By Vivienne Jackson

A real highlight for the Grants team at abrdn Financial Fairness Trust is our work with organisations during the funding application process. We want to fund strategic policy, campaigning and research work to improve living standards for people on low-to-middle incomes. The Trust makes grants on the basis that change is much more likely if we work together with our funded partners: bringing our expertise and skills jointly to the table; and sharing useful challenge and support. This knowledge we gain from working with you also helps to constantly shape our funding priorities and identify other areas we might support. We are an involved funder. Throughout the lifetime of a grant, the trust’s team act as sounding boards at key points. While we know you are the experts in your area, we aim to add value where relevant through feedback and support. Our grants process reflects this ethos. If we take your request forward after an initial outline application (you’ll find instructions for this in our funding guidelines), our team will actively support you to produce a stronger funding proposal to share with our trustees.

From the outset, it’s really important that potential applicants consider the staff time required if your application goes to the second stage. You can then decide if the Trust is the right fit as a funder for you.

The initial outline application

Your first step with us is a succinct initial outline application. We have kept this application short, because we know your time is valuable, and we want to minimise the time spent on unsuccessful proposals. Relatively few proposals progress to the next stage – around 1 in 5 (updated to 1 in 7 as of Jan 2024). To find out more about what we’re looking for when we read initial outline applications and proposals, read this blog. If your application is not taken forward, we provide some written feedback as to why you were unsuccessful.

Meeting us

If your proposal is shortlisted, we’ll invite you to a meeting with us. Meeting face-to-face is the ideal way to begin an active, engaged relationship, though this meeting may be online depending on time commitments and where you are based. This meeting will involve some of the key people involved in the project and your organisation. Generally, we ask to meet no more than three people and the meeting lasts approximately two hours.

We want to understand your organisation well, and delve into the proposed work, especially why you feel your approach might work. While we hope you enjoy the opportunity to meet us and discuss your proposal, we recognise that the meeting might feel like an interview and, as a result, a bit daunting. We’ll tell you about the general areas we want to cover in our discussion ahead of time, but you don’t need to prepare any presentations for us. We don’t expect you to necessarily have all the answers at this stage and this is an opportunity to shape and adapt your proposal. It’s also a chance for you to ask us any questions about the process.

The full application

Following the meeting, if we both agree that the Trust might be a good fit as a funder for you, we then ask you to submit a full application. For applicants applying to our February deadline, you will write your full proposal in April. For applicants applying to our June deadline, you’ll typically have the end of July and all of August to write your proposal. This full application builds on the initial proposal you’ve already submitted, but allows you more space to explain your planned work. We also ask for additional documents. For example, if you are applying for research, we ask you to submit a more detailed research methodology.

However, this full application won’t be the final version. Once we have reviewed your full proposal, we’ll work closely with you and give you feedback on the application. In practice, this means many proposals go through a few drafts after your first full application comes to us, leading up to a final decision by the Trust’s Board. We’d recommend you should be prepared to set aside some time to respond to feedback and questions during this stage, and to amend your proposal.

Our trustees, who make funding decisions, have a wealth of experience in research, policy and campaigning. Trustees often seek clarification about elements of proposals, and may raise concerns. We work with you to anticipate and respond to their suggestions and questions. Common queries arise about: research methodologies; budget costings; relationships for effective influencing; the viability of outcomes. We’re attentive to small details, so will help check costs and time allocation. Our aim is to be mindful of what kind of organisation you are, providing relevant advice during the application process and sometimes active suggestions. This might be about getting the right research support, if you need it, or discussing your influencing plans for bringing about change.

Our application process is often (but not always) time intensive, for us and for people who we invite to submit full applications. However, we’ve been glad to hear from many funded partners that they feel their proposals have been much improved as a result. The next deadline for outline applications is 6 February 2024, at 1pm. We’re already looking forward to working with new potential partners on strategic projects to improve living standards for people on low-to-middle incomes in the UK.