NFPs and social-purpose organisations often turn to grant applications to secure funding, enabling them to drive change for the community or cause they support; however, the competitive nature of grant funding can be off-putting, especially for small NFPs or those who are new to grantseeking. Doing grant applications right can be
game-changing, but with competition for funding comes risk – not every great idea will be funded.
Larger, established NFPs and social-purpose organisations often gain a competitive advantage over smaller players because they have more resources to dedicate to grantseeking, grant readiness and grant writing; however, smaller organisations often come with flexibility and innovative ideas to support their communities or causes in tailored and effective ways. But even larger NFPs and social-purpose organisations can struggle to allocate the necessary resources to maximise their impact.
Too busy to grow your impact?
Client needs are often pressing and time-sensitive; you may find your organisation is missing great opportunities to grow and do more, because the day-to-day already consists of critically important work that can’t wait.
You may feel like you don’t have enough time to do even a good job, let alone a great job, of developing competitive grant applications in the short time before the grant closes. You also know that a badly written grant application that fails to secure funding doesn’t just represent a missed opportunity to grow your impact – in fact, it wastes time and operational resources, leaving you worse off than having not applied in the first place.
Grant-readiness: doing the groundwork like a grants pro
Fortunately, the grant application process doesn’t have to start when a grant opens and leave you frantically do overtime in the middle of the night to write your application
from scratch, waiting with bated breath on mission-critical time-sensitive documents and pressing submit 2 minutes before the grant closes.
In fact, the bulk of the work that needs to be done to develop great grants can be done before the grant application actually opens. The key is grant readiness – doing
meticulous in-advance preparation so that you never have to start from scratch, and so you can maximise your win rate and grow your impact.
In this guide, we will introduce key steps to getting your organisation grant-ready; keep an eye on ProposalPro’s blog for more strategic advice on grant seeking, grant readiness and grant writing.
Identify and qualify strategic opportunities.
Start by exploring potential grant opportunities which your organisation is eligible for, and which align with your project or your organisational mission. Mission-aligned projects can be designed to match an opportunity, but scope creep is key to consider here: you don’t want to secure funding for a project that’s misaligned with your mission and divert operational resources that could be better used elsewhere to support their community or cause.
Grant strategy should be a consideration for the strategic planning of your organisation. Some questions to consider:
What projects and/or programs are on your organisational wish list? If funding was available, what would be some of your small, medium and large wishlist items? What funding opportunities could be a good match?
Which projects/programs take priority? Many organisations find themselves stretched too thin, given resource constraints (staffing, etc), especially given that funding agreements often fail to fully cover indirect costs of running projects/programs. It may not be realistic for your organisation to get funding for everything on its wishlist, or have enough manpower to deliver on all funded projects.
When looking for grant opportunities, consider:
- local, state or Commonwealth government agencies
- private or corporate grantmakers (foundations, trusts, etc.)
- other sources that may support your community or cause.
Start getting ready before the grant opens.
Grant deadlines are often short, and NFPs are often under the pump delivering maximum impact, leaving not much time to make sure your grant application fulfills all eligibility criteria, your supporting documentation is ready, and you’ve made a compelling case for funding. Given that one missing piece of information can render a grant application ineligible, time is of the essence!
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to get grant-ready before an opportunity opens.
Grants tend to be released in regular rounds (for example, quarterly or annually). It’s best to subscribe to updates to receive early notification of future opportunities, so that you can hit the ground running when an opportunity does open. Many organisations will also create and maintain year-long grant calendars to ensure they are aware of and prepared for opportunities.
Develop a library of boilerplate content.
Grant guidelines can change between rounds as the grantor refines the opportunity based on learnings and feedback, etc. However, looking at previous guidelines for grants of interest can provide you with a solid basis to prepare for upcoming rounds, as well as acting as a preparatory exercise for developing ‘boilerplate’ content. Use these guidelines to understand what to expect, and brainstorm how you would answer questions that are specific to that opportunity.
There’s also certain key criteria you can expect to be asked regularly across virtually any grant application, which we will address in more detail in future blogs:
- Community Need. Who does your organization serve, and what need are you aiming to address through this project?
- Your Project. How will this project meet the community you’ve identified? Why is this the most appropriate approach?
- Your Organisation. Why is your organisation the appropriate choice to deliver this project, to meet this community need? Do you have the organisational experience and capabilities to make this project a success?
Don’t wait until a grant application is opening soon to start thinking about boilerplate – in fact, the best grantseekers keep funding in mind throughout the year, collecting case studies, testimonials, qualitative/quantitative impact data and so on. Encourage your whole team to think about collecting evidence about why your organisation is great, so that you don’t have to approach them at the last minute to help you demonstrate your organisation’s impact and expertise.
Pro-tip: develop master proposals. A master proposal is a stand-alone funding proposal document, which in itself would explain to a potential funder what the project is, why your community needs this project, why your organisation is the right choice to meet those needs, and the expected outcomes of a project. The boilerplate in these documents can then be tweaked appropriately for specific application forms, the questions they include, their word counts, and the specific funder and opportunity.
Prepare supporting documents.
Funders will often require CVs for your project team, certificates of currency for your insurance policies, etc. A grantseeker’s job is much less stressful when they have their supporting documents ready in advance, rather than chasing them in the last 24 hours before an application is due! However, in-advance preparation does not mean set-and-forget: you’ll need to make sure you’re your certificates of currency are indeed current (pro tip: set yourself reminders of their expiry dates!), you have CVs for all project team members, etc.
One often-overlooked way you can demonstrate the value of your project and organisation to your community is by collecting Letters of Support. These are potentially the most arduous type of supporting document to prepare, but this can work in the favour of an organisation that does them right – because so many organisations don’t! Identify who in your circles is in a position of trust, and speaks highly for your organisation – whether it’s someone in the leadership team of a partner organisation, a client who has benefited from your services, or perhaps a respected member of the community you support. You’ll also find that your supporters are much more likely to respond if you draft letters for them, which is a win-win in that it saves the supporter time while enabling you to communicate key points.
Understand the grantor’s mission, priorities and funding appetite.
Not every grant will be right for your organisation; likewise, your organisation will not be right for every grantor. In addition to reviewing the grant guidelines from previous rounds, review the grantor’s website to see what further information you can utilise to develop a competitive bid.
For example, many grant programs will include an approved grants list, annual reports, or media releases. This will give you an idea of what the grantor has previously chosen to fund, and typical amounts they are comfortable committing to a project; ideally, you will see examples of funded projects that are similar to the projects you seek to fund.
Grantor websites will often be very specific about their funding interests, their motivations, their values and so on; strategic plans are particularly valuable both to review and to reference in the boilerplate you develop for this grant application.
A great project will help them to achieve their mission and values, and it’s a significant bonus if the project is of relevance to their industry – for example, a telco may be particularly interested in digital inclusion projects or a financial institution in financial literacy projects; a company that’s known for promoting diversity & inclusion in the workplace may be interested in programs supporting diverse peoples, and so on.
Of course, if there’s something that you want to know that isn’t clear from the materials at hand – just ask! Better to find out now than realise later that your project isn’t a good fit. Grant funders are generally very proactive and happy to help you understand what they’re looking for and whether your project idea and organisation would be suitable.
With this solid foundation in place, you’ll be far more prepared to write a compelling, convincing, well-researched grant proposal, meet your deadlines without panic, minimise your chances of being rendered ineligible on a missed technicality or a forgotten supporting document, and maximise your chances of success.
Looking for more great advice on how your organisation can make the most of grant funding? Keep an eye on the ProposalPro blog as we share further insights on how to win grants!
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