How To Write
A Better Early Years Funding Application

Expert advice from former funder Maureen Askew

How can we make early years funding applications a little less of a nightmare?

That’s the question we asked ourselves this week. Writing an application is time-consuming and stressful in what is already a busy and stressful day’s work running a childcare setting. It’s time to simplify the whole process.

That’s why we spoke with accomplished early years expert and consultant Maureen Askew. Maureen has more than 40 years experience working in the sector, first as a practitioner, and later as a manager, a tutor for the Pre-School Learning Alliance, and now an early years consultant.

Most importantly for us, she 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.

We spoke with Maureen to work out a simple, no-frills method to make sure that your application gets read, considering, and approved.

Where to find your early years funding

You can’t write a good early years funding application if you don’t have any funding to apply for. Luckily, Maureen had a few good ideas on this one, but you can always check out our free guide to find over 15 grants 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 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.”

Finally, if you’re thinking about starting out or you’re in your first five years, the Bright Ideas Fund has just opened up for applications again. They can give up to £15,000 in funding and they’re focused on building great community support. “There are pots of money out there, you just need to look for them,” says Maureen.

Key advice #1: Only apply if you fit the criteria

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. Essentially, if it feels like you’re trying to fit a square-sized application into a round-shaped hole – stop – and find other funding.

“Don’t try and force your business to fit that criteria, because we can see,” explains Maureen. “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!”

It’s just not worth your time to think you can 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.

Key advice #2: Show that you can survive

OK, so you’ve made sure that you fit the criteria, what next?

“Once they’ve shown they meet the criteria, the next step was to show what they wanted the money for and – most importantly – how they were going to manage once the funding was finished,” explains Maureen.

The key in any early years funding application, but particularly any sustainability funding, is that you can prove you’ll survive once the funding runs out.

“It’s not a bottomless pit,” says Maureen, “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 months time.”

“Once that has ended I need to know what you’re going to do that you haven’t been doing in the past,” says Maureen. “What are you going to do so that when the money runs out you won’t be simply looking for more money?”

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t look to access funding when something surprising happens and you need a little help to get back on your feet…

“I worked for two different local authorities as a business manager and we awarded sustainability funding. We had the same principle there, but often it was out of their control.

I remember once we had a preschool that had to move premises at very short notice. As a result, they lost a lot of children who couldn’t go to the new premises because it was too far. They only had six months.

That was a case where it wasn’t their fault, and 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.”

Early Years Business Consultant and Trainer Maureen Askew

Key advice #3: Be very specific

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

You might want to improve your outdoor area, make a change to the building, or otherwise change something specific and costly at your setting. This is where you need to be very specific.

“Funders want to know what it is that you want quickly,” Maureen adds. “There are lots of opportunities for funding around but you need to have something specific in mind, or else you’re unlikely to be approved.”

It’s no good just sending an application off to improve the state of your bank account, or to cover your running costs. 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 improvement needs to be in line with whatever goals the funding authority is looking to achieve.

But wait, there’s more

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.

1. 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.

“Keep your early years funding application to the point. Don’t waffle. It might feel important to tell them your full story, but if it’s not relevant to the application then don’t include it. Bullet points will save you space and words. They help to grab attention a bit better because it’s easy to read and funders want to grasp what it is you need as quickly as possible.”

Early Years Business Consultant and Trainer Maureen Askew

2. Watch that word count

One way to keep it as short and clear as possible is to keep tightly to the word counts – or go even shorter.

“Word counts or character counts are there to help that you write your application concisely. It is often not possible to go over them with an online application, and with other forms the funder may simply stop reading. Keep to them.”

Early Years Business Consultant and Trainer Maureen Askew

3. Don’t write it in one go

It can be tempting to break the back of your early years funding application by sitting down with a nice cup of tea and hammering out the whole thing. But it’s not going to help your chances.

“You do not have to complete the application in one go. In fact, it’s quite hard to sit down and fill it in in one go, and your application will suffer. Try doing a bit, go away, come back to it and do some more. It’ll help to give you the clarity and headspace to write your best application.”

Early Years Business Consultant and Trainer Maureen Askew

4. Get others involved

Equally, you shouldn’t have to write the application alone. Get the people who know the different aspects of your setting best to contribute on their specialist areas.

“Use your team’s experience by getting them to write about the areas they’re strongest in. If there’s someone good at marketing or understands the financial figures really well, then get them to do that bit. Then it’s your job to pull it together. Take your time.”

Early Years Business Consultant and Trainer Maureen Askew

5. Get someone else to proofread it too

When you are so involved in your setting, it can be easy to get caught up in the tiny details and jargon. Remember that often funders aren’t necessarily childcare people – getting someone from outside of your setting to read your funding can help to make it easier to read.

“You need to proof-read it and proof-read it again. And get someone else to proof-read it as well – they’ll make sure you’re writing about something clear and that you’re not going off on a tangent. 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.”

Early Years Business Consultant and Trainer Maureen Askew

Free childcare grants guide

Interested in more? Download our full guide to childcare business grants, completely free.