Grantseekers navigating the complex world of grant applications and proposals often struggle with a key element: understanding their funder. What is your funder looking for? What are their key priorities? What are they looking to avoid? Without a robust understanding of your funder, it’s very difficult to write a winning grant application.
Grantseekers who thoroughly understand their funders can better align their proposals with the mission and values of the funding organisation, and develop a grant application that is emotionally appealing, logically sound, convincing and – above all – is actually aligned with what the funder is looking to fund.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the benefits of understanding your funder, and how to develop a meaningful understanding.
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Why does understanding your funder matter?
Alignment of Mission and Values
NFPs often have amazing ideas for initiatives that could make an enormous difference to the organisation or its beneficiaries, which may simply not align with the grant opportunity they’ve identified. Just like NFPs have their own priorities, so do grant funders – and it’s not always a match. Realising this earlier is better, as it can save you a lot of work down the track, as well as underpinning how you write your grant application.
Each funding organisation has its unique preferences, criteria, and priorities. By understanding their funders, grantseekers can customize their proposals to meet these specific requirements. This tailored approach demonstrates a commitment to the funder’s objectives, increasing the proposal’s relevance and the likelihood of approval.
Think of it from this perspective: it’s common knowledge that consumers and businesses buy solutions to problems, rather than products and services. While it’s better not to take a problem-centric mindset when approaching community development, your organisation is offering solutions – generally, better outcomes for X, through approach Y, which we can prove is the right approach to a proven need because of Z.
So, what’s the solution you’re proposing, and how does it make the difference the funder is looking for?
For some funders, particularly corporates reporting to shareholders, there may be further issues in play – why do they want to solve that particular problem in the first place? Where’s the strategic alignment?
Strategic Relationship Building
Grantseekers who invest time in understanding their funders are better positioned to build strategic relationships for future funding opportunities. Funders don’t just fund initiatives, they fund organisations they trust, and once they’ve built a relationship with you and seen your capabilities first-hand, it’s easier to secure funding now and in the future.
Effective communication is vital in any partnership. Understanding the funder’s communication style, expectations, and reporting requirements allows grantseekers to establish clear and transparent lines of communication. This clarity fosters a positive relationship between the grantseeker and the funder, ensuring both parties are on the same page throughout the grantseeking, delivery and acquittal process.
How can I understand the funder?
Conduct Thorough Research
Before approaching a funder, grantseekers should conduct comprehensive research on the organization’s history, priorities, and recent initiatives. Understanding the funder’s past funding patterns and the types of projects they have supported provides valuable insights into their preferences and expectations.
Carefully Read Grant Guidelines
As per our previous blog on developing a compliant and competitive grant application, parsing the grant guidelines carefully is key to ensuring alignment. As your project progresses, scopes and details may change – make sure when this happens, you come back to the guidelines to ensure that you’re still proposing an initiative that aligns well with funder priorities.
Review Past Grant Recipients and Funder Documentation
Looking at what sort of projects and programs have been funded before is a very useful way to gauge what the funder is looking for.
We also recommend looking at funder documentation like their website, annual reports and strategic plan to deepen your understanding.
Reach Out to the Grant Officer
Grant officers serve as a bridge between grantseekers and the funder, offering valuable guidance on their priorities and preferences. They’re here to help. After all, the way that grant funding works means that not every bid can win, which leads to wasted resources which NFPs could better allocate elsewhere.
It’s to everyone’s benefit if organisations with projects and organisations that aren’t well-aligned don’t submit applications, reducing their risk; at the same time, grant officers can help you improve the quality of your bid.
Attending funder-hosted events, such as webinars or informational sessions, provides opportunities for direct engagement with grant officers and to gain their insights into funder expectations and preferences, as well as to build relationships; and of course, if you have enquiries, just reach out.
Seek Feedback from Previously Funded Projects
Grantseekers can gain valuable insights by reaching out to organisations that have previously received funding from the same source. Understanding the experiences of other grantees can provide valuable information about the funder’s expectations, communication style, and any specific challenges encountered during the project implementation.
In our Top 5 Grant Writing Tips Series, we’ve covered compliance and competitiveness, and how and why to understand your funder. Keep an eye on our blog for our next top tip – telling a compelling, coherent story!
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Our most important tip for grant writers and grant-seekers to know is at the heart of every successful grant application. It’s ever-so-simple, yet so often the reason why grant applications fail. Find out why compliance and competitiveness are key to winning grants.
NFPs and social-purpose organisations can maximise their grant win rate and minimise their headaches with these expert tips from ProposalPro.
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