Nonprofits have many challenges, with none being greater than finding ways to secure funding to continue providing crucial services in their communities. When it comes to funding sources, grants provide a great opportunity to secure large amounts of funding in a short period of time, but submitting an application that will be selected to receive federal or state grant funding can be difficult, especially if your organization does not have anyone on staff that understands the nuances of grant writing or the finer points of the grant selection process.
Most organizations ask three questions when applying for grants.
- How do I find grant opportunities?
- How do I write a grant application?
- How much does a grant writer cost?
Grant writing sounds like a simple task, but it is, in fact, a very complex and complicated undertaking that requires intense research, excellent writing skills, and the ability to avoid minor mistakes that could knock even the best grant applications out of competition for funding.
This article will provide some tips to answer the second question how do I write a grant application? With over twelve years of discretionary reviewing experience for federal funding and grant opportunities, I felt like it would be helpful to provide a few optimization tips to upstart grant writers and organizations that can’t afford to hire a professional grant writer or consultant. Below are three tips that can help optimize your grant applications and put you on the right track to writing competitive grants.
1. Always Use Current Local, State and National Data
Most grant making organizations will require you to prove your need for the funds you are requesting by providing statistics and data to prove you are proposing services that are actually needed in your target service area. Recent data can be extremely difficult, and sometimes impossible to find. Mapping issues such as homelessness and poverty can be very expensive and time-consuming, and rural areas and small towns usually do not have the resources to provide accurate data.
In cases where your target service area does not have recent statistics, it is acceptable to use data from the next largest city or even the state in a pinch. When using state data, you want to make sure you always explain to the reader what the statistics mean for your specific service area. Simply citing state data does not make a strong case to why your specific organization should be awarded the funds. Showing an understanding of how statewide issues are affecting your specific service area shows that you have researched the issue and are positioning yourself as an organization that will prioritize solving the issue.
National data should only be used as a point of comparison to show that the need in your area is equal to or greater than the national average. Never include national data if it shows that your service target area has less need than the national average. Your objective is to convince decision makers that resources should be directed to your service area, therefor service areas that are performing equal to or better than the national average are lower priority than those that show greater need.
2. Follow The Outline of The Funding Announcement
When applying for a grant, you will most likely be working from a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) or Request for Proposal (RFP), which provides a description of the program and any information that you’ll need to apply for funding. These documents are structured in sections which all have criteria that needs to be answered in order to satisfy the requirements of the application.
Federal grants are reviewed by a team of non-federal reviewers that are subject matter experts. These experts use their knowledge and experience to determine if the information requested in the FOA is present in each individual application. Nothing annoys a reviewer more than receiving an application that is poorly structured, making it difficult to find information, and an annoyed reviewer is not who you want scoring your application.
A simple way to optimize your application structure is to use the same labels and sections as the grantmaker. Below is an excerpt from a funding opportunity announcement showing the information that needs to be included in the application. In the next section I’ll show the best way to structure your content to make your application more pleasant for the reviewer and ensure you provide the information you need to get credit for each criterion.
NOTE: THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM A FEDERAL GRANT. FOUNDATION GRANTS OR STATE GRANTS WILL BE STRUCTURED DIFFERENT BUT THE SAME RULES STILL APPLY
Each funding opportunity announcement section is broken down into two parts, the section’s title (labeled by a red 1 in the image above) and the section’s criteria (labeled by a red 2 in the image above).
You want to begin each section with the name that the grantmaker uses to separate each set of criteria. In this example, the section is identified by the red 1 in the image above. As you can see, this section is titled APPROACH, so we would lead with this when writing for the section. Next, you want to provide a 1 paragraph max summary of your approach based on the requirements of the project. Next, you want to rewrite the criteria before you respond to it, then provide you detailed response. Check out the example below for more insight:
[SECTION TITLE] APPROACH[SECTION SUMMARY] XYZ organization’s goal is to provide street based services to homeless and runaway youth in Fulton County who have been subjected to or are at risk of being subjected to, sexual abuse, prostitution, sexual exploitation or severe forms of trafficking. Our services are designed to assist runaway and homeless youth in leaving the streets and making healthy choices to enrich their lives.
[REWRITE THE CRITERIA] 2.1: Detailed a promising outreach strategy that includes a street outreach plan (i.e., individualized contact with youth) and a public outreach and awareness effort.[RESPOND TO THE CRITERIA] XYZ Organization’s outreach strategy includes…
When responding to the criteria in this format, you ensure the information that the reviewer needs to score your application is always at their fingertips. It also allows them to use the search function to find specific criteria and provides a continuity of information flow between the Funding Opportunity Announcement and your individual application. Making the reviewers job a little easier goes a long way to getting higher scores for your applications.
3. MAKE SURE TO ATTACH ALL REQUIRED INFORMATION
For many funding opportunities there are documents, such as licenses, resumes, certificates, memorandum of understanding, etc, that are required to be included in the application. These documents help reviewers gain a deeper understanding of your organization and the people that lead it. It might seem like a small thing to leave out something like resume for a key employee, or forgetting to attach job descriptions, but this is huge in terms of positioning your application as strong contender.
In the grand scheme of scoring an application, these items may only be worth a 1 or 2 point deduction, which seems like a small amount. However, for the most competitive grants, 1 or 2 points can mean the difference between getting funded and losing out to a competitor. Taking the time to make sure all required documents are attached will go a long way to helping you avoid the tiny deductions that cause applications to fall out of fundable range.
Also, if you state in your application that “xyz document is included in the appendix”, make sure xyz document is included in the appendix. If this document serves to further explain your point or provides information vital to the application you need to pay extra attention that you are including legible and clear versions of those documents into your appendix to ensure that reviewers get as much context as possible and can make the best scoring decision based on all the information provided.
Grant writing is not an easy task, and when possible it should be left to professionals that have shown experience in some part of the grant writing process. Finding a consultant that has either written grants that have won awards, or worked in the review process which awards grants, will help your organization tremendously in their effort to secure funding through grants. If you don’t have the budget to hire a consultant, following the steps above will provide your grant writer with some tips to put them on the right track to securing funding for your organization.
If you want to learn more about the grant writing or reviewing process, feel free to reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on social media at (insert facebook link) or (insert instagram link)