What you need in your back­pack. Essen­tial prepa­ra­tion for grant applications

Written by
Jo Garner
September 02, 2015
Make sure you are properly prepared to make the application. You want a better experience than poor old bruised Bob.

Bob has recently seen amazing photographs of his friends rock climbing and is super enthusiastic to try it himself. Without consulting his expert friends on where to start and what equipment he needs, Bob drives out to the nearest crag, squints at the rock and starts to climb without ropes, clips or a helmet. Five hours later, Bob straggles home, dehydrated, bruised and scraped and wonders why his rock climbing experience was such a failure – his friends made it look so easy.

Jumping in to write grant applications without the equivalent of rope, climbing shoes and a thumbs-up from those who know what they’re doing is just as likely to yield the same bruising results as Bob’s expedition. And bruising results make it harder to jump in and try again when you are prepared. So get it right the first time and make sure you’ve got all the equipment you need. It might take months to get it all in place, but in the long run it saves time and pain.

Make sure that the entire team knows and agrees with the priorities on your wish list.

Here’s what you need in your backpack before you start writing grant applications.

Key messages

You should have a set of clear and concise key messages targeted at grant-making foundations and trusts (funders) and signed off by your CEO, which you can use to ensure consistent, strong, accurate information, as needed.

Case for support

This is the concise, persuasive and inspirational document that communicates your charity’s vision, the need it is meeting, its accomplishments and why your charity needs support to do more.

Research and evaluation plans

Know how your organisation is evaluating success in addressing the need/s it is set up to meet. Ensuring outcomes of your charity’s programmes and projects are being measured means you have data and case studies to rely on when it comes to justifying your request for a grant.

Prioritised wish list

This is about forward planning and clear lines of communication between management and staff about which of the organisation’s funding needs should be given priority: which if funded will improve how work is undertaken and possibly even change lives. Knowing that the CEO has given you the okay to pursue the wish list items or projects means you are much more prepared for funding rounds with surprise or very short timeframes.

Calendar of deadlines

Although some grants are announced just weeks before the deadline to submit applications, most are not surprises. Make sure you have a 12-month calendar of upcoming deadlines so you always have time to prepare, edit and get sign-off on your grant applications. Hastily written requests rarely pass muster.

Project plan

For any grant application you are about to write, you must have a project plan in place for the requested amount. What will be spent on equipment and what on staffing costs? How will you make up the shortfall if the grant maker refuses to fund the entire amount? Ensuring you have a strong, detailed project plan from project need to evaluation and reporting means your grant application won’t be a house of cards that will blow over with a strong breeze.

Call the funder

Having your project plan in place will mean you can have a constructive conversation with the grant maker before writing the application and there will be less chance the funder will have unclear or misdirected expectations about the request they are going to receive.

You should always have a backup plan just in case your application doesn’t succeed.

No means no. Have a backup

Know that not all funders will say yes. Your project may not be in line with their mission, or perhaps they just don’t support the kind of equipment you really need. If your phone call to the funder ends with ‘thanks but no thanks’ do not submit the application anyway. This has the potential to damage the relationship with the funder you’ve built up with your phone call. Have a backup plan of where else you can look to fund your need.

Now take that backpack and get up on that rock face! If you fall you won’t fall far, all your preparation will catch you so you can right yourself, find your footing and keep climbing until you reach the peak.

About the author: 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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