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Creating winning grant applications

Jo Curtin, Senior Grants Administrator at the Community Broadcasting Foundation, explains how to create grant applications that get noticed in a highly competitive environment.

Applying for a grant is a multi-step process. By attempting to pull an application together in one sitting, you’re not setting yourself up for success even if you’re a seasoned grant applicant.

Take time to thoroughly review the guidelines – make sure you’re eligible. After you’ve determined that the grant would be a good fit for your organisation, discuss the grant project with your team. In the early stage, some key considerations are:

1. Is the concept meeting an identified need for your organisation or your local area? Do you have evidence of this?

2. Does your idea fit in to your organisation’s strategic plan? If this project won’t really help to meet your organisation’s broader goals, look at other potential opportunities.

3. Do you have the authority to make the application on behalf of your organisation? Do you need to seek endorsement from the board or fundraising committee before the submission is made?

4. Are there people within your organisation that you should consult about the technical, financial or other specific details that the application will need information about? This is a good time to start collecting background information and evidence to support your application, i.e. annual reports and letters of support.

A key piece of the grant application puzzle is how well you articulate your organisation and its operations to someone that doesn’t know what you do. If you had to sum up your organisation or your project idea in a tweet (140 characters) what would you say?

You might not need to be quite so concise in your application, but if you can come up with a punchy ‘who we are,’ ‘what we are trying to do’ and ‘why’ story, your application will begin strongly and the assessor reading your application will understand your organisation and what you’re trying to achieve instantly. It’s worth putting a bit of time into workshopping and crafting the language in the application. Try not to make assumptions about assessors’ understanding of your project and the reasoning for it.

Once you have a good sense of your idea and you’ve read both the grant guidelines and the application form for the grant opportunity you’ve identified, contact the funder. Having a chat to their staff about your idea is a seriously under-utilised opportunity. As well as bouncing your idea off someone that hasn’t heard it before, you’ll get a sense of whether similar projects have been funded before, or if there are particular parts of your project that are more appealing to the funder than others. Some good questions to ask include:

1. What sorts of projects didn’t get funded last round and why?

2. How many applications were received last round and how many were successful?

If you finish your draft well before the deadline, the grant officer may be able to give you feedback before you submit the final edit.

Assessors have a big task – they read thousands of words, often on screen and under a deadline, so keep your sentences short and succinct and try to avoid long paragraphs. Remember that they may not be familiar with your sector’s terminology and acronyms. Clear and simple language is best.

A couple of things that often tick boxes for grant assessors and funders:

Collaborations

When partnering with other organisations for project delivery, ensure you identify them – describe their input, and ask them to write a letter of support. Your application stands a much better chance if you have already put the wheels in motion to begin the partnership prior to lodging the application.

Your contribution

If your organisation is prepared to put funds towards project delivery, it shows that the project is important and worthwhile. This contribution might be in the form of fundraising, or through ‘in-kind’ contributions, such as volunteer time. Assessors want to see details about other grants that you will, or have applied for to contribute to the cost of the project.

A clear budget

Does your budget add up? Check that it doesn’t look like you are making a loss or a profit by undertaking this project. If your budget is particularly complex, consider providing a simplified version in the application form and attach a more detailed version to support it. Carefully read the instructions in the application form about what to include in the budget. Many funders will want to see the whole picture for the project, with items identified that you are seeking a contribution towards.

For most grant bodies, there’s a science to assessing grant applications – assessment criteria. Usually, the assessment criteria are clearly identified in the grant guidelines and when your application is being assessed, the assessors will score you application against each criterion. So it’s really important that you address each of them.

When you’re answering the questions, don’t be afraid to back up your assertions with evidence. For example, if you are creating an opportunity for particular migrant communities in your area, how do you know that they are interested in participating? What information led you to target those groups? Have you involved them in developing the project plan so that it is culturally relevant? Try to be specific, and attach supporting documentation if you can.
If your organisation needs to replace or purchase essential equipment, find out how old the existing equipment is and if something happened to trigger the need for replacement; or if it will be meeting a new need, have you documented the instances where it would have been really useful? A picture can tell a thousand words!

There are a couple of golden rules – inform yourself and don’t leave it the last minute – the funder won’t be sympathetic if you only found out about the opportunity two days before the deadline, so make sure you subscribe to relevant grant newsletters, follow grant bodies on social media and hone the pitch and details of your idea early on.

TIPS FOR CREATING WINNING GRANTS

– Don’t leave it to the last minute

– Inform yourself about funding opportunities

– Follow grant bodies on social media to be alerted when rounds open

– Build a relationship with grant providers

– Put deadlines in your calendar of grants you apply for every year.

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