Adrian McConnell, Head of Charitable Operations, the CO Research Trust

Competition for grant funding or grant capture is fierce. Some suggest that only 20% of grant applications get approved. That’s a significant amount of work that never gets the opportunity to move forward or be developed.

The grants committee at the CO Research Trust recognise how much time, effort and hard work is put into grant applications, to allow us to make decisions on which projects to approve. For many of our applicants, the time required to complete this process takes them away from critical clinical time.

As a grant provider, we wanted to offer our perspective as to what makes an exceptional grant application. We are keen to increase the chances of our applicants securing the grant funding they need. This is often the first step on the road to performing publishable research.

Of course, it’s in everyone’s interest for us to receive and approve as many brilliant research projects as possible. Our ambition is focused on improving the diagnosis of CO exposure, which in turn will help us understand how best to treat it. If we can learn more about Co-morbidities, we will know how to protect people who might be more vulnerable to CO exposure. We still have a long way to go. We need brilliant research projects to help us achieve this.

Here are our tips for applicants seeking to secure funding for their research project.

Do your research

Sound a bit obvious? The very first thing to consider in this process is whom to seek funding from. There are thousands of grant funding bodies around the world. But only a small number of them will be aligned with your area of expertise and focused on driving forward projects that are relevant to you. Don’t waste time applying to bigger organisations, just because they might have more funding available. Relevance is key here. Speak to colleagues, and find out about their experiences.


Once you have been able to draw up a shortlist, you can dig deeper to find out what kind of projects organisations have funded previously. Once you feel like you know a bit more about the funding bodies, then you can decide if they are right for you to invest your time in going through the application process. Draw up a shortlist and focus your efforts on those who are most relevant to you. Choose wisely, as this can be a time-consuming process. Here’s a link to the research projects we have previously approved.

Dates for your diary

Once you have decided whom to apply to, then familiarise yourself with the various different funding calendars. Each organisation will have their own funding cycle, they won't all happen at the same time.


Make a plan to carry out all the research that is required to complete the application, and build in some extra time in the schedule, to ensure you don’t miss any critical deadlines.

Be crystal clear

Be as clear as you possibly can be about what it is you need in order to deliver your project. You may know your project inside out, but it’s vital that you spell out clearly exactly what you need, whether that is covering the cost of your time, equipment, cost of fieldwork, carrying out workshops etc. Also, it’s helpful to clearly outline the precise output you are hoping for.


Where possible, avoid technical or industry-specific jargon, the people reading your proposal will come from a variety of different areas of expertise. We have published guidelines that cover what the Trust funds, what the Trust does not fund, T&Cs, etc - click here to review.

Know your stuff

Take the time to allow your thoughts and proposal to fully develop. Is your project part of a long journey? In this case, you’ll need to explain what the end goal is. Talk to colleagues, and find out how they developed their own research concepts, what they have learnt and what pitfalls are to be avoided.


Excite the reader

Your goal should be to make the reader as excited about your project as you are. Be positive, be excited, and explain the benefits clearly. Spell out why you are the right person, group, team, charity or organisation to deliver this project. Outline your experience and knowledge clearly. Write positively about the subject matter and your enthusiasm will shine through.

Be open and honest

Underestimating costs and figures at the beginning will only lead to disappointment further down the line. Do your research. Clarify your logic and be realistic about your figures. If you’re open about how much things will cost and how much time the project will take, you begin the partnership by managing expectations early and properly.

Cost planning

Funding partners appreciate this. We have put together a sample risk register to show how applicants can manage their project’s risk, download it here.

Provide everything that is asked for

Again, this may sound obvious but make sure you answer all of the questions and provide all the information that is asked of you. Things that may seem obvious to you, may need to be clarified to a reader who is brand new to your project.


Don’t be tempted to skip over sections, believing that the information is not required or too obvious. There are reasons why grant providers ask specific questions.

Consider any questions

What might people ask about your project? Do a dry run-through with a friend or colleague, and give them the opportunity to ask questions. This process helps to eliminate any uncertainty. It’s also advisable to ask non-academic and/or non-industry people to read through your proposal. They will see things from an entirely different perspective and there’s a good chance they will pick up on questions that might not have occurred to you.

Get the balance right

Novel research ideas are appealing to all grant funders. Breaking new ground is what brings the biggest change and has the greatest impact. However, how do you demonstrate that your idea is novel, while also backing up your proposal with enough data to give potential funders the confidence that the study will be valid? This can be a difficult balance to strike.


The key to this question is in the point below, as the answer will be different to each grant provider. Some will be more risk-averse than others, and therefore require more information/data to demonstrate a project’s viability. Ask the question of the grant funding body, how much is too much? You could submit an informal short precis of your work, ahead of full submission, to check the level of information that will be required. This will save a lot of time in the long run.

Pick up the phone

Before submitting every grant application, pick up the phone. Have a conversation with the main contact ahead of making your submission. This is possibly the single most useful thing you can do. Ask questions, talk through your proposal and clarify any points that you’re not 100% sure about.


Following this conversation, be prepared to amend your application. Be brave enough to change direction. If you get challenging feedback, be open-minded enough to take it on board and amend your project if necessary. Remember, the only stupid questions are the ones you don’t ask.

Check your submission

Before submission, ask a mentor to check your application. Simple errors and/or typos are very distracting from the real content and show a lack of attention to detail.

Polish your presentation

The greatest applications can fall foul at the final hurdle with a less than a polished presentation. The final stage of the Trust’s grant application process, once all applications have been shortlisted, is Presentation Day.

Talking head

This is where the shortlisted candidates present to the full Board of Trustees. This is a common stage for many research charities, and expectations are high. Invest the time in preparing and practising your presentation, this will pay dividends.

Be prepared to shine

Prepare yourself to talk openly and publicly when your research project becomes an overwhelming success. This often places people outside of their comfort zone, but sharing the results and findings, talking to the media, carrying out presentations or webinars, attending conferences, and doing interviews, are all things that will help your project shine.


We have put together a marketing plan to help ensure projects receive the attention and awareness that they deserve, and we work to deliver this throughout all stages of the project development. Click here to see how we support our grant recipients.

Believe in yourself

Don’t give up. If your grant application is rejected, find out why. Ask questions and take on board as much feedback as you can find out. Try again next time. The grant application process can be incredibly time-consuming, but the reward and payoff will be career-defining, so take the time to get it right.

For more detailed information on our grant application process, click here.