Business development

How to write a better Early Years funding application

Expert advice from former funder Maureen Askew
March 13, 2019
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In a rush? Here's the quick run-down:

  • Take the time to research funding streams available to you. Local businesses or organisations may offer one-off support, or charities can cover additional costs in times of hardship. Just one sure to read the eligibility criteria carefully.
  • Make sure that you can survive without the additional funding. You're unlikely to be approved if your setting will close the minute your funding runs out and funders may ask for evidence that your business or charity is sustainable.
  • When it comes to completing your application, be concise and specific. Use bullet points to get your key points across clearly and ask someone to proofread it before you finally submit the application.

When you think of Early Years funding, the first thought that pops into your head is probably the government's 30 hours of "free" Early Years education. But there is other funding available. Aside from the Early Years pupil premium and the disability access fund, you can access funding or grants from some private donors or charities.

However, you do have to apply and competition can be stiff

That’s why we spoke with accomplished early years expert and consultant Maureen Askew. Aside from more than 40 years of experience working in the sector, Maureen has worked allocating funding for a variety of organisations, including the Pre-school Learning Alliance, local authorities, and local community organisations. She knows what funding gets fast-tracked to the approved pile, and she knows which ones go straight in the bin.

Let's take a look at Maureen's top tips to make sure that your application gets read, considered, and (hopefully) approved.

Where to find your Early Years funding

Maureen has a few good ideas about where to find additional funding below, but you can also check out our free guide to find a grant that might suit you.

“People forget that there are lots of small pots locally,” says Maureen. “For example, local supermarkets might offer small pots of money, £500 or £1000 and all local councillors have a pot of money that they can allocate to businesses or charities in their area.”

It might be a little short of what you’re hoping for, but there’s no reason you can’t tie these pots together with other funding or a loan to reach your goal. Equally, Maureen explains, it’s important to remember that you’re not just a childcare setting, but a business, a Small-Medium Enterprise (SME), or a charity too.

“You should look beyond just childcare or Early Years education grants,” she explains. “People often forget that they’re either a charity, a CIO, or a small business and if you search under those criteria then you’ll find a lot more pots of money available.”

1. Only apply if you fit the criteria as an Early Years setting or childcare provider

It might seem obvious, but making sure you properly fit the criteria is crucial before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keys).

“One of the key things in any application, no matter what it is, is that you have to read the criteria and guidance – and read it more than once,” says Maureen. “Don’t try and force your business to fit those criteria, because we can see. Funders do get a lot of applications, so they will have a filtering process and if you don’t meet the criteria then, well, out you go!”

And, while it might feel tempting, it’s just not worth your time to try to 'trick the system'.

“If they didn’t meet the initial criteria, then we wouldn’t even look at the rest of the application,” says Maureen.

2. Be prepared to show you can survive as a business or charity

It may sound harsh, but funders don't want to make a funding investment if your setting is a sinking ship. You may need to show how well you've been doing financially so far, though this should be specified in the eligibility criteria. You may also need to evidence that you can continue to thrive when you stop qualifying for funding or when the funding period is over.

“Once you’ve shown you meet the criteria, the next step is to show what you want the money for and – most importantly – how you're going to manage once the funding is finished. It’s not a bottomless pit,” says Maureen, “So we need to know what are you going to do to ensure that you’re not going to just be coming back in a few month's time.”

3. Be very specific about the funding you're applying for

So showing you’ve got a plan is important, but not all funding is purely about business sustainability.

For example, grants can sometimes be made available to:

  • Improve support for children with additional needs
  • Change up your outdoor area
  • Offer additional services or benefits
  • Refurbish your building or environment
  • Otherwise change something specific and costly at your setting

This is where you need to be very specific. It’s no good just sending an application off to cover your running costs or make up the money lost on "funded" early education. You need to clearly and concisely explain how the money that you’re requesting is going to help you to improve or change, and that it's in line with the funding authority's goals.

4. Take the time to clearly explain why you need the help

You can look to access funding when something surprising happens and you need a little help to get back on your feet. Maureen gives the example of when she worked for a local authority as a business manager, awarding sustainability funding.

A preschool had to move premises at very short notice and, as a result, they lost a lot of children who couldn’t travel all the way to the new premises because it was too far. The setting was awarded short-term funding to cover the shortfall.

"That was a case where it wasn’t their fault," Maureen explains, "They had successfully shown us that what they needed was a bit of funding to tide them over while they made the numbers up. But we did check that there was a demand where they were moving to ensure that they wouldn’t have to close their doors in six months' time.”‍

Maureen's top funding application tips

While we’ve already covered the advice Maureen thought was most important, throughout our chat she offered plenty more nuggets to help you get that application approved. Here are just some of them.‍

  • Switch waffle for bullet points

The application may well be extremely important to you, but funders have to leaf through hundreds, or maybe even thousands of applications. So keep it clear and concise and stick to the word count.

"It might feel important to tell them your full story, but if it’s not relevant to the application then don’t include it," says Maureen, "Bullet points will save you space and words as they help to grab attention a bit better and it’s easy to read.”

  • Take your time

With Early Years providers being as busy as you are, it can be tempting to try to hammer out the whole thing in one go. But that might not help your chances.

"Try doing a bit, go away, come back to it and do some more," suggests Maureen, "It’ll help to give you the clarity and headspace to write your best application.”

  • Get help from your team

Get the people who know the different aspects of your setting best to contribute to their knowledge and offer better evidence for your application. You should also get someone else to check and proofread the final product, as the funder reading it mightn't know as much about early education as you do.

"Proofread it and proofread it again. And get someone else to proofread it as well," says Maureen, "They’ll help to spot the jargon and clear up any assumptions you might have made, particularly if it’s someone who isn’t related to childcare or Early Years provision.”

The big ideas

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly ensures the Kindred team keeps the communication going with parents so they can feel included in their children's life at nursery.