Whether it’s through government departments, philanthropic organisations, industry bodies, research councils or sector specific grant givers, there’s probably a grant out there for you. The problem is others will also be looking for the same bucket of money. The successful grant winners will demonstrate why the funder should be confident that their money will be in good hands. So what drives this confidence?
1. Be mindful that getting a grant is not a license to print money. The hand that feeds has its own agenda and conditions for use of the funds it distributes. Find out what policy or impetus is driving the need to issue the grant. Does your project help the funder to achieve the outcomes they are accountable for? Why would they be interested in helping you? Helping the funding body to achieve its accountability outcomes is one of the most important factors in deciding who gets the grants. If you don’t address this, you application may not be successful.
2. The easiest grant applications to write are those where the need is clearly backed up by research. Put together your business case, link it to policy and strategy documents, and justify your argument with well researched and evidenced statistics. This information won’t be wasted because it can be used for evaluating your project later on. Statistics help tell the story the funding body is looking for. Don’t embellish, be factual – data is king.
3. Technology is your friend. It enables you to download the guidelines and application forms as soon as they are made available. Subscribe to notifications of funding opportunities to give you the maximum time to put your application together. Search online for examples of previously funded projects and how much they were funded for. Keep up to date with the Frequently Asked Questions – somebody else might be asking the same questions you’ve been thinking about. Funders often offer briefing sessions online and you can submit your application online too.
4. Be patient. It may take months for the funding body to announce successful grants and that’s before the official start dates. If you can’t wait that long to get started, don’t apply. Look elsewhere.
5. If you’re going to apply with partners, make sure they are committed and will play an active role in the project. List each partner in the application. Document their involvement in your responses to the criteria questions and in the project plan. If you then get funded and your partners can no longer commit, it’s usually okay to change the individuals/organisations involved as long as you inform the funder.
6. Get the balance right. On the one hand, don’t chase every taxi that comes your way and on the other hand; be careful when you get a grant that is so large that it consumes the resources of your organisation. When you chase every grant there is, you dilute your resources and in some cases may find you’re working outside your core purpose.
When you put your energy into a large grant, it can take over to the exclusion of everything else and when the project ends, there is nothing else left. Don’t let this happen to you.
7. Don’t skip on the project plan. A realistic plan that is broken down to its components, which defines the resources and how they will be used, demonstrates a quality application. Break the plan down into stages – if the application round is oversubscribed, some funders may consider at least part funding your project.
8. Don’t be too competitive with the budget to the point that the project becomes unrealistic. Value for money doesn’t mean ‘on the smell of an oily rag’. If the project calls for a professional pitch, complete with infrastructure and transport, then cost them in (if eligible within the guidelines). Budget staff costs realistically to attract the staff with the right skills to make the project a success. Sometimes applications are rejected because they are perceived as too cheap.
Getting the right balance is paramount. You can’t go back and ask for more money if you ask for too little and you won’t be deemed credible if your budget far exceeds the activities of the project plan.
9. Finally, grants are welcome contributors to revenue – but don’t become grant dependent. Diversity your income streams to at least three sources of income to reduce the risk of organisational failure when the grants dry up. Financial independence also means that when policy and rules change out of your favour, your organisation is not going to find itself in financial dire straits.
Following these nine principles will help build confidence in your proposed project. Treat the funding body with respect. Give them what they want. Make sure you can contribute to their policy outcomes. Argue the need for your project as factually as you can – generalisation doesn’t stand out from the crowd. Gone are the days of hand written submissions – use technology to show you are serious and to save you time. Be selective in the grants you apply for – choose the ones that are a mutual fit and that you can deliver in the time frame specified by the funding body. Working with partners shows wider commitment and sharing of skills and resources – provide evidence of this wherever you can. Don’t skimp on the project plan – it’s vital to show how you are planning to deliver on the outcomes you’ve committed to. Get the budget right and don’t become dependent on grants as your sole source of income.
Grant writer, strategic thinker and Manager at The Community Entrepreneur, Pat has worked on both sides of the funding fence, both in Australia and in the UK. Pat has worked for funding bodies, put together guidelines and criteria, as well as assessed applications. She has not only managed a multi-million UK pound project but also worked with organisations to build their profiles from a low base and attract large grants. Between 2011 and 2013, she took one organisation from crisis to one million dollars in grant income whilst providing support services to manage the new business activity.
Pat is offering a free copy of the Grant Winning Success Guide as well as a 30 minute consult to get you started on your journey. To access this offer and to discover how Pat and her team can help you, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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