I was recently asked to speak, along with others, about how to get funding at one of the regular informal postgrad lunches since I got the Durham fellowship.  Since I wasn’t really sure myself what put me over the top, I asked John Barclay what the criteria Durham uses for funding decisions.  Here is what he wrote:

I would say the three most crucial things are:

1.  A very good degree/previous qualifications (high GPA, if applicable, preferably from a good or well-known institution, but this is less essential).
2.  Very good references, esp. from people who are known to us in some way.
3.  Interesting research proposal, well articulated, and offering something that looks like a real contribution to the field, based on obvious knowledge.

I am not sure I would want to rank them as all three make a strong application together.

Also, if you think about it, these three criteria are also really the basis for acceptance in the program as well, too.