Many PhD students are put off even considering charities due to a number of common misconceptions.
The first myth is that they are all extremely specialized. Yes, there are bodies like the Leverhulme Trades Charities Trust, that helps the spouses or children of grocers, pharmacists, and commercial travelers, and the Vegetarian Charity, that funds only vegetarians and vegans. But the majority are simply general bodies concerned with helping people of all kinds – not just students - overcome financial barriers in doing what they want to do, especially in relation to education or training. Examples? Check out the Stapley Educational Trust, the Humanitarian Trust, the St. Clemant Dane Educational Foundation, and the Leatherseller’s Company. These bodies will help almost anyone, and there are hundreds of others. You just need to be able to find them.
The second myth is that these bodies are poor. Charities vary enormously- some are very small, but most have assets of over a million pounds. From your perspective, this means awards (usually) of £500-£2000. Small beer in comparison to a full scholarship, but still significant. Plus you can get awards renewed each year, and get backing from multiple bodies. In fact, when you gain one award, other charities are more likely to see you as a credible investment, and may also offer support. So funding can soon mount up. And they make fast decisions- they often have four or six deadlines spaced throughout a year, and reply within two months.
The third myth is that applying to charities is complex. In reality, application forms are usually short, and your statement to one charity can largely be reused when you apply to others. There are no strict word limits or places where you have to argue the finer points of your research or studies in detail. Charity committees will be most interested in your financial situation, and how plausible a case you present to overcoming your difficulties. Showing you are working hard, have a part time job, have minimized your living costs, and have a ‘backup plan’ if funding does not emerge will get you further than a painstakingly planned research statement and a glowing CV. Charities are really very different from ‘academic’ funding bodies like research councils.
The fourth myth is that charities are massively oversubscribed, and that the chances of winning awards are slim. It is true that some receive considerably more applications than they can fund, but many others actually do not receive many student applicants, mainly because so few know about them or consider applying! The Stapley Trust, for example, made awards to around 90% of students who applied in recent years.
The fifth and final myth is that overseas students shouldn’t bother, because funds are only available to home students. This simply isn’t true. Yes, there are some bodies which are open only to UK nationals, but many others will consider anyone currently resident in the UK. Plus there are a whole host of funds for people of particular nationalities. Whatever your age, nationality, or strength of CV, there are bodies out which can help you.