How writing trust applications is like baking a cake
by Gemma Nicholson
Last week was my daughter’s birthday. I had a day set aside to make her cake. A feat I hadn’t managed to achieve for the last couple of years, relying instead on the superior baking skills of either my mum or Marks and Spencer. But I do enjoy baking and this year I had promised to make it myself. She wanted it space themed. ‘Mars’ was her specific request! I had checked the cupboard to make sure I had ordered enough flour, eggs, butter and sugar. I had done a quick search on Pinterest for space/Mars/planet cakes. And, as I said, had set aside a whole day while she was at school to do this. No problem.
The day came around and after the school run, while waiting for the shopping to arrive with eggs and sugar, I looked again at the pictures to work out exactly how I was going to make this cake into anything that resembled space or Mars. I had put off this decision, as from the initial skim I couldn’t work out what was appropriate for my limited cake decorating skills. I spent half an hour getting stressed that I couldn’t manage the task, before eventually finding something that looked do-able without having to mould fondant icing into aliens. At that point I realised I didn’t have everything I needed and before I could even start beating the eggs I had to dash out to the shops for food colouring and decorations, losing another hour of precious baking time.

By this point you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with writing funding applications? Well, imagine the situation…

A trust application deadline is coming up. You have done a bit of research and think it is a good fit for one of your projects. You already have the project details written up, perhaps even a case for support or a previous grant application. So, already having a long to-do list, you set aside the day before the deadline to write up this particular application, feeling confident in the knowledge you have everything you need. But these are just the basic ingredients. The flour, butter, eggs and sugar, if you like, of the trust application.

I realised on that morning, although I knew how to make a cake and had all the key ingredients, I hadn’t planned exactly how I was going to present it. I could have made a decent birthday cake, but it wouldn’t have been a ‘space themed’ cake without the extra bits gathered that morning. The ice-cream cone for a rocket. The red food colouring for Mars.

Hopefully you’re starting to get the idea behind this incredibly stretched metaphor…

Yes, you could probably put together a reasonable application in one day with what you already have, but each application needs its own presentation. It needs to address the funder’s criteria and their specific questions – this needs consideration and planning too. They may ask for a particular piece of information or a tricky question you've not considered before. So rather than assuming you have what you need, as I did with the cake, take time in advance of the deadline to look at the criteria and make notes on how your charity/project fit this. Look at the questions on the application form, start a rough draft early to work out which you can answer and where there are gaps in information or answers that aren’t quite as strong.

You will then have time to think about how to strengthen these areas. For example, gathering information from colleagues, doing some additional research, or working out what monitoring procedures you can put in place. Pulling this kind of information together at the last minute is not as easy as nipping down to Hobbycraft for more sprinkles.

You can give your application the best chance of success by planning all the elements carefully in advance and working out how you can best present your project to fit the criteria of the specific funder.

Luckily the birthday cake was accepted by my daughter, although with the caveat that “Mars isn’t really red like that, it’s actually reddish brown”. If my cake had been up against others, by bakers who had prepared a little more in advance to fit the space theme, then I’m not sure it would have been successful!

You can see our guide to building your case for support here or if you would like some support with your trust applications please get in touch with me at

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