5 Steps for Getting Started with EU Funding

EU funding offers a multitude of exciting opportunities for the community, voluntary, charitable and social enterprise sector in Ireland.

Engaging in European projects can benefit organisations of all sizes, allowing them to develop new research, ideas, programmes, and resources. It can also facilitate collaboration and learning between partners throughout Europe and enable organisations to build an international profile. However, researching the various opportunities and navigating the EU funding system can be daunting.


It is an investment of time and a significant learning curve,  so it is important to carefully consider whether this kind of funding is right for your organisation before making applications or entering into partnerships.


We’re created a five-step guide to get started with EU funding. Click on each step to learn more and to start your European journey. 

Step One: What Funding is Available?

There are a number of different funding programmes available to Irish community, voluntary and charitable organisations and social enterprises. Navigating these funds and finding out which ones apply to your organisation can be a confusing process.

To counteract this, Access Europe is creating a handy guide to the various EU funding streams and opportunities that are most relevant to the civil society sector. This guide will be published here on our website as soon as the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 is finalised. In the meantime, sign up to the Access Europe newsletter and follow us on Twitter to get regular updates on available EU funding and to stay informed about our guide's publication.

You can also visit our overview of EU funding opportunities for the sector for a brief introduction to the types of funding available.

Step Two: Getting to Know the Funds that Apply to you

Once you have reviewed the overall funding available to the sector and how it works, it is useful to focus on about one or two programmes that could suit your oragnisation’s themes and work.

Erasmus+ is a great example of a suitable entry-level programme. It has a simplified application process and extensive support is provided through the Irish national agency, Léargas.

European programmes normally involve a group coming together with one ‘lead coordinator’ and the rest as participating partners. Being a ‘partner’ in a project is a good way to get started without the additional financial and administrative responsibilities of being the applicant.

Building connections with other European organisations and networks is the best way to improve your chances of being invited into a project as a partner. See Steps 3 and 4 for more info on how to develop a plan and build European connections.

Starting small and working your way up ensures that your organisation has time to gradually build its capacity to engage positively with EU funding, rather than overstretching and over-committing to projects that distract from your core work instead of enriching it.

Keep an eye out for webinars, trainings and information sessions around the country organised by Irish national contact points, follow them on social media and sign up to their newsletters.

Step Three: Making Your Plans

In Step 2, we emphasised the importance of starting small and working your way up in EU funding. A good framework to develop your strategy for European projects is to complete a European Development Plan for your organisation, a template for which can be downloaded here

The purpose of this plan is to provide form and structure to your organisation’s future in European programmes.

In the template, you will find a brainstorming activity, which encourages you to list the various opportunities and barriers relating to EU funding for your organisation. We recommend doing this activity together with your team and even including some board members. EU funded projects have many components: management, financial reporting, administration, etc. 

This approach also helps you to identify where you need more advice, training or support before undertaking the application process. Remember: EU funding is not for every organisation! This activity will encourage you to weigh up the pros and cons and decide if it is a valuable investment of your time and effort.

If, after completing the exercise and ensuring you have the necessary information to make an informed decision, you decide that EU funding is a viable option for your organisation, you can move onto the next section of the template, which will ultimately become your organisation’s European Development Plan. The goals set should complement and advance your organisation’s overall strategic objectives.

This completed plan will keep you on course as you navigate the world of European projects. You can share it with potential partners and, if you are invited into a project, you can refer back to it as a means of ensuring that any partnership you enter is in line with your set goals.

Step Four: Building Your European Network

It is much easier to be invited into projects than to be the applicant, particularly if you are just starting out in EU funded projects. By observing others, you can learn the dos and don’ts of coordinating a project. It is also easier to apply for projects with partners you know and trust, and it reduces risk and ensures the best chances of success for your project.

How do I find partners and join projects?

  • Reach out to friends and colleagues in the Irish community, voluntary, charitable and social enterprise sector who have experience with European projects. Do they have contacts? Would they recommend you go forward?
  • Meet the relevant national contact points (e.g. Léargas, Creative Europe Desk Ireland and ESF) and talk to The Wheel's European Programmes Team. Are there partner search activities and events that they are running that you can join in? 
  • Create a profile for your organisation on Access Europe's Partnership database. The platform's goal is to showcase Irish civil society organisations who are interested in setting up partnerships for EU-funded projects and promoting them as potential partners to civil society organisations from other EU countries. Create your profile here
  • Register your organisation on some of the common Partner Finding Portals to increase your chances of being invited into a project. Tip: use your completed EU Development Plan (or a condensed version of it) as your organisation’s profile on these portals to communicate clearly who you are and what kind of partnerships you are interested in.
  • Are there organisations in Europe that you admire or wish to work with? Reach out to them via email and perhaps a project will emerge? What model or practice do they deploy that you wish to emulate or enhance…?
  • Get involved in European platforms or networks that are relevant to your organisation (e.g. E-PALE-Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe) and become an active member. Being active on platforms like these can also add strength to an application as it shows a commitment to working and sharing at a European level.
  • Research projects that have already been carried out in your area and read the partner profiles. A simple Google search can yield a lot of interesting projects and usually contains profiles and contact information for the partners involved. If you can afford the investment, try to make a visit to high potential partners to solidify connections.

Step Five: Staying Informed About European Policy

Once you have identified a programme with potential for your organisation, make sure to monitor it for when calls for proposals are published.

A handy way to keep updated about European funding opportunities for our sector is to subscribe to our free monthly Access Europe newsletter. The newsletter will provide you with key EU funding deadlines as well as information about training and events and relevant EU policy and news. Subscribe to the newsletter by joining Access Europe here.

This takes the work out of researching and monitoring programmes and allows you to quickly and easily scan opportunities to see if they apply to you. EU funding programmes are thematic and are often referred to as the “financial instruments” intended to put policy into action. It is therefore very important to stay updated on European policy in your area so that you can understand the context and aims of the programmes. When making an application, make sure to refer to EU policy, white papers, and strategies. Information on EU policy is made widely and readily available through the European Commission website. The Access Europe team is currently working on an EU Policy Guide which will be available here on our website and will highlight the European Commission's priorities and key initiatives for 2021-2027.

Once you have an understanding of how the programmes work and which ones apply to you, you can start making applications as funding opportunities arise, with your European network on board as partners. The application process can be challenging but an excellent learning opportunity for an organisation. 

The first application will be difficult but each subsequent one will become easier and will strengthen your organisation’s scope, capacity, and network.

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