How Grant Writers Can Demonstrate Capabilities

Winning grant funding isn’t just about a great idea: even the best idea will almost certainly fall flat if the funder isn’t confident in the capabilities of your organisation and its key personnel. 

NFPs and social purpose organisations do so much great work, but do you know how to talk about what you do?

As strategic grant writers and consultants, we often work with NFPs that tell us “we’re not good at talking about what we do, but we’re great at doing it”. They’ll have an incredible track record of making lives better, achieving incredible impact with very minimal financial support. They have unparalleled expertise and experience in what they do, and with the right funding they could do so much more. And yet, they struggle that expertise and experience into words.     

Demonstrating capabilities in a grant proposal is all about communicating that special sauce to your funder. These capabilities are twofold – what your organisation is capable of, and what your key personnel are capable of – and will generally be based on your track record of doing similar.

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Put on your marketing hat

Any for-profit business has to think strategically about their market position, what it is they have to offer customers or clients, and how to comunicate why they’re a better alternative than others in their industry. Capabilities are key to this – you wouldn’t buy a house from someone who isn’t a registered and experienced builder, regardless of how nice the pictures are on their website.

Grant funding is highly competitive, and you need to think of demonstrating capabilities as a marketing exercise. Even if there’s no one doing quite what you do, or doing it as well, you still have to position your organisation as reliable, capable and experienced in delivering impact. Organisational and personnel capablities are both key deciding factors that grant funders will look at when deciding which grants will win.

Showcasing your organisational experience

Because track record is an intrinsic part of demonstrating capabilities, you’ll want to include some specific examples of where you’ve delivered similar projects/services on time, on budget and to the specifications you promised to deliver. This demonstrates that you can effectively manage funding, and can be trusted with this funding opportunity.

Showcasing organisational experience usually look like hard quantiative data on what you’ve achieved, what the impacts looked like, and ideally a robust approximation of social return on the funder’s investment. This should be interspersed with case studies of similar contracts or projects delivered. If you produce annual reports or impact reports, consider attaching these as supporting documents.

When we put together a grant application, we will often provide a series of tables with examples of similar projects or services delivered; these tables will elaborate on what our client did, who they did it for, how they showed sound judgment, what the immediate outcomes and longer-term impact of the project/service was, and how that service/project was similar to what we propose now. Keeping these in a similar format makes it easy for the reviewer to peruse and quickly understand your track record at a glance.
 

Showcasing your risk management capabilities

Funders are considering risks, and you should be too! Make sure that your grant proposal demonstrates a strong understanding of risks, and proposes mitigation strategies. Risks can look like:

• Project non-delivery risk – the risk that a project will not be delivered, in part or full. This can lead to significant resources involved in preparing to deliver or finalise a project; for example, if you’ve committed to X sessions and incurred Y fixed costs, but only deliver half of those sessions, the fixed cost per session is twice as much as you’ve agreed to. Showcasing your previous success stories helps to build trust that you’ll get the job done.

• Safety risks – risks to people or property, and particularly vulnerable populations such as children or marginalised groups. This isn’t limited to physical safety, but can also involve cultural safety. You can address this by identifying not only your legal obligations, but also strategies for risk mitigation, and demonstrating proactive consultation with marginalised groups who may be impacted; you should also have robust safety policies and procedures in place, and be able to demonstrate how you put these into practice.

• Low participation risk – this is often treated by grant applicants as being solely a project piece that can be addressed with “our idea is great, and here’s some community members who agree!” Of course, you need to demonstrate a solid project idea, and that community members support it – read more about hwo to do that in our previous blog, The Art of Persuasive Grant Writing, However, track record is important here too because low participation is often a reason projects fail; even if you have an amazing idea and some community members advocate for it, will that bring people through the door? You need to demonstrate your capabilities here – your networks among the people you serve, your reputation of trust, your previous experience in understanding your clients and co-creating solutions to their needs.

Demonstrating excellence in governance and operations

Your organisation needs to be able to demonstrate that it can handle the additional operational load of this project; that the project is strategically aligned and supports your mission delivery; and that you have the systems and structures in place to ensure smooth project delivery – this could look like providing strategic, operational, financial management and business plans; providing a list of relevant policies and procedures and evidence of the effectiveness and efficacy of the services you currently provide. A list of Board members, and your organisational chart, will both contribute demonstrating excellence here. 

Demonstrating continous improvement

What have you achieved in recent years? What progress have you been making? Have you been improving governance systems and structures, debuting (and following) an effective new strategy, working with expert consultants? What have your wins looked like?

 

Showcasing your personnel

When it comes to showcasing your personnel, a lot of groundwork can and should be prepared in advance, especially given that you’ll be working with multiple stakeholders to pull quality information together. Some tips to hit the ground running :

• Are your CVs up to date? Trust us – this comes up time and time again. Many organisations submit the same CVs they received from their staff when they first applied for the position they’re in now; in other words, the CV doesn’t say it works for your company at all. This isn’t a good look. (Pro-tip: using a branded CV template for all your key personnel makes things easier for the reviewer, and hopelps you stand out from the pack.)

• Key personnel table and organisational chart. Again, these should both be up to date – grant applicants often struggle to gather this information, as it’s sitting across many people. Key personnel here aren’t only limited to direct project delivery staff –  any management involved in overseeing the project belong here as well. Your key personnel table should include their % availability to work on this project – it’s not enough to be highly capable if they’re rarely able to extend their capabilities to the project, so reassure the funder that this won’t be the case.

• What do you have to offer? According to Community Grants Hub, a well-written grant application demonstrates your staff’s capabilities (experience, expertise, skills and qualifications) to deliver the objectives of your activity in the identified community and/or for the identified target group, in terms of how these contribute to  the effective and efficient delivery of your proposal, and the continuous improvement and evaluation of the day-to-day management and quality of your organisation. The takeaway here is that when you’re talking about the capabilities of your personnel, focus on the activity and the people it’s for and work backwards to identify how your staff’s capabilities support direct project delivery, as well as the operational excellence to support the back-end. Keep this part clear and concise, with relevant capabilities only.

• Identify roles and responsibilities. If no one is accountable for a specific part of a project, the work often won’t get done, leading to bottlenecks and potential for project failure. Clear delineation of roles and responsibiltiies demonstrates that your organisation is prepared to deliver the proposed scope of work.

Want support to secure grant funding? The ProposalPro team is highly experienced in supporting NFPs to grow their impact through successful grant writing. We would be deliighted to position your organisation in its best light, and submit an excellent grant application that aligns with best-practice grantmanship. Find information on our services below, and more tips for how to win grants.    

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