Mistakes that will hurt your grant application

Posted on 14 Mar 2024

By Janine Owen, Grant’d

Owen Janine
Janine Owen has cast her eyes over the grant applications her organisation has reviewed.

So you’ve found a grant that would be perfect for taking your organisation or venture’s mission to the next level. You’ve spent hours writing an application – but it still doesn’t seem to really gel with your vision and what you’re asking for.

As you sip at your umpteenth coffee for the day, you’re wondering why this is and how anyone could possibly create a compelling yet succinct case for funding in the heavily restricted, tick-a-box world of application forms.

And even as you ponder that question, you’re all too aware that your deadline is looming.

You’re beginning to think that nothing less than expert wordsmith magic will result in not just a high-quality grant application but one that makes funding bodies say the word that every grantseeker wants to hear: yes!

As someone who creates stories for impact every day, I’m here to share my insights into what works when it comes to grant applications.

Recently the Grant’d team took the time to reflect together on the hundreds of applications that have come across our desks over the years. And although our experiences have been vastly different, we agree on two things:

First, just five simple mistakes often stand between an organisation and its capacity to successfully secure game-changing funds.

Second, once any budding grant writer understands these mistakes and how to overcome them, they can instantly elevate the quality of their case for funding each and every time.

So without further ado, here’s a list of the top five mistakes that hurt your grant applications and how to fix them.

VIDEO: Get some great tips for winning grants in just over two minutes with these snap insights from ICDA’s training lead, Nina Laitala.

Mistake 1: Lack of clarity

We see this all the time – an organisation has identified a grant that it would love to win, but it’s last minute and the organisation doesn’t have a clear idea of its project’s funding needs. This comes through in the application as a lack of clarity about the proposed project and what role the requested funding will play.

Solution: Never make up funding asks on the fly. Before starting any application, take the time to build a project outline (including the what, how, why, when and projected impact of the project) and an itemised budget. This will empower you in building a crystal-clear case for funding. We also recommend creating a grants calendar so you can avoid those 11th hour grant writing sprints in the first place!

Mistake 2: Inconsistency

With the increased clarity you have after you’ve fixed mistake 1, you’ll be able to spot and fix the next most common mistake: inconsistency. We often see applications where the budget doesn’t properly reflect the project description. This inconsistency is confusing to funding bodies – and with hundreds of applications demanding their time, this confusion means that they’re more likely to pass your application over than ask for clarification.

Solution: Make sure your budget matches with what you’re proposing. For example, if you say you’re contracting someone to deliver an aspect of your project, this needs to be reflected in the budget – and vice versa.

Mistake 3: No clear statement of funding need

Speaking of confusion, we cannot overstate the importance of establishing early on exactly what your project is and what the requested funding will cover. Often this is not made clear and funding bodies are left wondering what you’re asking of them.

Solution: Where possible, include a statement at the end of your project description that summarises exactly what role the funding will play in your project. The rest of the application will be all about expanding upon this statement. For example, “The requested funding will cover the purchase of <items>, which will help with empowering <projected beneficiaries> to achieve <project objective>.”

Mistake 4: Failing to show how your proposal fits into the bigger picture

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when writing an application for a specific project and to forget to explain the role the project will play in achieving your overall vision for change. This can be a dangerous mistake, particularly given that funding bodies often like to see evidence that the impact of their funding will last beyond the funded period.

Solution: Identify how your project will contribute to your overall organisational mission in measurable ways – and incorporate this into a clear statement. Here’s a basic example you could expand upon: “This project represents a step closer to our organisational goal of reaching <insert number> by <insert year>.”

Mistake 5: Not demonstrating lasting impact

This brings us to the fifth and final most common mistake that we see in grant applications – failure to show how your project or program will create lasting impact. This is very important to funding bodies. In choosing where to distribute their funding, they seek to fund the projects with maximum long-term potential.

Solution: Identify how your projected impacts will last beyond the funded period and summarise this in your application.

For example, if your project were a sustainable seed loans program, you would highlight how just a single bag of seeds generates <insert number> additional bags of seeds following harvest, resulting in the capacity to service many more growers in need without the need for further investment.

Often, fixing these mistakes requires an investment of only a couple of hours. Then you’ll be able to hit “submit” with every confidence that you’re putting your best foot forward!

Janine Owen is the founder and CEO of Grant’d, which helps businesses and charities to find and win grants.

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