How to use evidence in your grant application

Quality statistics can take your grant application to the next level. In many cases, applications may be rejected because grantmakers have not been convinced that there is an actual need for the project or that your idea will solve a specific problem. By using reputable evidence to establish a need, you can add authority to your application.

Types of evidence

Generally speaking, there are two different kinds of evidence your group can bring to the table – quantitative evidence and qualitative evidence.

Quantitative evidence is numerically based (100 people in the Goodtown region have diabetes), and is evidence which can be measured or counted.

Qualitative evidence is evidence that sets out to describe or explain, or even tell a story (Conversations with people with diabetes in the Goodtown region revealed sufferers had a distinct lack of trust in local health services).

Gathering evidence

There are many ways your group can gather either quantitative or qualitative evidence.

For quantitative evidence, sources include:

  • Reports containing statistics, often released by research bodies or government departments.
  • Census data and other reports available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  • Statistics derived from annual reports and other public documents.
  • Crime statistics released by law enforcement agencies in each state.
  • Surveys which have been conducted by others, or which can easily be conducted and customised by your own group. Free online surveys can be set up using tools such as SurveyMonkey.

A wide range of web-based statistical sources are featured on the Funding Centre’s Statistical tools to assist in fundraising submissions page.

For qualitative evidence, methods include:

  • Interviews – your own or others' – with people that are affected, clients, or experts in the field.
  • Observations – either your own or others', which are documented and attributed to other people.
  • Items from newspapers and broadcast or social media.
  • Holding public meetings, forums or seminars.
  • Documentary material.

Your aim should be to gather as much evidence as possible to provide backing for the problem you state, as well as your proposed solution.

Using evidence effectively

Once you have gathered your evidence, you have to be able to communicate it succinctly, meaningfully and in a way that makes clear the relevance of the evidence to your problem and proposed solution. Below we have outlined some tips for effectively conveying evidence.

Be clear and concise

Unless the grantmaker specifically asks for a high level of detail, deliver your evidence without unnecessary or superfluous length. Use statistics that are clear and support your argument. This will help you produce a grant application that is logical and professional.

Be accurate

Don't overstate the problem or use overly emotional appeals. Simply state the facts and let the funding organisation come to their own conclusions. When your evidence is relevant, clear and concise, understatement can be a powerful tool.

Be relevant

Ensure the evidence you provide has clear and direct links with both the problem you express and the solution you put forward. While it is important to research widely, simply dumping all the data you’ve ever found that might relate to the problem in some way is not a good idea.

To carefully select data, as you compile your evidence, ask yourself: "What has that got to do with our proposal?" If, for example, there has been a rise in crime, how is this linked to the problem you have; and how does it justify or support the solution you propose? Make the link so clear that anyone, even those completely unfamiliar with your proposal, can see why it is necessary.

Attribute your evidence

Presenting evidence without attributing it to a source diminishes its value. Conversely, including a reputable or authoritative source of information adds credibility to your statement.

Ensure your data collection is well documented. If you collect data from the internet, make sure the websites you reference are reliable and the links are current. Documented, factual statistics – as opposed to undocumented assertions or assumptions – will also provoke fewer questions about your proposal. Including names and sources ensures your information can be verified – if a funder does question your claim, they can get confirmation directly from the source.

Attribute both hard and soft data to its source. Whether it is quantitative data drawn from your own surveying, Census data, qualitative evidence derived from interviews, or a portfolio of media reports supporting your case, it is equally important to cite the sources clearly so grantmakers know where the evidence you are using has come from and that it is factual.

Use variety

It is a good idea to use more than one type of data in your grant application. Data will be most effective if it is comparative. You can compare data over a variety of time periods, compare local data to state or national averages, or to other communities of a similar size or population. Using a combination of raw numbers and percentages will also show the proportion of the total population in your community that is affected by the issue. Percentages provide funding organisations with perspective on the reality of the problem you are addressing.

Remain current

Obviously you do not want to use data that is outdated, so make sure you are using the most current data from your chosen source. For example, use 2011 Census data rather than 2006 Census data. If you do need to use older data sources, explain why. Most Australian Bureau of Statistics data sets are marked as either latest issue or previous issue, and provide links to past and future releases so you can access the most up-to-date information.

Stay local

It is important to highlight the geographical area your organisation serves, and provide evidence for this specific area. Statistics that are too broad or generic will not help clarify the need to the funder. Demographic data is usually available for local government areas or even suburbs and towns. If no local data is available for your area, you may want to consider conducting your own survey. However, when using any local data, bear in mind that comparison data is still important. Comparing local data to state and national averages may help strengthen your argument.

Combine both types of evidence

Relying solely on statistics to explain your problem and justify your proposal can result in it being very one dimensional. On the other hand, qualitative evidence might pack a punch, but could also neglect very relevant statistics and hard data that lend support to your viewpoints.

Adding stories or case studies to hard data can be an effective combination, so aim for a well-rounded outline of evidence encompassing both qualitative and quantitative evidence. Use both to tell a complete, all-inclusive story to the grantmaker, picking and choosing the best evidence to use to illustrate each individual point. Bring in the human aspect wherever possible to add a personal touch to your grant application.

Don’t be all doom and gloom

It’s important to give the reader – the funding organisation – some hope. Don’t use evidence to paint a picture so grim that the problem appears hopeless and unworthy of an investment at all. This is where comparative statistics can be beneficial. Consider citing a community that did something similar to your proposal and highlight their beneficial results. For example, if a town of a similar size opened a youth drop-in centre and their crime rate went down 10% in the following year, it may add weight to your application.

Eliminate jargon

Some of your evidence might contain specific jargon, acronyms or other slang which all have the potential to confuse the grantmakers you present it to.

Ensure you present your evidence in a way a layperson could understand; eschewing jargon and babble for a simple, straightforward explanation.

Consider developing a short speech

See if you can weave two or three key pieces of your evidence into a short 50 to 100 word "speech" that you can use when making your case to a grantmaker, or even just in discussions with VIPs or others you hope will support you.

The ability to cut straight to the heart of the issue and convey the main thrust of your arguments quickly and effectively has the potential to win over grantmakers deciding between funding your proposal or someone else's.

In your speech, try to provide a clear sense of the urgency of your request. Help the funder understand why the funding is important now.

Case study

Grantmaker: "Why are you seeking this funding?"

For grantseekers, the question above is a common one – after all, every grantmaker wants to know what they are funding.

A typical response to the question might go along the lines of:

Grantseeker: "We want to develop a new drop-in centre specialising in after-school activities for teens."

On the surface there doesn't appear to be anything wrong with this response. After all it informs the grantmaker what you are going to do with the money you hope to receive from them.

The problem is that you haven't actually answered the grantmaker's original question.

What your group should be aiming to do is to explain the problem that has prompted your proposed solution.

This might be a more useful response to the question:

Grantseeker: "There is a lack of after-school activities in our municipality for teenagers. This is resulting in higher numbers of local teenagers becoming involved in anti-social activities and leading to increases in incidents of property damage, petty theft and other crime."

Examples of quantitative evidence that could be used in this example include:

  • There are an estimated 1500 people aged between 13 and 21 in our municipality. This number is expected to rise steeply in line with local council population growth estimates.
  • There are three dedicated after-school programs catering for teens between 13 and 18, and only three dedicated youth drop-in centres or facilities. These cater for a maximum of only 500 people.
  • Eighty percent of those aged between 13 and 18 say they are bored and that there is nothing to do – and nowhere to go – after school.
  • Seventy-five per cent of young people we interviewed told us they would be supportive of a new centre as long as its activities provided stimulation and variety.
  • Crime is up 30% this year in comparison with the 12 months previous.

Examples of qualitative evidence could include:

  • Residents have told the council they are concerned with an increase in what they believe are teen gangs in the municipality.
  • A recent report in our local newspaper cited a number of complaints from local traders about teens shoplifting or damaging their stores and offices.
  • When asked about their feelings of local after-school activities, one 15 year-old we interviewed said that "hanging out" and "stealing stuff" were the only interesting things to do.

It is important to note here that no one type of evidence is always better than the other. In some cases quantitative evidence might be more effective in illustrating your point, while in others qualitative might be better. A combination of both may in fact be the most effective of all.

So, in light of our knowledge from the help sheet above, let's try the example above again:

Grantmaker: "Why are you seeking this funding?"

Grantseeker: "Surveys and interviews we have conducted have found that there is a severe lack of locally-based after-school activities for teenagers. Our figures indicate existing after-school drop- in centres are full to overflowing, a situation set to worsen given the local council's most recent population projections forecasting a dramatic rise in the number of teens over the coming five years. Local teenagers have told us there is 'nothing to do' locally after school, while anecdotal evidence from local residents and business owners suggests that, in the absence of adequate after school programs, many teens are turning to crime and possible gang activity. Police crime figures support this. However teenagers themselves have also revealed that most would support the establishment of a new after-school centre as long as its activities provided stimulation, variety and were aimed specifically at people their age."

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