The steps to grant writing success

Many organisations and nonprofits rely on grant funding to get their ideas off the ground. However, going after grant funding is an incredibly competitive process.

For those who are new to applying for grants, the undertaking can feel both time consuming and overwhelming, especially when you get knocked back. 

An excellent grant application is often what sets apart the winners from the also-rans. We asked Marc Ahmelman, co-founder and director of On Point Philanthropy, who has 20 years’ experience in grants, to provide a session at the Hub on how to write a winning grant application.

For those who couldn’t attend here are the key takeaways.

The grant process

Seated attendees around tables at Marc Ahmelman presentation at Brisbane Business Hub.

Words by Marc Ahmelman

There are 10 steps that you need to take when preparing, submitting, waiting and hearing back from your grant submission.

1. Have an idea 

Every grant application must start with an idea or a concept that you are looking to fund. 

2. Develop your idea

Your idea alone will not be enough to win a grant. You need a solid strategy to make it happen, which should include:

  • Planning the finer details of your idea.
  • The timeframe your project requires.
  • What budget will be needed to make it happen. This needs to be realistic and specific, and you will need to provide evidence and quotes. Additionally, if the grant does not cover all of your expenses, what is your plan to make up the shortfall?
  • Proof of support from key stakeholders for your idea.
  • Your target audience.
  • Any collaborators for the project. This comes down to whether you are able to deliver on all of the funding criteria by yourself or need a partner to help you in the delivery.

Top tip: Funders are currently huge on collaboration as they feel they are getting more bang for their buck. 

Marc Ahmelman presenting at Brisbane Business Hub

3. Research funding opportunities

There are stacks of places to find the right funding for you. At On Point Philanthropy we use a mix of subscription-based and free services including Google keywords and alerts. We’ve also developed a database of grants over the years to refer to.

4. Read the guidelines

Put simply, if you can’t read the guidelines, you can’t apply for the grant. 

Every grant will have a unique set of guidelines, often written or published online, that will tell you the eligibility criteria, what can and can’t be funded, the application process (electronic, written, verbal, video etc) and what attachments you need.

5. Contact the funder

While not directly asking for you to, most funders want you to pick up the phone and have a chat with them. 

You can use this opportunity to ask any questions and to ensure you meet the guidelines, but more importantly it is also an opportunity for an initial pitch, to build rapport and to gauge interest. Quite often you’ll be able to tell if you will be successfully funded based on the first phone call.

Top tip: Not all funders will talk to you, but it is always worth trying.

6. Write the proposal 

Being ‘in it to win it’ is again not enough. Writing an application takes a targeted and planned approach. 

Begin by asking yourself: 

  • What is the problem?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • What is the solution/how are you going to fix it?
  • What is the outcome/what will happen if you do fix it?

If you can answer those four questions, you are most of the way through your application. 

You also need to:

  • Be clear and concise.
  • Don’t use jargon.
  • Tell your story, but also answer the question.
  • Show your innovation and creativity.
  • Present why you deserve the funding.
  • Understand the difference between outcomes (the results) and output (the actions).

7. Organise a peer review

Remember that while you know your company and idea, your audience doesn’t. Your readers need to comprehend what you’ve written and what you are discussing. Having a third-party assess your application will judge whether it can be understood. 

Top tip: This can be from a colleague, a peer who is not a competitor, or a trusted friend.

Marc Ahmelman standing in front of slide and smiling at the camera. Hands in pockets.

8. Submit application

Plan and give yourself plenty of time before the submission deadline, especially if it is online. Many online grant application systems are notorious for being clogged up for a couple of hours before a grant is due.

9. Wait, and do more research

Just because your application is in, it doesn’t mean you can jump off the treadmill. Use the time to continue researching and better develop your idea. This will help you to hit the ground running if you are successful, or rebuild your proposal for success if you aren’t.

 1o. Get an answer

If you are successful, make sure you do what you said you were going to do. Grants are different from other gifts because they are conditional and in most cases contractual. Once your project is complete you will most likely be required to acquit the funding to ensure the money was used correctly.

Top tip: If you don’t spend the money correctly you will be asked to repay the funds. 

If you are not successful, keep pursuing and moving forward. You can do this by asking the funder for feedback on what you could do better next time, finding another opportunity, reworking your proposal and trying again. 

Do’s and don’ts

Do:

  • Be clear in your ask
  • Match the funders mission/objective/goal and always come back to this
  • Be concise in writing, bullet points are fine to use to get your point across
  • Have someone else read it and tell you what your project is about and any areas of confusion
  • Have a business/strategic plan
  • Ask for feedback if unsuccessful
  • Use evidence

Don’t

  • Make up a program to get funding
  • Use jargon
  • Fudge the numbers
  • Submit a partial application
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep
  • Make it complicated
  • Take rejection personally, it’s tough but it is all part of the process
  • Be afraid to keep on trying 

Learn more about On Point Philanthropy here and apply for the 2022 Lord Mayor’s Women in Business Grant here.

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