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Lottery funding

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How to bid for funding from National Lottery distributors.

Did you know?

The National Lottery was launched in 1994. For each £1 ticket purchased:

  • 28p goes to good causes
  • 50p goes towards prizes
  • 12p goes to the treasury in duty
  • 5p goes to Lottery retailers
  • 5p goes to the game operator (0.5p of this is profit; the remainder covers operating costs).

About 70% of all adults in the UK play the National Lottery. Since the National Lottery began, it has raised some £36bn for good causes – that’s about £30m a week.

Some 500,000 grants have been made across the range of good causes, which include sports, arts, heritage, charities, health, education and environment. More than half of all grants made are under £5,000.

Why bid for Lottery money?

Why not? It's the biggest source of non-statutory grant funding in the UK. It's been established by local people and is there to benefit local people. The Lottery distributors are well organised, and the grants application processes are fairly straightforward with easy-to-access guidance.

However, Lottery funding is extremely popular, and this can mean that even some very good ideas don’t get funded. Read our guidance on writing funding applications to make yours stand out from the crowd.

Who distributes the funds?

The money raised through the National Lottery is distributed by agencies covering a wide range of good causes. These are shown in the table below.

Arts Heritage Sport Community, voluntary interests: health, education and environment Olympics
UK wide British Film Institute (BFI) Heritage Lottery Fund UK Sport The National Lottery Community Fund Olympic Lottery Distributer
England Arts Council England Sport England
Wales Arts Council Wales Sport Wales
Northern Ireland Arts Council of Northern Ireland Sports Council for Northern Ireland
Scotland Creative Scotland Sports Scotland

An easy way to identify the most appropriate distributor is to visit the Lottery funding website where you can search by:

  • type of organisation
  • amount of money you want to apply for
  • where (geographically) the funding will be spent
  • what you want to spend the money on.

Use this as a guide. We suggest you still visit individual distributor websites for more detailed information.

A good place to start for small organisations

Awards for All is a programme managed by the National Lottery Community Fund on behalf of all the other distributors. The funding available is for projects that encourage people to take part in art, sport, heritage and community activities. In addition, it supports projects that promote education, the environment and health in the local community. It can be used to run pilot projects to test ideas and gather evidence for bigger programmes. Grants range from £300 to £10,000. There is a simple application process which takes up to ten weeks. 

Think before applying

You are going to make an application and this has to be done in writing. Lottery grants officers read through hundreds of applications, so make yours as easy to read as possible. Use clear and precise language, and include diagrams or photographs where appropriate.

Because of the high volume of applications, many of the distributors ‘score’ applications against a set of criteria, which you can usually find on their website. Where programmes are oversubscribed, the applications with the lowest scores may not even be discussed by the decision-making committee. So take the time to understand what the funder is looking for and how you meet their criteria.

Finally, make sure that you read through your application to check that you’ve answered every question. Hundreds of applications are returned or rejected as applicants haven’t completed the form properly. This delays the whole process and can be very frustrating, so check, check and check again before you submit.

How to do your research

1. Before you put pen to paper to make an application you need to do your research.

  • Go to the distributor’s website and look at ‘open’ grant programmes.
  • Check that your organisation is eligible to apply; eligibility includes the type of organisation you are, your legal status and where you are based.
  • Look at the programme aims, outcomes and objectives and be clear how your project fits.
  • Check what they will and won’t fund, and whether there are limits on size of grant.
  • Make a note of deadlines for application and whether it is a one or two stage process.
  • If you get stuck, ring the Lottery good causes helpline: 0845 275 0000 (text phone 0845 275 0022). They can refer you to an appropriate distributor or answer your questions directly.
  • If there is an online application process go register your application and check out how this works now.

In most local authorities there is a support agency for the voluntary sector, such as the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), or even a local authority Lottery funding officer. They can give you information about Lottery funding, and may even be able to help you with your application.

2. Once you have a general idea about which distributor you want to apply to, you need to get down to the detail:

  • Get a copy of the application form and programme guidelines.
  • Read through these carefully, highlighting things that you don’t have an immediate answer to.
  • Make a list of all the things you need to send with the application. These will range from a signed referee form, to annual accounts, a constitution, or a business plan. For capital projects, you may need to send architectural drawings and details of planning consent, as well as evidence of match funding.
  • If you need other signatures on your application (for example your chair’s), make a note of who they are and agree a set of dates for this to happen. That way if someone important is going to be on holiday you can make alternative arrangements now and not be let down at the last minute.
  • Check to see if the Lottery distributor runs a road show or workshops to provide applicants with information about making an application. Attend if you can, because this will help you do the right things and to understand more about how your application will be reviewed.

Making the application

If you haven’t already got a project proposal, now is the time to start creating one. Many of the distributors offer guidelines on doing this. There are lots of publications that you might find useful. In addition there are many and varied training courses you could attend if you want to. 

Things to remember

  • Be sure to state clearly your eligibility for the programme. Read the guidelines carefully and answer each point. If you aren’t eligible, your application won’t be considered.
  • Look at the criteria for the programme and respond to each point in turn. Be specific in what you say. Show that you have planned your project and have a sense of size and purpose and that this is genuinely reflected in the budget you submit.
  • Set a realistic timetable for your project.
  • Provide evidence that shows there is a need for the project, and why you are best placed to deliver your proposed outcomes.

Get more help

Writing funding applications

How to fill in the evaluation questions in funding applications


Page last edited Sep 17, 2019

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