Tips On Winning EU Funding Proposals
There is no secret formula to writing winning proposals for any funding opportunity, including European funding.
The strength of your application depends a lot on the validity of your idea and how it complements the funder’s objectives, your own capacity and the capacity of your partners to carry out the work involved, and the current priorities at any given time in the cycle of a funding programme.
However, there are some tips that you can consider that can help to strengthen your application across all programmes and increase your chances of being successful.
We mentioned this already in our page on the Characteristics of EU funding, but given its important it is worth reiterating: Results should be at the heart of any European project. Consider always what you impact will be, who your target group is, and how you will measure these results. They will often ask you to think about these results in both the long and short term. Do not overlook the importance of these questions in any European funding application. Be clear about how you will measure and record results and what your key indicators for success will be. If successfully funded, this planning and the data collected from carrying out evaluation activities will help you enormously in demonstrating the impact and success of your project.
As with any funder, European programmes have their own objectives that they want to achieve. See Step 5 of our Getting Started with EU Funding article for more information on this. It is important to demonstrate that you are aware of European policies and objectives in designing a good project. You can do this by bearing in mind the following when designing and writing your project:
- How does this idea line up with EU objectives? Have you read the programme guide? Where specifically does this idea fit in the objectives outlined in the programme guide?
- Is the issue that this project aims to tackle significant at a European level? What is the evidence for this? Are you just drawing on national research to prove this or are you looking at European research or research from the other partner countries? Is there a demonstrable gap identified that this project will fill across Europe? How will this be proven?
- Are you referring to EU policy papers and conventions in your application? For example, the Europe 2020 Strategy, or to look at a more specific example, the Istanbul Convention by the Council of Europe or equivalent for your project area.
- If you are applying as a consortium, do you have a geographically widespread and diverse partnership? What strengths do they bring to the project in terms of exchange of best practice and innovation across Europe and the building of European networks?
This was also touched on in our article on the Characteristics of EU Funding, but it is important to emphasise again here that, with the exception of very few operating grants, the majority of European funding opportunities are project based. Consequently, EU funding will rarely cover core costs. As a funder, European programmes are generally interested in new, innovative approaches and solutions, and will not fund existing activities. Your application should therefore emphasise the uniqueness and innovation of your project idea wherever possible.
As with any funder, European programmes are eager to see value for money in the projects they approve. It may seem that European funding is bottomless but, in fact, budgets for most programmes are very limited with very ambitious targets to achieve. Bear this in mind when designing your budget and be clear about the added value that you and your partners could bring to the project in your application to ensure that the evaluator sees the value for money on offer.
Tied closely to the results orientated nature of European projects, this aspect is vital and usually falls under the category of “sustainability”. It is not always possible to measure long-term impact in a short-term project, but you can do your best to design your project with long-term impact in mind, especially in terms of its value to your organisation. Emphasise how this project will build on your organisation’s current work and how you will continue to use the results, even after the project has ended. Is there scope for a further project based on the findings of this one? Make sure to consider that in your project plan.
You should also consider incorporating a plan for how you will expand on not only the project in future, but also the European network you will have developed with your partners as a result of it, and on the national networks you will have established by working with your target group. Be clear about how this projects fits into your organisation’s long-term strategy and what your strategy aims to achieve. The funding programme sees these grants as an investment into Europe’s future and it is important that you do the same and that this is reflected in your application.
It may seem obvious that you should be clear about your target group but it is worth emphasising just how clear you should be. It is not enough to say that your target group is young people. You must be clear on exactly what sub-category of young people you are aiming to impact. Consider the following when describing your target group and their needs:
- Income level
- Education level
- Marital or family status
- Ethnic background.
When analysing needs, think of the following:
- What are the issues your target group faces? What is the evidence for this?
- How will your intervention help? What is the evidence for this? How will you measure this?
- Are they difficult to reach? How will you reach them? Do you already have access or do you need to engage other partners and stakeholders to achieve this?
- Does your consortium have proven expertise in working with this group?
- Are there any policies, e.g. child protection policies, that you need to have in place before working with this group? What are they?
- How will you ensure that your project is as inclusive and accessible as possible?
Defining your target group and needs will directly impact your project’s chances of success and so it is worth dedicating time to this in your planning.
Incorporated into any good European project application is a comprehensive dissemination plan. Dissemination is essentially a project promotion or communication plan but, in the case of a European project application, it should be considered on a local, regional, national, and European level. It is important to set ambitious but achievable dissemination targets that will clearly communicate the European value and nature of the project, and are measurable so that you can demonstrate their achievement after the project has been completed.
A good quality dissemination plan is one of the main criteria that your project will be evaluated against so make sure not to overlook its importance.
There is nothing more immediately apparent to an evaluator than when a partnership was thrown together at the last minute or when a project applicant does not know or trust their partners. If every activity in your application is focused on what your organisation will do and your partners seem like an afterthought or a token attempt at meeting the partnership requirements, it will be obvious in the design of your project and it does not bode well for its success. A partnership is a complicated and challenging opportunity but an opportunity no less.
Working as a team will give you the chance to greatly increase your capacity to work on a particular area, to trade new and innovative practices and ideas, to develop your organisation professionally and build its profile, and to be invited into other new and exciting projects. However, it does involve opening yourself up to risk and potential conflict. Evaluators know this and you as an applicant should too.
You can demonstrate that you understand this by considering the following:
- Get to know your partners, their strengths, their weaknesses, what they can bring to the project and what they hope to achieve from it. Design your project around this understanding. Give your partners responsibility for areas of project management or deliverables that complement their unique strengths. Do not try to do everything yourself, tempting as it may be. It is not sustainable in the long term as the work starts piling up, and it demonstrates a lack of trust in and respect for your partners.
- Involve them in project development as much as possible. Ensure you have all of the information you need from them to clearly demonstrate their role in the project and that they understand what they are taking on. If successful, it will help greatly when kicking-off your project if the partners all had the chance to read and feed back on your project application and have agreed to everything planned.
- Have agreements in place with your partners. Most projects require a formal agreement but others do not. Nevertheless, it is always best to have one in place. It is also best to have other agreements in place, e.g. a project management methodology, a risk management and prevention plan, or a communication strategy.
If you need further advice about European funding, you can also contact The Wheel’s European Programmes Team. We are here to advise you on European funding opportunities for your organisation. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.