- One of the most common mistakes businesses make in applying for a grant is failing to understand the grant guideline and criteria.
- You must be transparent and address key questions in the application.
- Never leave out your story and reach out to assessor if in doubt because they will appreciate it.
I have seen every grant writing mistake you can imagine throughout my career. Before becoming a professional grant writer, I spent 8 years assessing over 1 billion dollars’ worth of grants for WA’s largest grant funding program.
To help you avoid some of the more common mistakes, I have put together a list of 5 tips to follow when you’re applying for grant funds. Believe me, if you follow these, your assessor will be thankful assessing your application.
Tip #1: Read the guidelines
It’s common sense, right? But it’s amazing how many people apply to a grant that they are not eligible for or write answers that don’t actually address the questions in the application.
Before you start writing, take the time to read the eligibility criteria carefully and make sure your organisation and your project meet the criteria. If your business employs 25 people but the grant criteria states that businesses with 10 or fewer employees are eligible, you would have wasted your time in applying.
The grant guidelines also tell you why the funding body is giving away money. What are they trying to achieve by providing the funds? Showing them that your project will meet their objectives is key to writing a successful funding application.
Lastly, the guidelines contain the assessment criteria. These are the criteria on which your application is scored. You need to answer the question that is asked – don’t get caught up in talking about how great your project is and forget to answer the specific question.
I have seen this happen a lot and the assessor cannot score you well if you haven’t answered the question – no matter how great your project might be. Keep a copy of the assessment criteria handy when writing the grant and constantly refer to them to ensure you are answering what they want to know. Then check again at the end!
Tip #2: Answer the key grant questions
Every grant application is different in size, what it asks you and how it asks you to provide the information. There will be a series of questions in the application that you will be required to address, as part of the assessment criteria, but they are not the only questions you will need to answer in order to produce a strong grant application.
There are 6 key grant questions that need to be addressed in every application, no matter the amount of funding you are asking for or the type of grant. Answering these questions shows the funding body what they are paying for and proves you won’t waste their money. It won’t necessarily be clear where these questions must be answered in your application, however funding bodies need to know this information in order to determine whether they should fund your project and your organisation.
I recommend you go back through the finished draft application to ensure that these questions have been answered somewhere.
The are key questions you need to address in ALL grant applications:
You need to tell funders why your project is needed. This means that you must demonstrate a need for the project within your community and/or target group, along with the benefits that will be achieved by receiving funding for your proposed project. Your project might be fabulous but if there is already another organisation doing the same thing, or if there is no demand for what you will provide, then it is not ‘needed’.
Make sure your project ‘why’ is linked to the funding body’s ‘why’ – their reason for giving away the money.
This answer usually fits in a section where you are asked to describe the proposed project. The most important thing to remember about the project description is that you are telling assessors exactly WHAT you will do – no emotion or sales pitch here, just cold and hard facts. Lay out what you will achieve and what work needs to be done to deliver the project. This is not the place for benefits, just actions.
You need to tell the funding body who will help you to deliver the project, who supports the project and who it will benefit; who is it for? Go through the actions you have said you will complete in your WHAT section and identify any stakeholders.
When considering stakeholders, you should ask yourself the following three questions:
- Who do you need to help you complete the project?
- Who could stop you from completing your project?
- Who will benefit from your project?
These are your major stakeholders and partners and you need to show the funding body that they support and will utilise your project, usually via letters of support or signed agreements.
This concerns your project timeframe and milestones. Again, go through your WHAT and break it down into project tasks. In order to deliver your project, what steps will you complete, from beginning to end and how long will each of these steps take? Do not forget to include timeframes for any required approvals and ensure you allow sufficient time for the grant application to be assessed before the project starts.
A timeframe that has the project starting a month after the application is due is not realistic. Allow 3 months for government grant applications to be assessed and funding formalised into an agreement. Also keep in mind that it is rare for a project to finish on time, so be generous with your time allocations.
You will need to demonstrate how you will deliver your project. This includes the methodology, governance and procurement that will be in place. Essentially, this is about how you will complete the actions you have listed in your WHAT section.
- Methodology – how will you get the tasks done? Will you subcontract everything to an expert contractor? Will you design the facility/product and then put out a tender for its construction? Will you use volunteers?
- Governance - How will the project be managed? Exactly who (their name and experience) will manage the project and who will they report to; who will oversee the project to make sure it is implemented properly and there are no cost, time or scope changes? Is there a board or a committee?
- Procurement - How will you procure any products or services you need? Will you use a mate of a mate or will it be an open, advertised opportunity? (Can you guess which one an assessor would prefer?!)
This is your project budget. It does not mean simply telling the assessor that it will cost $50,000 to complete your project. Your budget needs to itemise every element in your project; and the cost of each; how much will the approvals cost, the administration, project management, equipment, construction, etc.?
You need to be clear what makes up the total project budget and include quotes and evidence of your costs. Don’t forget to include the cost of complying with grant conditions, such as audits or signage, in your budget.
Is it viable?
The viability of your project is an assessment of whether your project is likely to succeed. There is not often a clear, specific section in the application to address this, but it needs to be addressed throughout the application.
You can prove viability by showing the assessor enough evidence to make a judgement about whether your claims are accurate and whether you are well prepared and capable of delivering the project. Think about what the assessors might be concerned about by giving you money and then address those concerns. How can you prove to them that you are capable and trustworthy of spending their funds wisely and completing the project?
You can cover viability by:
- Addressing each of the other key grant questions in detail.
- Proving the capability of your organisation by adding examples of past successful projects and the experience of your project manager and board.
- Including evidence from stakeholders that they support and will assist in delivering your project.
- Quoting statistics and data to back up your claims for project need.
- Ensuring your timeframes are reasonable and not unrealistic.
- Detailing a project methodology that is clear on how it will deliver the project and will provide oversight and accountability over the project manager’s actions.
- Evidencing your cost estimates.
- Providing detail within your budget and ensuring nothing is missed (a budget that is too low will raise serious concerns over the viability).
Tip #3: Silence is deadly – be open and transparent
The third tip is to be open and not hide something by remaining silent. Many applicants think that if they haven’t finished or are missing a component of their project planning, then it’s best not to bring it up. For example, you may have not spoken to the local council to get them on board with your project. Let’s just not mention them as a stakeholder in the application and hope the assessor doesn’t notice… even though third party approvals would be needed to do the project. I can assure you this is never a good idea!
Even junior assessors are trained and mentored to be able to pick up when important aspects of the project are missing. And missing information stands out as a sign of incompetence, meaning the viability of the project is brought into question.
If you can’t fully prepare your project before applying for a grant, from a lack of time or resources, then outline what you have yet to complete and how you will complete it. Include the plan and steps in your project timeline. If it is critical to the project success (e.g. some kind of approval) then you can also write that this action will be completed BEFORE any project funding is given to you.
Tip #4: Pick up the phone
Assessors want to see a high quality and complete application. Their job is to pick through every application and search for holes and issues, but they are hoping there won’t be any. It makes their job easier if they receive good applications – and, speaking from experience, they don’t get a lot of them.
If you have a question while you are preparing your application, pick up the phone, send an email and ask. Assessors would prefer to answer a question than review a grant that has completely missed the point. Establishing a rapport with the funding body and showing them that you are putting in your best effort to deliver a quality application will only increase your chances of success.
Tip #5: Tell the story
You must assume that the person assessing the application knows absolutely nothing about your project, so tell them the story. I have assessed applications which were either written by someone too close to the project or written by an economic firm. In both cases, the story was missing. While the application written by an economic firm had exceptional detail in the budget and cost benefit of the project, the history, background and project implementation were missing.
You need to bring the assessor along on the project journey with you by telling them the story on why the project is needed, its origins, delivery and the impact it will have. Yes, the evidence and detail are key, but never drop the story.
I hope these tips help you in your endeavours. When submitting an application for grant funding, there is never a guarantee of success, but if you keep the above tips in mind and you answer the key questions, you will dramatically increase your success rate.
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