Winning grants funding

For your grant application to stand out among the hundreds of applications a grantmaker receives, it needs to be nothing less than outstanding. Tick every box in this checklist, and you'll be one step closer to success.

You’re applying for a grant - good. You’re on top of your material - good. You know all the ins and outs, you know the backstory, you can expand all the dot points - good.

But you’re probably too close to the project to assess whether it makes sense. You can’t see what other people won’t understand. You need a knowledgeable helper at your shoulder checking your presentation - this checklist.

Review the process

  • Time: Have you really got enough time to rewrite this before the deadline, if you have to? If not, think about holding back till the next round. You don’t want to blow your chances for good. If you’ve left it till the night before, that’s not a good sign.
  • Direction: Does this project dovetail into your Strategic Plan, or are you just grabbing at the money? How does it relate to your own priorities?
  • Internal consultation: Have you checked out the project with everybody in the organisation who needs to be involved? Have you got full costings, full resource demands, universal signoff, consensus? Has it been approved by the Board?
  • Funder consultation: Have you checked the outline of your application with the potential funder? A phone call may save you a lot of work, and it may establish a weak but still valuable relationship with the grantmaking staff.
  • Proofreading: Has the submission been read by a neutral party?

Review the framework

  • Cover letter: Does the submission include a cover letter describing how your project will further the grantmaker’s mission?
  • Executive summary: Does the submission include an executive summary that says clearly:
    • Who is applying for the grant?
    • Where the proposing organization is located?
    • Who is being asked to fund the grant?
    • Why the grant is needed?
    • What the grant money will be used for?
    • When the funding is requested?
    • How much money is being requested?
  • Attachments: Does the format allow for attachments? Does it demand them? Have you checked off the attachments to the proposal against the list of attachments required? Are all the attachments clearly labelled?
  • Form: Does the proposal:
    • Tell the funder what you’re going to tell them?
    • Tell it to them?
    • Tell them what you’ve told them?
  • Completeness: Does the proposal address every single item or criterion in the grantgiver’s guidelines (even if only to say “Not applicable” or “See item 2.3)” in the order and under the headings in which they appear in the guidelines?

Review the style

  • Language: Is the language specific, accurate, concise, and clear? Is it bureaucratese or personal? Does it contain any obviously recognizable professional jargon (unless explained), any weasel words, or any clichés? Is the language indirect and tentative (“It seems that it is possible that we might…”) or strong and positive (“We will…”)?
  • Title: Is the project title a boringly neutral descriptor (such as Proposal to Request Funding to Develop a Youth Membership Register) or does it make a positive statement (Reducing Juvenile Violence by Involving Young People in Community Sports)?

Grammar: Is the proposal written in the active voice (“We will collect data on…”) or in the less forceful passive voice (“Data will be collected on….)? Is the proposal written in the first person (“We will…”) or the less emphatic third person (“The project will…”)?

Simplicity: Is the proposal written mainly in short, simple, declarative subject-verb-object sentences? Accuracy: Has the proposal been checked and rechecked for typos and misspellings? Don’t leave that to the spellchecker.

Review the layout

  • Compliance: Does the submission follow to the letter the grantmaker’s specifications on margins, spacing, type size, word count, etc?
  • Presentation: Is the layout broken up by bullets, italics, headings, subheadings, boldface type, color, borders, charts or pictures?
  • Blanks: Have all the blanks been filled in, even if it’s with “Not applicable”?
  • Brevity: Is the proposal as brief as possible (and no briefer)?
  • Clarity: Are acronyms spelled out in full at first use (e.g. Deductible Gift Recipient [DGR]), and if there’s any possibility of confusion, at every use?

Review the budget

  • Numbers: Does the proposal contain a detailed budget? Do the budget numbers add up? Have you had this checked by someone else?
  • Other funding sources: Does the submission disclose any funding you’ve got for the project from other agencies?
  • Overheads: Does the budget include provision for your administrative overheads (unless you have decided to subsidise the project)?
  • Bottom line: Have you done your financial calculations accurately enough to know for certain whether your proposal involves a profit, break-even, or loss?
  • Back-up: Do you have a back-up plan for your proposal if you are granted only part of the funding you want?

Review the organisation details

  • Skills: Does the proposal include a section demonstrating that your organisation has the skills, knowledge and ability to make the project a success? Does it include up-to-date individual CVs to back it up?
  • Own contribution: Does the budget contain a contribution (in money, in kind, or in volunteer time) from your own organisation to demonstrate your belief in and commitment to the project?
  • Commitment: Does the proposal commit your organisation to some (lesser) further work in this area even if you don’t get the grant (that is, does it show you really think the project is vital)?
  • Fit: Does the proposal not only show that your organisation can deliver the project but show (without attacking other agencies) that your organisation is the body best fitted to deliver it?
  • Partnerships: Does the proposal demonstrate constructive partnerships with all other players with interests in the area? Does the proposal contain letters of commitment from all the partners you’ve mentioned?

Review the project

  • Evidence: Does the proposal set out the project in such a way as to demonstrate factually, with supporting data, the existence of a problem? Does it show why the problem is significant and a high priority?
  • Methods: Does the submission have a solutions section that sets out the project’s methods clearly? Does the solutions section show why these methods were adopted and alternatives rejected?
  • Schedule: Does the submission include a project schedule? In graphic format? One that you will be able to keep to if you get the grant?
  • Case: Does the proposal make a clear and consistent argument for the project?
  • Objectives Does the proposal specify project objectives that are (self-evidently) realistic, achievable, and measurable?

Review the grantmaker

  • Terminology: Does your submission use the same terms and the same buzzwords as your grantmaker’s website/annual report/mission statement?
  • Name: Does the submission have the grantmaker’s name right? [Don’t laugh; grantmakers often have a day-to-day name (“Quist Foundation”) and a legal name (“Arthur and Morveyn Quist Charitable Foundation”). Use the full name.]
  • Reporting: Does the proposal include a process for regular reporting to the grantmaker? Does it contain monitoring guidelines?
  • Benefits: Does the proposal establish (and quantify) the benefits that will flow from the project to the beneficiaries and to the grantmaker?
  • Database:Have you put the grantmaker on your mailing list for mailouts and event invitations?

Review future details

  • Sustainability: Does the submission show that the project can survive after the grantmaker’s funding is withdrawn?
  • Replicability: Does the proposal show that the project is replicable? Widely applicable? Capable of national/international impact?
  • Scaleability: Does the proposal show that the project’s success would be scaleable to a larger project?
  • Learning: Does the proposal include provision for dissemination and diffusion of the project’s learnings?
  • Longevity: Does your submission show that you’ll be around for the long term?

Review the message

  • Made to measure: Is the proposal a one-off, tailored to the specific mission and goals of the grantmaker, or a generic lowest-common-denominator proposal that has been sent to 20 foundations (and sounds like it)?
  • Uniqueness: Does the proposal show why this project is unique, innovative, and different from (and better than) existing programs, or does it sound like a thousand other proposals and a hundred other programs?
  • Comprehensibility: Does the proposal assume too much knowledge of the area? Too little?
  • Conclusion: Is there a conclusion summing up the problem, your solution, its anticipated impact, its cost, your request, and the projected benefits?
  • Energy: Does the whole proposal communicate your enthusiasm, your energy, and your commitment? Is it a lively read?

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