If you are running a project, no doubt you’ve had your fair share of grant applications. You will agree that applying for funding to run your venture can be tiring, especially if you have to apply for several of them. And what could be more frustrating than spending hours behind your computer, and probably with your entire team, drafting these applications only to get rejected? For those of us who have experienced such, it hurts.
While we cannot decide the fate of our funding applications (we honestly would if we could), there are certain things we must avoid when turning in an application or risk having our time and effort go down the drain.
As a lead Global Fellow at the Open Society University Network (OSUN), I have had the privilege of being on several grant selection committees, the last being in May 2021. During those sessions, I was privileged to observe firsthand the mistakes many students (and other individuals) make when applying for grants which in turn, could result in a failed grant application. While writing this article, I spoke to Zar, the Coordinator of the Global Fellows Program at the OSUN and Bard CCE, as well as another lead Global Fellow, Huy. Both are seasoned members of various grant selection committees. They have shared with myscholarshipinfo some other reasons why grant applications do not see the light at the end of the day.
In this article, I will be writing based on my experience, as well as tap into those of the aforementioned individuals as we seek to unravel the mystery behind why many grant application fails. While this article will mainly use funding applications for student-led projects as a running theme, the information contained herein applies to everyone and any grant application.
So what are the 10 reasons why your grant application could fail? Let's get right in.
Applying For A Wrong Grant
I once saw a very interesting initiative that addresses a critical issue by one applicant during one of the selection committee meetings. There was undeniable proof that the application had all that was needed. But there was a problem. The grant he was applying for was meant strictly for non-profit, student-led projects. However, this applicant had a for-profit social venture and not a project. As a result, his application was not successful.
The point here is simple. Read the eligibility criteria carefully. Ask yourself, “does my initiative meet all the requirements for funding?”. I mean all, not some of the requirements. Pay careful attention to what the donor requires and be sure you meet all of them. Otherwise, you may end up applying for a grant with the wrong project and wasting precious time, energy and resources.
Your Project is Focused on A Small Group or One Person
Frankly, the goal of most grants is to help the organization requesting for it to solve a problem, not for an individual, but a group, usually a large one. Typically, donors want to see you address an important issue in society. It could be gender equality, climate change, technological innovation and what have you. These solutions are meant to benefit, not an individual, but a group of people, and in some cases, even beyond your immediate community.
Also, consider the issue of credibility and ethics. The donor might reason, “how am I sure this grant will not be used for personal purposes under the pretence of helping someone?” If an individual is truly in need of assistance, why not reach out to agencies that could help? Probably consider starting a GoFundMe project. Unless otherwise stated by the donor, it would be a terrible idea to prepare a grant application to help an individual.
No Good Timeline of Activities (Very Important)
Will you ever fly an aeroplane with a faulty GPS navigation system and compass? Obviously not! Well, not having a timeline of activities is similar to an aircraft with no navigation system. And I think this is very important and one of the most common issues I have seen with all the grant applications I have helped review. You see, not having a timeline of activities wanes the confidence of the jury or donor and casts doubt about the executability of your project. You most definitely do not want to leave the jury wondering whether what you intend to do is a white elephant project.
if you do not want your grant application to fail, follow instructions.
A timeline detailing when exactly you will execute your project and the activities on each date builds confidence in the credibility of your application. It sends the message that you have carefully planned the implementation of the project and that you can complete what you started. It shows that you have a mapped out plan which will guide your activities moving forward. It also shows that you are passionate about what you want to do. After all, who would want to spend time planning for what he or she does not intend to do? (there could be exceptions though 😅)
Too Ambitious and Unrealistic Project
There is a popular Igbo (an ethnic group found mostly in Southern Nigeria) proverb that says “one should not hang his bag where it will be difficult for him to reach for”. You see, we all want to do so much to solve a problem we have identified in society. Thus, it is understandable when applicants write about “big ideas” or “super-duper great” projects that could transform the entire continent or globe. I am not saying this is impossible, but the truth is, having an unrealistic or overly ambitious project could actually hurt your chances of securing funding. Here is an example of what I mean.
Some applicants write about eliminating poverty in their country or bringing about zero hunger in their entire community. Well, while that is certainly not unreasonable, the jury will consider how possible it would be to implement such considering the limited resources you have at your disposal. Truth is, you cannot eliminate poverty or hunger with a project for a group of people (even for a family) immediately. Poverty and hunger are worldwide problems and if the solution is as easy as you have pitched, humans would probably have done so long ago.
OSUN grants cannot be used for salaries, honorariums, or purchase of equipment, for example, a camera or motorbike.
My advice? Keep it realistic. Everything you write in your application should be possible to do and must yield the desired result considering the funds you have and your timeline of activities. It is better to do something small, tangible and feasible than to propose a solution that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.
Unclear or Unrealistic Budget (majority of the grant is used to fund salaries, travel, and/or technical equipment).
This is where a lot of persons get stuck. Have you ever wondered, “how much is too much?” Well, you are not alone. Many wonder how much they should ask for in a budget. But let me tell you a simple secret. More often than not, how much you ask for is not the issue but what you will use the funds for, and how you will use it. Imagine reviewing a budget for funding that asks for $20,000, half of which goes into the travel expenses for the founder and members of the team!
A rule of thumb here is to consider whether what you are asking for is critical to the success of the project. If not, it could be irrelevant and thus might need to be scrapped. I will also advise that you check for the maximum amount you can request, if any, and stick to that.
Very important also is to read carefully the grant terms. Are there certain items or activities the grant should not or cannot be used for? For example, the OSUN grants cannot be used for salaries, honorariums, or purchase of equipment, say a camera or motorbike. Thus, if you are applying for an OSUN grant, and you’re seeking funds to purchase equipment or machines, your grant proposal will most likely be discarded.
The bottom line? Keep a realistic budget. Do not add irrelevant items to it and by all means, stick to what is asked of you.
Failure to Pay Attention to Details
This is very similar to some of the points I have mentioned above, especially the first point. But I will reiterate: if you do not want your grant application to fail, follow instructions. This cannot be overemphasized. If you are told to stick to 1000 words, do so. If you are told that the funding is not available for certain projects or areas, please do not apply with such. If there is a limit to how much you can request, do all you can to stay within that limit. Attention to detail will save you a lot of heartaches.
Your Project Promotes One Particular Faith or Religion
This is a no-go area and for good reasons. Religion is a very sensitive topic and must be treated as such. Unless otherwise stated or you are applying for a religious grant, it is generally not a good idea to ask for funds aimed at promoting your religion. Such grant application is most likely to fail woefully.
Your Project Promotes A Political Party
According to Zar, a project which promotes one political party over another “could be dangerous”. You do not need a prophet to tell you why running such a project could be risky, do you?
The jury has to evaluate hundreds, if not thousands, of applications and thus cannot spend an entire day reading 20 pages of a project with bad grammar and irrelevant content.
Just like religion, politics is very sensitive. Asking donors for a grant to promote a political party and their activities will be quickly discarded. Again, this does not apply to individuals who are seeking money off political institutions to further the interests of those groups. That is a different issue. I am talking about asking non-governmental or non-political organizations for grants (that should be used for civic engagement projects), to promote a political party. Such a grant application will fail even before it is considered.
Faulty Grammar and Irrelevant Content
Look, while the jury needs more proof and evidence to award you the funds, they certainly do not need bombardment of information, especially unnecessary ones. Writing is a skill you must master if you do not want your grant application rejected. You should write concisely, succinctly and clearly what you intend to achieve with your project. The jury has to evaluate hundreds, if not thousands, of applications and thus cannot spend an entire day reading 20 pages of a project with bad grammar and irrelevant content. Organizing your application smartly is very important, especially in highly competitive grant applications.
My advice? Keep it sweet and simple. Simplicity, they say, is the key.
Use of Unknown Currencies
This might seem very trivial but it does give headaches to those reviewing your application who are not familiar with the currency you use in your home country. For example, using GHC (Ghanaian Cedis) for an American jury will give them the extra work of converting your currency to the US dollar. And trouble could set in when they have to review the unit costs of all you have requested in your budget. It means they literally have to convert every item in your budget to the USD to better understand what you are asking for. Not everyone will be willing to go through that stress.
To be on the safer side, you must use currencies like the US Dollar or Euro when preparing your budget.
In conclusion, writing a grant proposal can be very demanding but it could be worth the effort in the end. You might land that dream cash you need to scale or to execute that crucial project. However, it comes with heavy responsibilities. An Igbo proverb says, “sandy hands bring about an oily mouth”. This means if you work hard with your hands, you will have something to eat. In this case, if you work carefully on your grant application and avoid all the common death traps to a successful application as outlined in this article, then you may well be on your way to having your grant approved.
We have considered some reasons why grant applications fail. But what makes a funding request successful? What can you do to make your application stand out and thus, more likely to get selected? I have prepared another top 9 tips for a successful grant application.
Did I leave anything out in this article? Do you have questions? Or did you find this article helpful? If so, please leave a comment below. And do not forget to share and review this when next you are applying for a grant. Best wishes!
PS: The information presented in this article are mostly based on personal experiences both as an applicant and a member of a jury. There could always be exceptions.