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6 simple ways to strengthen your grant applications

Posted February 13, 2017 by Virginia Davidson

Grant applications are an important component of most development operations. But they can also be a source of stress. It’s no small task to navigate the various guidelines, the different application formats, and the deadlines of each funder. Hopefully, you have a donor management system like Little Green Light that helps you track critical information such as application and reporting deadlines. That’s an important piece of the puzzle, but it won’t write those grant proposals for you!

If you’re feeling like you don’t know where to begin with your proposal, the following suggestions will help you get started, clear through the chaos, and strengthen your grant applications. It boils down to some simple ground rules, and six key elements to include in your proposal.

Laying the groundwork

Before we share the six key elements to include in your application, here are some important guidelines to keep in mind as you craft your proposal:

  • Make sure you’re eligible to apply. If the foundation explicitly says it funds wildlife rehabilitation and you’re seeking funds to support a local food pantry, you’re not eligible.
  • Minimize the jargon. Avoid using language that’s very specific to your sector or focus. Write your proposal so that it makes sense to a reader who has no experience with your line of work.
  • Follow the directions. If the foundation tells you to use 12-point font, double-spaced, do it. If they tell you not to submit examples of your newsletter or outreach materials, don’t.
  • Gather the required materials. Some funders require you to include additional documents with your application, such as letters of support, various financial statements, or the résumés of key staff. Collect these required materials early so you’ll have plenty of time to find them or create them if they don’t exist already.
  • Submit your application on time.

Six key elements to include in your grant applications

Even though application formats vary, most funders will ask for certain information from you, such as a description of your organization, a description of the problem you are addressing, and how the requested funds will be used. The following tips will help you craft responses to these standard questions. Some funders, especially small foundations, may simply require a proposal stating how the funds will be used. If the application is free form like that, these tips will help you develop a framework for your proposal and ensure that you make a compelling case for your funding request.

Key element #1: Organization description

  • Don’t give the entire history of your organization.
  • Do include the most relevant facts, like number of clients served each year, your core services, number of staff or volunteers, and any major accomplishments.

Key element #2: Describe the problem or need your program will address

  • Don’t describe the program itself.
  • Do clearly identify the need that exists, and describe the motive for the program.

Key element #3: Program/project description

  • Don’t forget to include specifics about your program or project, like key activities and timelines, the number of clients who will be served, how the requested funds will be used, and how you will evaluate your program.
  • Do explain how your program or project addresses the problem or need you described.

Key element #4: Fit with funder’s mission

  • Don’t assume that the connection between your program or project and the mission of the funder is obvious.
  • Do present clearly how your program fits the mission of this particular funder and will further their own goals and vision.

Key element #5: Fit with your mission

  • Don’t presume that the connection between your mission and your program or project is self-explanatory.
  • Do explain how this program or project will advance your mission.

Key element #6: Past indicators of success

  • Don’t make general statements about your organization’s commitment to its mission.
  • Do provide concrete examples, like number of clients served each year and client testimonials, to demonstrate that the funder’s investment in your organization will be productive and successful.

Incorporate these ground rules and six key elements into your proposals, and you’ll strengthen your grant applications and eliminate a lot of  guesswork for yourself.  Good luck!





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