Who cares? You need to convince the funder that they should care

About three years ago I attended a funding workshop where an external speaker presented their take on how to structure, pitch and write a funding proposal. I think the focus was on European funding but many of the messages were applicable across a range of funding schemes both within and outside the UK. There was one message though that came from that session which has stayed with me since and that involves one key question (and a number of sub questions) you should be asking yourself as you develop an application.

That question? Well it’s a simple one – ask yourself ‘Who cares?’ To help think through a question like this I find it helpful to imagine describing your research idea to a member of your family, or perhaps a friend who is unfamiliar with your research and then think about how you would answer the ‘Who cares?’ question that they pose at the end of your description. If you can convince your friend or family member that they should not only care but take an interest in your research (part way to impact already….!) then you should be in a position to build a strong case to a funder.

What I particularly like about this question is that it is abrupt and shocking. Most people are experienced at explaining their research (although some are better at this than others!) but being challenged with an abrupt question like ‘Who cares?’ can catch you off guard and should make you think quickly and on your feet about why your research is important and why people should care. In my own work, supporting academics across a number of institutions, I will sometimes challenge research ideas in exactly this way. Getting your head around the question and making sure that your answer is convincing, credible and robust is a great first step in creating an effective argument to a funder.

If being so blunt is too jarring first thing on a Monday morning or early on in the drafting process then you might want to consider the following questions and make sure that you can answer them. The answers to all of these should appear in your application and are sub-questions of ‘Who Cares?’:

  1. Why this research question/s? (Remember, just because something hasn’t been asked or investigated before it doesn’t mean that it is important or worthwhile)
  2. Why you? (Why are you the best person or the best team to lead this research? Think about who your competition is and make sure you present a strong case for you)
  3. Why now? (Some funders might love your idea but not be convinced that now is the time to fund the research. They might find other proposals more convincing when it comes to the timeliness of the research. Make sure you are clear as to why this research needs to be done now)
  4. Why this funder? (Thinking about who is best placed to fund your research is really important. Think carefully about how your research aligns not only with eligibility criteria but also with strategic goals or research themes of the funder).

I love the ‘Who cares?’ approach. It can really help sharpen thinking and give you a great platform to build a strong funding application. Make sure you are asking yourself this, and the sub-questions, at every stage of the application.