Writing grant proposals to funders is not a stand-alone phenomenon. It’s a combination of processes, followed in a step-by step manner. You will plan the proposal, research for funders and read their guidelines. You will develop relationships with funders, court their partnership and write proposals following specific instructions and format to satisfy the funders’ interests.
Grants from trusts, foundations and government departments are major sources of funding for many non-profit organisations. To get grants, somebody in your organisation – a trustee, development worker or chief executive – must write a proposal or an application to a funder.
All funders – foundations and institutions that give grants – are set up purposely to distribute money to good causes. To achieve this objective, funders are always looking out for charities serving disadvantaged groups to help them promote their cause. They, therefore, periodically ask that grant-seeking organisations submit written requests for grants to them.
Charitable organisations doing good work in very many societies are always looking out for funders giving grants. And when they believe that a project of theirs meets with the interests of a particular funder, they plan, develop and write a grant proposals or applications to that funder.
Every one responsible for writing grant proposals wants to win ALL the time. However hard you try by following the process to the letter, you will be denied the grants most of the time. It’s difficult to be one hundred percent successful in winning grants any time you submit a proposal. This is a common fact that all grant seekers must brace themselves to accept. You must endeavour not to be among the rejected applications all the time.
The reason is not far-fetched. There are hundreds, if not thousands of other charitable organisations like yours out there who are also writing to the same funder for money from the same pot. Certainly, there will the problem of demand and supply. Over subscription.
All funders have some criteria which they use to judge proposals submitted to them. This enables them to weed off proposals that fall short, not follow instructions, not using acceptable processes or not looking professional.
The question now should be, how do you approach the grant writing process to enable you win grants most of the time?
You should understand that effective grant seeking requires clear vision of a project. This in turn involves a process of planning, researching, reaching out to, and courting the favour and partnership of funders.
Funders want details about a project, not generalities. They want to be assured that their funds will be spent effectively. To become successful at writing for, and winning grants, these are 8 proven steps I have been taking.
- Plan, plan and plan
- Define aims and objectives
- Research for probable funders
- Read funders guidelines
- Communicate and develop relationship with potential funders
- Write the proposal or application
- Revise and edit
- Submit the proposal or application package
I’ll suggest that you should also follow these steps anytime you want to write and submit proposals for grants. It will help you win most of the time!
Step 1: Plan, Plan and Plan
Before you apply for any grant, you or your organisation must have identified a need in your community which must require urgent attention to benefit the public.
Needs are problems that prevent sections of the population from attaining their potentials. They come in many forms – low skills levels, unavailability of employment opportunities, old people experiencing isolation and thousands more. When you identify needs like these, staff at the organisation should meet to discuss and plan how to resolve the need.
So, the first step in the grant seeking process is to form a team, if this is possible. The team should adopt strategies like brainstorming and research in a planning process to come up with ideas, suggestions and solutions for the problem. The planning team should:
- Think critically about a project to relieve those in need of the disadvantage they are experiencing.
- Decide on the best possible way to present the need identified and its solution to a funder you will later identify through research.
- Clearly identify the people that the project you are proposing will benefit or support. Conduct research to understand how disadvantaged the people are and how this is affecting them.
- Give the project a suitable – concise, clear and precise – name which should depict what the project is all about.
- Plan what activities people on the project will be involved in, the benefits they will gain and how you will track the outcomes.
- Decide how the organisation will sustain the activities after the grant you are requesting for is finished.
- Finally, develop a budget, assigning cost values to personnel, items and activities that will help you to run the project.
At the end of the planning process, the team should come up with a written outline of your project proposal. This outline will serve as a guide when it comes to researching for a funder – trust or foundation – which might be interested in funding your project.
Getting teams in non-profit organisations is difficult since many have less staff and volunteers. Where there is no team, the person responsible for seeking funding for your organisation’s upkeep should act as a one-man team and carry out the activities discussed above. In this case you must plan, plan and plan.
Step 2: Define Aims And Objectives
All projects should have aims and objectives. The staff team planning the project should come up with aims and objectives for the project. Aim are long term changes that you expect to see happen in the lives of people as a result of their taking part in the project’s activities. – Improved quality of life, increase in confidence, reduced isolation, etc.
Objectives are the specific and measurable actions that will help the project to achieve the desired changes (aims) envisaged for project’s beneficiaries.
Remember a project will be judged by whether or not it attained its objectives. Make sure the objectives you formulate are SMART.
- S-specific: state what you intend to change with your project,
- M-measurable: show numbers that will indicate success,
- A-achievable: can be done,
- R-realistic: not beyond your capacity to do,
- T-time bound: by what time? days, month or year,
Step 3: Research Potential Funders
Before you write a proposal, you must know who could support it with money. This is the funder you will submit the proposal to.
Your third step in the proposal writing process is to conduct research for potential funders – trusts, foundations, government or other sources – which your charity can approach for support. Use the project outline you developed in process step 1. Search through on-line and published resources. Also use personal contacts to locate the most promising funding source for your project. A good research will fit your funding request with a particular funder’s interest.
All funders have some basic criteria which they use in judging which charitable group to support. It’s your duty to thoroughly research all funding sources using the internet, funding directories and magazines available in many libraries, to identify potential funders for your project.
A potential funder is that funder whose interests and priorities match what you do as a charitable organisation.
Step 4: Read The Funders Guidelines
After thorough research, you would have identified some potential funders which you believe will be interested in supporting your project. If that is the case, then take your time to carefully read the funding guidelines of the individual funders you have identified. Follow all the directions and instructions given in the guidelines.
Most grant seekers are in a hurry to submit proposals/applications to funders. In the process they fail to read funders guidelines and instructions properly. Don’t commit this mistake.
Following instructions will enable you to present proposals and applications that match the interests of your charity to those of funders. This will greatly help you to become successful at winning grants.
Step 5: Develop Relationship With Funders
One of the most important steps in setting yourself up to succeed with your grant seeking process is to build relationships with funders. You can do this by developing the habit of calling grants officers of identified funders and talking to them about your project before submitting proposals to them.
With the list of potential funders in your hand, try and call the grants officers one by one. Talk them through your project outline and ask each of them if your proposal falls within their current funding priorities.
Make sure you do your homework before you make this call! This is a fact-finding call to assure yourself that your project is something a particular funder will be interested in supporting. Be very brief and to the point.
Before making a call to a grants officer, write what you are going to tell him/her on a piece of notebook paper. Rehearse and master what you have written so well that when you meet your grants officer accidentally on the ground floor in a lift, going on to the third floor, you can communicate the message to him or her very clearly before the lift opens.
We call this, the ‘elevator speech’ – a very short but powerful 30-seconds description of what you want the money for! In this call tell the grants officer about your programme and ask if it is something the funder will be interested in supporting. The confidence you gain through calling grants officers and the information these officers give, will help you to develop and write very good grant proposals and applications that funders will love.
Step 6: Write The Proposal Or Application
When a grants officer gives you the go ahead, it is now time for you to write and submit the proposal or application.
So, what do you write?
1. You will write a proposal to an identified funder, seeking its support for a project you have developed in response to a community need.
2. Be very clear about what you want to say. Be creative and set your organisation far apart from others in the way you make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged people.
3. Show how your project fits in well with the guidelines of the funder. Give reasons why you think this funder should give you the money you are asking for.
4. Write your proposal using buzz words, phrases and terms that funders use in their requests for funding publications. Buzz phrases can push important buttons.
Take time to write a convincing and compelling proposal. Focus your proposal on the needs of people who will benefit from the project and not on the needs of your organisation. Remember, funders give grants to benefit people in need. Show how lack of opportunities are affecting your user group and how the money you are requesting for, will change beneficiary lives.
Write the application with passion and confidence. Convince the funder with words and figures that your clients need support to make a difference happen in their lives. Demonstrate how effective and capable your organisation is, to carry out a project like the one you are proposing.
Step 7: Revise And Edit
After you have finished writing the proposal or application, read it over and over again. Correct all errors, spellings and grammar,
It’s good and advisable that you put the completed proposal you have written aside for a day or two. Then read it again later, revise and edit your final version. In this way you can be sure of correcting any spelling mistakes, typographical errors, grammar or any technical issues. This is very important.
Another good habit you can adopt is to always ask someone else who does not know anything about the project you are proposing to read through the proposal or application for you. This person can give you an objective and honest feedback. Manage your time to avoid a hurried writing process
Because of pressure to beat deadlines, most fundraisers write and post proposals in a hurry without thoroughly reading them through. This is counterproductive.
Step 8: Submit Your Application
Finally, read the guidelines of the funder you are submitting the application to. Compare your proposal to the instructions and criteria as written in the funder’s guidelines. Ensure that you have completed all the required supporting documents that are needed to go out with the application.
You are ready to go. Once you’ve completed all these key tasks, place your proposal or application and all supporting documents together into a clearly addressed envelope and post the package to the funder’s address.
Make sure that the address on the envelope is correct and that the proposal package is addressed to an actual name of the relevant staff in the funding organisation.
Finally, wish yourself “Good Luck” and wait patiently for a response in the next 2, 3, 4 or 6 months’ time.