Most associations are involved in research and innovation projects, yet they often face the challenge of having to do it with limited resources. The EU can provide crucial financial support, empowering associations to launch and sustain their goals and broaden their impact. Available in various forms, such as grants, loans, or public tenders, EU funding helps projects become a reality. Securing it, however, requires strategic planning and careful execution. Here, we share our key insights for navigating direct EU funding opportunities and tips for developing an application that stands out. 

A Failure to Plan is a Plan to Fail 

Strategic planning is essential for associations who seek to make the most of EU funding opportunities. It begins by having clear answers to these basic but fundamental questions: What are we trying to achieve? What do we need to get there? Who will they benefit from our project and how? How much time do we have? Clearly defined objectives, along with a target budget and timeline, help associations keep their goal in perspective as they navigate the array of opportunities and requirements for EU funding. Then, it’s important to allocate the time and resources to thoroughly understand and engage with the application processes, which brings us to the next point. 

Ready, Set…Monitor! 

Accessing funding requires regular monitoring and a commitment over time to spot the right call at the right time. Make it a routine to keep an eye out for new announcements and proactively follow updates or talk to those who do. Engaging regularly with the EU funding portals and subscribing to alerts ensures you will not miss out on suitable calls. Even when the fit is not perfect, the time dedicated to understanding relevant timelines and procedures will pay off when the moment is right.  

When is it a Right Match? 

Start by gaining a comprehensive overview of the available EU funding programs. EU funding covers a wide range of areas, from horizontal initiatives on research and innovation to thematic topics such as environmental protection and digital transformation. Projects can often be tailored to demonstrate an appropriate fit to the criteria in the respective program. Here, it is essential to recognise the right program and angle for your project. Then, delve into the specifics—eligibility criteria, deadlines, percentage of co-financing expected, financial capacity and track record requirements, and thematic focus—to ensure you cover all the bases. 

The Tailor-Made Application 

The application process requires accuracy and clarity. It is important to articulate how your project meets the funding program’s objectives, highlighting its relevance and potential impact as well as alignment with EU policy frameworks:  

  • Aligning with EU Priorities 

Keep in mind that the EU employs various instruments to pursue its policy objectives. Projects that contribute to these key areas—such as fostering sustainable development, advancing digital transformation, or enhancing skills and education—are more likely to attract support. For example, projects led by associations often aim at broader sectoral or societal benefits, which aligns well with EU funding objectives that favour initiatives with positive broader impact on communities, regions, or industries. 

  • Highlighting Uniqueness 

What sets you and your project apart? Identify your project’s added value, whether it lies in your capacity to deliver it or in its design for long-term sustainability. Tailor your proposal to the specific needs and priorities of the target audience and funding entity. Emphasise how your project introduces innovative solutions or methodologies, addressing current gaps and challenges. This is easier said than done, but makes your application stand out. For associations, for example, this could be highlighted by leveraging the specific expertise, resources, and contacts of their members.  

  • Covering Evaluation Criteria 

When developing the project, it is important to set realistic and clear deliverables. Achieving feasible results is more important than not delivering on time or at all. The EU typically publishes funding evaluation criteria together with the application guidance and templates. These criteria—covering aspects such as relevance, competence, expected impact, and efficiency of implementation—are crucial for applicants to adhere to when applying. 

In Unity, There is Strength 

We all know that partnerships, known as consortiums, are the cornerstone of successful EU funding applications. They are not only an advantage, but it is sometimes required for partners from different countries to contribute to the project from various perspectives. Associations tend to have an advantage thanks to their networks, including national entities through their membership.  

Establishing partnerships can also involve using partner search portals or partner search announcements under the respective call which includes entities with a declared interest. The process could also involve reviewing past projects to identify experienced potential partners or seeking EU funding consultancies with a broad database, which can also facilitate this process. 

Elevate Expertise 

If your association has a history of successful project implementation in your field of expertise, especially those in line with EU objectives, do not hesitate to highlight it. Additionally, engaging with EU funding advisors can offer invaluable experience on making your proposal more compelling. 

Stepping into EU funding can feel like a maze—challenging yet full of potential for associations who aim to make an impact. It is all about smart planning, staying alert, and carefully preparing your submissions. With a dedication to precision and a broader perspective, navigating this complexity becomes manageable. 

Zeynep Yildizeli, Senior Association Management Consultant