How to Win a Grant
Pursuing grants for civic projects can be daunting. Completing the rigorous multi-page applications and compiling all the supporting documentation is a tedious job, but grant-making organizations require a 360-degree perspective in order to do their due diligence. Limited funding means projects are scrutinized and for you, this means providing a thorough package that tells your story while including important planning and financial information the grant maker needs to make a decision.
Competition for grant dollars can be stiff and many of our clients are left wondering, “what will give us an edge?” We often consult with clients to help paint the picture, tell the story, and develop the materials that will help them do this. We begin our process by guiding them in understanding exactly what is required to get the funding they seek.
Lets break it down.
Lead with Purpose
In Simon Sinek’s popular TED talk, he makes a strong case for leading with Purpose to inspire action. When we refer to Purpose, we are not talking about measurable objectives – it goes much deeper than that. We are talking about a belief or the reason why your organization exists to begin with. This is not an uncommon approach to branding, so you may have already articulated this by the time you’re applying for a grant. But it not, it’s worth pausing and working through it. Connecting your organization’s Purpose to your project is a powerful tool for communication.
Craft the Story
Surveys, studies, master plans and other supporting documents can work together to tell a story – a story that both illustrates the real need for your project, as well as supporting the bigger vision that is wrapped up in your Purpose.
While much of the information required is less subjective and refers to timelines, costs and measurable objectives, no one is inspired to fund a civic project that doesn’t illustrate how it makes life better for people. Telling your story and how you arrived at this project will help make that personal connection to set the stage for all of the supporting documents to follow.
Illustrate the Value
There’s the obvious task of thoroughly describing the project and its components: the purpose, the problems it will solve, and why the project is necessary. But an effective grant application goes deeper and clearly communicates how a community or stakeholders will benefit from the project’s completion. Also, you should outline exactly how you’ll measure the success of these expected benefits.
Historical data from similar projects in other communities can further back-up the viability of your project and demonstrate the value and return. Essentially, you’re painting a picture of what this project will achieve.
Beyond this, there are technical details to consider, including financial obligation and timeframe. Some grants require that a community or organization provide a match. This is why knowing the true cost of the project is critical so you can plan how you will manage your financial responsibility should you receive the grant.
Can your organization manage the match, or will you need to seek additional funding? If yes, can you show the grant maker that these financial outlets are just as committed as you are to the project? Ultimately, grant makers want to know that you are prepared to hold up your end of the bargain from a dollars-and-cents standpoint.
Furthermore, many funds include time restrictions. So, the grant-making organization wants to know that you are prepared to execute on the project when funds are released, and that you’ll complete the project during that allotted period of time.
If you want to win a grant, then you have to go beyond assembling piecemeal documents. Tell your story – tell it with heart – and back it up! This demonstrates quality, character and commitment to set your project apart from others.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
As an experienced nonprofit executive, grants may be something you can do blindfolded. But some grant proposals are more challenging than others, and it may also just come down to timing and resources. If you need help with your grant, you don’t have to go it alone. A knowledgeable consultant who understands the grant-making process and project outcomes can help you create a compelling story with the documentation to support it. Consultation fees for assembling grant proposals range from $500 to $1,500 depending on complexity and how prepared a client is when we engage in the process. Considering the undertaking of this endeavor and potential reward, many organizations recognize that having a professional guide them takes a lot of risk out of the process.