Passion and pragmatism – your main tools for winning grants

Written by
Jo Garner
July 22, 2015
Your application mustn’t leave any questions unanswered.

You may not think you have the most exciting project in the world. But you know that it is meeting a vital need for your constituents and it has to be delivered. There will be measurable outputs and outcomes and you know it will create an impact. And you may think that grant application form with its limited spaces leaves little room for creativity. You fill in the form, send it off and hope that the committee reading those applications will be informed enough to understand that not every programme can invent the wheel.

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What is so different about you that will make them want to give you money?

But funders generally receive many more applications than they can short-list, let alone fund. They need to know and understand the project from what you present in that limited space you have been given to tell the story of need. And it needs to grab their attention and leave no unanswered questions in their minds.

Stories should be involved at every stage of your grant-planning cycle. The writer of the application needs to be constantly collecting the relevant stories that have helped your charity define the need for a programme. Stories are also an integral part of describing the need for funding.

You have to be passionate and excited, but never forget pragmatism.

For those outside the day-to-day activities of your organisation can be fascinating, exciting and inspiring. As a writer trying to get funding from a charitable foundation, you need to learn to see and communicate the obvious things and every day details of the work that your charity does. Here are a few strategies.

Know the stories – no one knows better the life-changing work your charity does every day than the people you work to help. Case studies and stories with human interest stories about your charity’s work and the difference it can make appeal to emotions, giving facts and figures much more impact.

If your reader fails the nutmeg test – you’ve failed too.

Think like a stranger – looking at something with fresh eyes often yields the best results in creating a strong case for support. Examine the project or programme you are seeking funding for from the perspective of those who have never heard of your organisation. Find the unique point of difference that will get them excited about funding your charity’s work.

Delve into the past – what have been your organisation’s key achievements? How does the funder know that you have the capacity to do what you say you are going to do?

You need to write your grant application with passion and communicate that excitement, but also with pragmatism. Because despite these next few tips seeming smack-in-the-face obvious, years of experience collaborating with fundraisers tells us they are often forgotten.

1. Don't ignore the guidelines. They are developed to ensure that the philanthropists’ intent is met in grants that are awarded, so adhere to them. This includes:

a) Abiding by the word limits.

b) Confirming your eligibility, for example, does your annual revenue need to be under a certain figure to be eligible to apply?

c) Ensuring that all attachments are provided as requested.

d) Providing answers to the questions asked.

e) Checking spelling and grammar.

2. Be concise and think like a journalist – make sure the most important information is delivered early and makes the assessment committee want to keep reading.

3. Hand it over – get a colleague to read over your application with fresh eyes and then get her, or him, to give you a 25-words-or-less nutshell summary of what you’ve written. If they fail the nutshell test, you need to refine your main points.

Don't forget: trusts, foundations, collective giving groups and other funders are established with the purpose of making grants. They want to give money to support worthy causes that align with their own missions. By paying attention to the need for both pragmatism and passion your grant application will not only have the best chance at success, but will also help to encourage the growth of philanthropy.

Finally, after all the hard work of winning that grant, rolling out your project, and measuring and reporting outcomes, don’t forget that funders want to hear the stories of positive change created by their investment. Communicating these stories will ensure your funder feels involved in creating positive change and will also allow you to tell the world why your work is so vital and why it should continue to win grants and funding.

About the author: Jo Garner

Jo Garner

Jo Garner is the director of Strategic Grants and a founding member of Queensland's first women's giving circle, Women & Change.

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