I have recently spoken to a range of local and national funders to find out about what they get most irritated by when reading your funding applications. 

Here the worst offenders and my thoughts on the practical steps you can take to avoid these common pitfalls.

Hand which says "OK?" on it

1. Jargon and Acronyms

No one likes jargon so why do we slip into using it? 

Jargon and unexplained acronyms make it hard for a reader who has no knowledge of your work to fully understand your application. 


  • Make your application jargon free! Try to explain what you do in a way that is understandable to someone with no prior knowledge of your work. 
  • Where acronyms are useful (we all love them to help with tricky wound counts) make sure that the first time you use it, you explain it e.g. Three Letter Abbreviation (TLA)
  • Ask someone else to read your bid – and not just people who work in your organisation and sector. I regularly ask my husband to read bids to make sure that I have made my case clearly.
  • Sense check your bids – have you used clear, plain language? Could you explain what you need to tell them more clearly?
  • Print your bids off and read them on paper. Sometimes we miss mistakes on screen that we can see on paper.
Clutter of paper, books and magazines

2. Bad Spelling, Grammar AND USING CAPITALS

The funders really felt there was no excuse for this as there are so many tools out there to help with spelling and grammar. 

AND CAPITALS MAKE THE READER FEEL LIKE THEY ARE BEING SHOUTED AT – use them for subheadings but as the main text it makes your bid hard to read.


  • Draft your bid in Word and Excel and not on the funders online form. That way you can run a spelling and grammar check.
  • Be kind with your formatting – as you can see in this blog, breaking up the text with subheadings, different highlights and bullet points makes it easier to read.
  • I love the Hemingway App (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/) for checking my writing. It shows you how clear your writing is and where you could make improvements.

3. Lack of evidence and being too anecdotal

I often say in training that there is a big difference between

  • Anecdotal: ‘Our workshops are very popular’
  • Evidence: ‘2000 people attended our workshops last year and 90% said that they would come again’. 

In many ways these sentences are saying the same thing, but the evidence provides concrete proof of how popular they actually are.

Funders want to hear about

  • the need for your work and the evidence there is to back up that need
  • the impact of your work and how you can show what outcomes and outputs have been achieved

Great data will help you with explaining need and impact. Talk about the numbers of things you have achieved (outputs) and the change that has taken place (outcomes). 

I love the ‘Outcomes are a piece of cake’ from National Lottery Community Foundation in Scotland to explain the difference between input, activity, output and outcome.

Large eraser


  • Do not underestimate the power of data, facts and figures – use them where you can.
  • The evidence shows that it is not just you saying that you are amazing but other people are too. As well as data, use your feedback or case studies to evidence the need for your work. For example a participant saying ‘I never thought I would be able to do something like that – they helped me feel so confident about trying’ alongside 90% of people stating they feel more confident after a session with us – would really strengthen you saying that you increase confidence.
  • Are you collecting the right kind of data and enough of it? I will be blogging more about this in the future!

4. All concept no practical information

This is a particular issue I find with arts organisations, but you see it across the not for profit sector. I read lots of beautifully crafted text, painting detailed pictures of the concepts embedded in their work, but missing the practical information. For a funder to support your work they need to be clear about the work you plan to do with their money. 


Have you covered the basics?

  • Why – Why is your work needed? Why are you planning to deliver your work in the way that you do?
  • Who – Who is your project aimed at? Who benefits from your work? Who will deliver the project?
  • What – What is your plan? What will you do? What is the problem you are solving?
  • When – When will the project take place? When do you need the funding and what are the timelines?
  • How – How do you know your work is needed? How will you evidence the need for, and the results of, your project?
  • Where – Where does your work take place? Where will the project happen?
Person holding up a sign with a lightbulb on it

5. Attention to detail

There were four areas that funders talked about that really bug them, and where they want you to pay more attention to the form and their requirements:

  • Not answering the questions
  • Budget that doesn’t balance
  • Missing info or attachments
  • Missing the deadline


  • We know that funders can ask similar questions but it’s really important to make sure you answer the question correctly. It’s not about what you want to tell them, it’s about what they need to hear/readThey may also be asking more than one question in a section so make sure you cover all of the things they ask for.
  • Make sure you read the guidance and are clear about what the funder requires. If you are not sure, send an email or call them to ask. A funder would always rather you spent the time asking them a question than wasted time applying.
  • Use Excel to draft your budgets, even when they have an online form.
  • Double and triple check your email or form before you press submit.
  • If you need “sign off” within your organisation before you can submit your application, make sure you build that time into your timetable to allow for ‘internal delays’!

Final thoughts

Do check out my recent article ‘What is on the mind of funders right now?’ HERE

Originally posted on LinkedIn here