Many organizations wonder how to make their grant requests stand out over all the others in such a competitive economic climate. While it is certain that the downturn has made the grant making process more competitive, and the pressure greater on organizations to show their worth, here are a few tips to ease the process and nudge your application towards success.
- Confirm your organization is grant ready. Just because you are eligible to apply for a grant does not mean that you should. Grants are not merely a vehicle to add dollars to your operating budget – they are formal agreements that require planning, implementation and verifiable results. Any organization must consider their ability to meet the specific requirements of the grant program, as well as their capacity to successfully administer the grant if awarded, including their accountability for the end results.
- Concisely identify the community you will target and the specific need you will serve. Every grant proposal begins with an idea stemming from an urgent need in the service area. Knowing this information, and being able to present it in a very clear, compelling and cogent way will form the basis for a successful application. The grant narrative should set this information forward early on, in practical language and with striking, supporting statistics to highlight the specific community demography to be served.
- Design SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-based) goals, objectives, and outcomes.Goals and objectives should be more quantitative than qualitative, but take care to avoid making sweeping claims and setting targets that are too high to achieve. Goals, objectives and outcomes should be directly related to the community and the need, and be realistic and attainable. These are the standards you will be held to in your agreement with the funder, and you will certainly want to present good results to honor that agreement and establish your organization as a successful grantee. Successfully winning and administering one grant greatly improves your chances at getting another.
- Show broad stakeholder support and buy-in.Wherever possible, it helps an awful lot to show a collaborative effort. Applications that demonstrate an inclusive community-based approach are generally more favorable. Perhaps you have partners who will provide certain services to or support for your grant: other community and faith-based organizations, local government agencies, and local elected officials. You can create an “Advisory Council” that consists of representation from each of these entities and meets regularly to help assist with project implementation and oversight. This group would also provide an important vehicle for community participation and feedback as the project moves forward.
- Have a plan to validate your results. Whether a private foundation or the federal government, funders want to see the return on their investment and validate that said investment was wisely spent. Evaluating your grant-funded projects helps you verify and demonstrate your success, both to current and future funders, as well as other stakeholders in the community.
- Think beyond the grant: sustainability. Funders want to know their investment will continue. A grant is often seen as an initial investment; the organization uses its own leveraged resources of community buy-in, strong leadership and general capacity to take this initial capital and develop and implement a project, which it can then keep going. It’s important to speak to this in your application, and provide specific examples of how you intend to sustain the project beyond the initial grant period.
Grantmaking continues to be a competitive process with no guarantees. A simple rule of thumb in closing is to ask yourself this one question: would you fund this project? Your grant application is just one of many in a very big pile. Rather than your current position as an advocate for your cause, put yourself in the position of the grant reviewers. Are you moved by your story, and by the facts that back it up? If you can emphatically and honestly say yes, then chances are those who review and award your grant will, too.