How do successful project writers develop their funding applications? - M-Powered Projects
The new “season” of European funding deadlines has already started, with more and more of my colleagues and clients busy developing new project ideas. It made me wonder, what really helps project managers to write successful Erasmus+ project applications. I decided to ask four successful project writers from the NGO sector in Ireland and Poland how they write their projects, focusing on the following seven questions:

1. Where do they get their project ideas from?

2. How do they decide if an idea is of value?

3. Where do they prefer to write, in the office or at home? Do they need to shut out the whole world and focus entirely on writing? Or do they prefer to break writing up with other tasks?

4. How much time do they need to prepare KA1 and KA2 project applications?

5. Do they write on their own or do they prepare a project application collectively with a whole team?

6. Do they feel stressed, creative, or challenged when they develop a project?

7. What would their advice be for writing successful project applications?

The people I spoke to have either a success rate of over 80% success in their applications or have secured more than 1 million EUR in the last 3 years for their organisations.

The successful project writers I interviewed all had different approaches and tips. What works for each individual is determined by their personality and working style. I’ve listed their answers below in the hope that there will be something for everyone.

Where do they get their project ideas from?

  • Start with your organisation’s strategic plan and then study the European programme (e.g. Erasmus+) priorities. Look for overlaps. Apply only for projects that correlate with your organisation’s strategy. Once you have a basic project idea, meet with your team and brainstorm what you could develop through this project idea and how it can support the organisation’s work and your target groups.
  • Look for gaps in your current projects. What is missing? Ask experts who work with your target groups what would they need to have to create a bigger and more sustainable impact.
  • Meet people from your sector, participate in networking events, travel abroad to investigate good practices that don’t exist in your own region or country.
  • When you see an innovative methodology that is working well for one group, try to adapt it for your own target group. Before applying for funding, consult with experts and analyse the needs of the beneficiaries.

How do they decide if an idea is of value?

  • Interview your target group or organise a public consultation.
  • Talk to partner organisations that may know the target group better than you.
  • Do desk research. Read about sector trends. Study national and European policies. The more research you do, the better the rationale will be in your project application.
  • Use the Design Thinking empathy phase process.
  • Do an annual survey with your target groups. One of the project writers I interviewed can ask over 1800 organisations about their training and education needs through an annual survey of the Irish NGO sector, which allows them to identify trends and gaps to be addressed in projects.
  • Check if your idea would really work with experts.​

How do they develop a project idea?

The experts’ answers fell into one of two approaches

  • Once an idea is identified, the project writer organises a brainstorming session with their project team and then consults with partners or experts.
  • If an organisation is big enough to have a development department, the project writer working in that department approaches the relevant team in the organisation to see what they need to develop through funding. Then the writer designs the project based on that feedback, and consults with senior management for approval.

Where do they prefer to write, in the office or at home? Do they need to shut out the whole world and focus entirely on writing? Or do they prefer to break writing up with other tasks?

I got very different answers to this question, so I’m simply going to quote our expert writers:

I like to get into a “writing trance” in which I write constantly for a dozen or so hours per day. What I find helpful then are breaks for consultations with experts on the project topic. They’re especially important for me in the first phase of project writing, when we develop the idea.

In the final stage of project writing, I can’t work in the office. I prefer to write at home on my own, as there are too many people and too many disruptors in the office. I even switch off my mobile phone and social media.

When I need a break to gather my thoughts, I go for a walk. I try to motivate myself by accomplishing tasks. When I finish writing a part of a project application, I take a break.

SylwiaTałach-Kubas

I tend to invest a lot of time in the project development phase, when I recruit partners, create intellectual outputs and estimate a budget. I start this a couple of months before the deadline. I send partners a partner pack (documents to fill in and questions to answer) to contribute to the project. Then, for writing, I block off a week or two before the deadline.

I’m most effective when I write at home.

Emma Murtagh

How much time do they need to prepare KA1 and KA2 project applications?

All of the experts I spoke to claim that ideally one should reserve 2 – 3 months for a Erasmus+ KA2 project application, especially when you’re starting from scratch and need to find reliable partners with whom you’ll develop the project. You can actually write a project application in 2 weeks, but you need time before that to build a partnership. Some partners may drop out, or you, as project coordinator, might decide that a partner is not performing and that you want to replace them. That all takes time and the longer you have, the more choice you will have in partners.

A KA1 project application required 1-month preparation. But if you have already created a development strategy in your organisation and contacted receiving organisations, you can write the proposal in as little as 2 weeks.

Do they write on their own or do they prepare a project application collectively with a whole team?

It depends a lot on the organisation structure and project management processes. Only one expert I interviewed writes projects on her own, although she still has partner organisations and experts contribute to intellectual outputs. Other organisations have developed interesting internal systems for project implementation:

  • Writing in pairs + experts: one person is responsible for the formal part (e.g. description and background of an organisation, dissemination etc.), while the “meat” of the project, i.e. the project idea and content, is prepared by experts. Another person checks the whole application, corrects mistakes, and identifies areas for improvement.
  • Writing as a team with one person acting as coordinator: In this model, the team uses a checklist which serves a management tool, listing the steps needed for completing the application, e.g. budget, mandates, review, etc. The coordinator is responsible for completing the checklist and submitting a project proposal before the deadline.

All the experts I spoke to enjoy the coordinator role and believe it is vital. It gives them the chance to see the project as a whole and to feel ownership. They all said they have seen projects where no one was assigned the role of coordinator and that it had a disastrous effect on the process.

Do they feel stressed, creative, or challenged when they develop a project?

Let me quote the experts:

It depends on many factors. But, in general, I’m excited when I finalise a project application and about the fact that we created it as a team. Ideally I have time then to make final corrections and submit the project.

SylwiaTałach-Kubas

I prepared a lot of project applications in the past. It was a time when I was not aware how important it is to look after my own wellbeing and regenerate energy. Sometimes it was madness. While still doing all my regular work, I spent a lot of extra hours writing projects.

Kasia Piecuch

Writing a project application is a creative task. It’s like writing a book, but in a different type of language. It can’t be done mechanically. And that’s why it’s stressful because there is always a deadline that can’t be missed.

Bogusia Łuka

At first, it was very stressful because I was inexperienced and didn’t allow enough time or factor in various complications. Now, I have good practice habits that help prevent this from happening. I always have one or two extra partners than what is required in case one drops out. I allow double the time I think I need and make sure to do paperwork and other requirements early. Now, if I get stressed it’s because I’m just fed up with the process as the deadline gets nearer and am eager to get it submitted! If it’s a major deadline, I try to schedule a day or two off after the deadline to rest, because I know I will probably end up working overtime in the lead up

Emma Murtagh

What would their advice be for writing successful project applications?

There should be a very clear overlap between your organisation’s strategic priorities and the funder’s priorities. Don’t force an idea where it doesn’t fit, no matter how good it is!

Emma Murtagh

My best projects were the ones where I knew exactly why they were crucial for my organisation. When you genuinely believe in your project idea, there is much bigger chance of it being approved. This is not the case with projects that are prepared simply because you feel obliged to apply for certain funding.

Bogusia Łuka

It is very important to build good project teams and to share competences well when writing a project.

Sylwia Tałach-Kubas

I think the KA1 action is one of the best EU financing mechanisms. You can learn something new, and develop your organisation. My advice would be to include interesting activities for yourself, the writer, in the project, e.g. a training, conference, or course. Something you would find inspiring for yourself. This is how I built my motivation.

Kasia Piecuch

Many thanks to my colleague expert writers for taking time and sharing their opinions, especially SylwiaTałach-Kubas from Stowarzyszenie PlinEU, Bogusia Łuka from Fundacja Uniwersytet Dzieci and Emma Murtagh from the Wheel.

 

If you would like some guidance on how to write a successful Erasmus+ accreditation application, you can get our 64-page pdf guide here.

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