Applying for a Comic Relief Grant? Here Are Five Things You Should Know

Comic Relief is the red-nosed charity that needs no introduction. As a household name in the UK, and growing presence in the US, each year it makes £100 million+ in grants to support vulnerable communities around the world. And chances are, if you’re a UK-based fundraiser in this field, you’ve interacted with them in some capacity.

As a grant-making organisation that raises funds from the general public, Comic Relief has a rigorous, criteria-based, multi-step assessment process for all applicants, where interaction with a Programme Officer only comes after the first round of written proposals. So how can a fundraiser stand out from the written process and make it onto the shortlist in this context?

I produce a podcast at I. G. Advisors — called What Donors Want — where we ask donors questions just like this. We were thrilled to have Comic Relief’s Head of Funding Partnerships, Adam Askew, on the show to give us exclusive insight into Comic Relief’s decision-making processes, as well as excellent fundraising advice. So if you’re applying for a Comic Relief grant, be sure to give the episode a listen before you dive into the process, and remember these top five tips:

#1: (Actually) read the criteria

Let’s be honest — we’re all guilty of this. It’s tempting to believe you’ll be able to make that square peg slightly more round, but Adam was adamant in stressing that Comic Relief is a criteria-based assessor and there is no way around this. You must confirm you’re eligible before going through the process, otherwise you’ll just create more work for yourself that won’t amount to anything. Comic Relief receives far too many proposals to make exceptions; yours won’t make it through without clear strategic alignment.

#2: Make information easily digestible

There are several layers of Comic Relief decision-makers whose hands your proposal will need to pass through before it’s funded. And this begins with a junior team who shortlists proposals against strict criteria and summarises these for senior staff. To get past this first gate, you need to communicate simply and specifically, and have key information jump off the page. It makes life as an assessor and as an application reader much more straightforward. Curate your proposal visually to guide the reader quickly to key information and test it out on someone who isn’t overly familiar with your work; if they can’t clearly summarise it after a few minutes, then revise until they can.

#3: Go deeper with context

Beyond answering surface-level context questions, you need to go deeper and give richness to your proposal. Explain: 1) why this work needs to be done; 2) why this needs to be done now; and 3) why your organisation specifically is the best one to do it. It’s essential to have this case for need and support, which is often easily forgotten, particularly if your work is in a niche cause-area space.

#4 Ask for multi-year support

Comic Relief is a sophisticated grant-maker that believes in the importance of multi-year funding and is very comfortable giving long-term grants to first time applicants. But you have to ask for this and make sure your team is prepared to navigate Comic Relief’s stringent organisational assessment.

This means the grant assessors will consider aspects like finances, capacity to deliver, and what additional support Comic Relief would need to put in place to support your organisation’s sustainability beyond their gift (e.g. capacity building). It may sound too good to be true but Comic Relief is keen to build this kind of support into their funding, so you must ensure you have all the information you need to answer questions around this.

#5 Tell brilliant stories

Good storytelling is essential to effective proposal writing — particularly for Comic Relief, as storytelling is integral to its mission and ethos. In Adam’s words, “Comic Relief is an entertainment-based organisation, so we want to be inspired by words that lift off the page to tell a compelling and brilliant story”.

Some fundraisers may be intimidated by this right-brain writing style, but it’s simpler than you think. Comic Relief is a funder that gives explicit permission and encouragement to be creative. So don’t be afraid to bring personality into your writing and use this opportunity to centre the perspectives of your beneficiaries.

Our conversation with Adam was excellent and illuminating, with more gems than could ever fit in one article. You can hear the full interview by listening to What Donors Want on iTunes, and stay tuned for future episodes, with more donor insights, coming soon.

Rachel Stephenson Sheff, Junior Advisor at I. G. Advisors

Originally published at