Writing Successful Funding Applications
Writing your application
The recipe for most successful grant applications usually have the following ingredients:
Provide some information about your organisation
This is not the place to write a long-winded history of your organisation but to describe your purposes and long-range goals. The grant evaluators want you to demonstrate how your existing programs were developed to meet identified community needs. You will need to establish confidence in your organisation's capacity to deliver. Include short descriptions of the qualifications and experience of key staff and general project management competencies.
Support for your application
It is critical to establish a specific solution to a problem or issue in a geographically identifiable area. It is also important to ensure that the solution which addresses the problem should be something realistically achievable by your organisation. A small community organisation will not be able to solve all the problems of the world.
A simple and evocative case study illustrating the issue can capture the imaginations of assessment panels, however the subjectivity should be contained to avoid losing credibility. The voice of the writing should be backed up by accurate data based on objective research. Statistics that are out of date or incorrect will damage your case and can often be the final nail in the coffin.
Evidence of community support is often required, but don't just include letters of support for the organisation. Community support needs to be focussed on the project in need of the funding - why supporters think it will make a difference to the wider community.
The proposed project
Demonstrate that you have developed a clearly defined, creative, achievable and measurable strategy that addresses the issue/s and warrants funding. Make sure you:
- Clearly define your aims and objectives - An aim or goal is usually an abstract but very succinct description of what your program hopes to achieve. These objectives should be specific, achievable within a 12-month time frame, relate to a distinct geographical location and result in real outcomes that are easily measurable.
- Outline your methodology - The objectives need to be matched with strategies that show how each will be achieved, by whom and by when. This should begin with a rationale for why the particular approach was chosen at this time and for this community.
- Provide an evaluation strategy - Grant proposals need a detailed evaluation strategy to measure accomplishment of program objectives. Ideally, provision should be made for an independent outside evaluation of the proposed project.
- Address the budget - The required presentation of the program budget can vary from a simple, one-page statement of income and expenses to a more complex set of budget papers, including explanatory notes and revenue or expense items. The main thing is to be honest about your proposed expenditure and income.
Tips and Tricks
Be clear and concise
Unless the grantmaker specifically asks for a high level of detail, deliver your evidence without waffling or making it longer than it needs to be. Use statistics that are clear and support your argument. This will help you produce a logical and profiessional grant application.
Avoid trying to tug on people's heartstrings. Simply state the facts and let the funding organisation draw their own conclusions. When evidence is relevant, clear and concise, understatement can be a powerful tool.
Ensure the information you provide has clear and direct links with both the problem you express and the solution you put forward. While it is important to research widely, dumping a heap of unnecessary data that does not directly relate to your application can hurt your chances.
The best way of keeping things relevant is by asking yourself: "What has that got to do with our proposal?" Make the link between your information and intentions so clear that anyone, even those completely unfamiliar with your proposal, can see why it is necessary.
Attribute your evidence
Presenting evidence without attributing it to a source diminishes its value whereas if you were to include a reputable or authoritative source of information, it adds credibility to your statement.
Make sure your data collection is well documented. If the information you've collected originated from the internet, make sure the websites you reference are reliable and the links are current. Documented, factual statistics – as opposed to undocumented assertions or assumptions – will also provoke fewer questions about your proposal. Including names and sources ensures your information can be verified.
It is a good idea to use more than one type of data in your grant application. Data will be most effective if it is comparative. You can compare data over a variety of time periods, compare local data to state or national averages, or to other communities of a similar size or population.
It goes without saying that using outdated data for a new application is bad. Make sure the data you are using is the most recent available For example, do not use Census data from 2006 if there is data on the same subject from 2012. If you do need to use older data sources, explain why.
Data that supports an application should originate from the geographical area your organisation serves. Statistics that are too broad or generic will not help clarify the need to the funder. Demographic data is usually available for local government areas or even suburbs and towns. If no local data is available for your area, you may want to consider conducting your own survey. However, when using any local data, bear in mind that comparison data is still important. Comparing local data to state and national averages may help strengthen your argument.
Combine both types of evidence
Relying solely on statistics to explain your problem and justify your proposal can result in it being very one dimensional. On the other hand, qualitative evidence might pack a punch, but could also neglect very relevant statistics and hard data that lend support to your viewpoints.
Adding stories or case studies to hard data can be an effective combination, so aim for a well-rounded outline of evidence encompassing both qualitative and quantitative evidence. Use both to tell a complete, all-inclusive story to the grantmaker, picking and choosing the best evidence to use to illustrate each individual point. Bring in the human aspect wherever possible to add a personal touch to your grant application.
Don’t be all doom and gloom
It is important to give the reader – the funding organisation – some hope. Do not use evidence to paint a picture so grim that the problem appears hopeless and unworthy of an investment at all. Use comparative statistics or other research to show benefits and a positive outcome that will emerge if you were given your funding.
Your orgnisation may use its own jargon, acronyms, slang or other types of metamessage that will only stand to confuse other people, especially the grantmakers you present it to. Information should be articulate but also easy to read and understand.
Consider developing a short speech
After compiling all of your data and completing your grant application, it is a good idea to pick the main points out and use them to develop a short 50 to 100 word speech. By doing this you will have the ability to express verbally your intentions which can help give your application an emotive executive summary.
By having a short speech prepared you will be ready for when you enter into discussions with funders, proving not only that you know exactly what your application is about but also showing you have passion for why you want the grant.