You supplied all the required documents
  • You signed the application form
  • Your deadline date – late applications will not be accepted 
  • You’re sending your application to the correct person
Disclaimer: We want to keep you in the know, so we offer a wide selection of useful resources. But Cultural Enterprise Office isn’t responsible for the advice and information of external organisations in this document. So if you have any questions, please contact the specific organisation directly. 

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