With thousands of people competing with you for the same grant, it is very important to stand out amongst the crowd. When you do, it gets easier for the jury to spot your application, and thus are more likely to respond favourably.
In one of my previous posts, I wrote about 10 reasons why grant applications fail. If you have not read that article yet, I encourage you to do so immediately. In that post, I wrote from experience some sure ways to put your application for funding on the line (trust me you do not want to do that). Hence, one crucial step to getting your grant application approved is to avoid those 10 issues that could lead to a failed grant request as outlined in that article.
In this post, I will examine some proven tips that could help make your application stand out and thus boost your chances of securing funding. In writing this article, I have also consulted with various experts on the subject matter. So ensure you read carefully all the tips as outlined subsequently. And do not forget to keep an eye on the grant section of this website to keep abreast of the latest grant opportunities.
That being said, let’s get right into the 8 proven tips to writing a successful grant application.
Note: This article focuses on applying for grants to fund student-led projects. Nonetheless, the tips contained herein most definitely apply to anyone and every venture, be it for-profit or non-profit initiatives.
Understand What You Want to Do (A clear project description)
This is the first and arguably the most important tip to a successful grant application, and rightly so. Not having a clear understanding of what you want to do is like waking up in the morning, and embarking on a journey with no destination in mind.
Most applicants do not have a clear project description. They begin writing without carefully considering the reason behind what they want to do. The result is a lengthy, ambiguous application that confuses the jury.
A friend of mine once told me jokingly, “if you cannot convince them, confuse them”. Please don’t do that with your grant application. If you do, you will be asking for trouble. Make sure you understand what your project is about. The why, what, when, how, who, and where of your project must be figured out to the best of your ability. Remember, out of the heart's abundance the mouth speaks. In this case, out of the abundance of your heart and mind, your application speaks. So if you don’t understand what you are doing, it will most definitely show during your application. Why not sit and write out the motive behind your project, what you plan to achieve, how you plan to do so, the obstacles you envisage and how you plan to mitigate them? Doing so will be a step in the right direction towards securing that grant.
Have A Large Target Audience
Ask yourself, how many persons will this solution benefit? I once competed for funding and a venture capitalist asked, “how large is your market?” According to him, he will not invest in any venture that has a small target market as his return on investment will be meagre. This applies also to social initiatives, especially civic engagement projects. While the goal is not to make a profit, the profit here is in terms of the impact you aim to create and how many persons will benefit from it. As much as possible, endeavour to convince the jury that your project will have a far-reaching and sustainable impact.
Care should be taken not to confuse this with unrealistic goals. As mentioned in the article, why grant applications fail, your project cannot, for example, eliminate poverty from the world. If you say that, you would be lying, and that could harm your application. Rather, show that your initiative will benefit as many people as possible and will help solve a subset of a bigger problem. Why not consider starting from your community? As they say, small acts compounded can have a much bigger impact on society.
If you have a clear target audience with impacts that can be measurable, you may well be en route to writing a successful grant application.
Tell A Story.
Who doesn’t enjoy stories? Yes, stories touch human emotions and make a connection. They provide a way to convey a message without being intrusive. When used properly, stories enable the jury to relate to your project and its importance which, in turn, could generate a more positive feeling towards your application. At the very least, a story will grab the attention of the reviewer.
So instead of just jumping right into the problem and presenting a solution, why not tell the reader of a time when you, or someone you know, faced this challenge? Could you tell a story that conveys how bad the problem you are trying to solve is, and its effect on your community? Doing so increases your chances of securing funding.
A word of caution. Stories can do the opposite when used incorrectly. Do not over-tell your story; It could become boring. Do not tell irrelevant stories; They could detract your reader from the main point. Telling an extremely long or irrelevant story is like running on a treadmill. You'll expend much time and energy but end up nowhere.
Demonstrate Your Capability to Implement Your Project
Put yourself in the place of the donor. Would you fund a project that you are not sure of its implementation? Would you approve funds for someone with no experience whatsoever in that field? Having the right experience for the project you want to work on is very crucial to securing funding. You have to realize what you are good at and be sure your application reveals that. Avoid phrases like “I am not sure but…” or “maybe I will do…” They just reveal how unprepared you are to handle your project. That could be a red flag for the jury.
Telling an extremely long or irrelevant story is like running on a treadmill. You'll expend much time and energy but end up nowhere.
This also relates to the quality of the implementation plan that you submit. It is not enough to specify what your objectives are and what you intend to achieve with your project. How do you intend to achieve those? What methods will you employ to ensure success? If you cannot convince the jury that you have all it takes to steer the affairs of your venture to success, neither will they be willing to approve your application.
Relate Your Project to the Areas of Interest of the Funding Organization
I usually advise grant seekers to first do a little research about the funding organization. What is their mission, vision and goal? Find out what those are and align your application accordingly.
Some organizations only fund projects within certain thematic areas. Hence, if you are applying for funding outside those areas, chances are that you will not be considered. So do your homework and show the organization how funding your initiative will help them achieve some of their goals. This is extremely important if you are to secure the funds you seek.
Consider the Local Context in Which the Project Will be Implemented.
According to Funds For NGOs, “The project context of any proposal not only gives an introduction to your project but it also builds up a justification process to help convince the donor agency as to why it is important to start your project and how your organization can resolve the ‘problem in question’ by implementing the proposed activities”.
In addition, consider the following questions: What are the implications of your project locally? Are there local laws or regulations that you should consider before starting such a project? For example, in one of the sessions I was privileged to attend, a student needed some funds for the registration of his initiative. But there could be local laws that regulate the international transfer of funds for the registration of NGOs in his country.
Furthermore, what works in a particular geographic location might fail in another. Hence, carefully consider the local context in which you will implement your project before turning in your application as that will be considered.
Be clear on the need your project is addressing
Similar to understanding your project description, I would encourage you to clearly state the need your project will tackle. Take note that your project should be solving a need, not a want.
There is also this thing about solving imaginary problems. In design thinking, for instance, you have to validate that the problem you want to solve is actually a problem in the first place. Otherwise, you will spend your time on an application that would be discarded at the end of the day.
My advice? Make sure you are actually solving a problem. Then ensure you are clear on the need your project addresses. A successful application must also show empathy to the beneficiaries they want to help. It must show how your beneficiaries will benefit from the proposed solution. This might require that applicants have stayed and worked with the target community long enough to understand the intricacies of the problem at hand. If you have this experience, it might count as a plus for your application when explaining the need you are addressing.
Have an Estimated Budget
Your application should contain a budget that shows clearly how you intend to tackle the problem with the limited finances you will be given. As already mentioned in the previous article, you must keep this part very realistic.
Have A Clear, Measurable Impact.
I have mentioned this before, but this is something that will in the end make or break your application. How will you track progress? How will you measure the impact of your project to ascertain whether or not you are achieving your set target? And are there control measures you have put in place should you discover that things are not going as planned? If this is lacking in your application, you are putting your chances of securing funding on the line.
In conclusion, while grant applications can be challenging, it is not a hopeless situation. The steps above can help you put your thoughts in perspective and present a better and competitive grant proposal. So when next you are poised to turn in the next request, do not forget to review the tips above. And do not forget to also review the 10 reasons why grant applications fail.
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 from personal experiences, both as an applicant, and a member of a jury. There could always be exceptions.