How to Write a Successful Grant Application
(Part 1)

Each year millions of dollars are given away to community groups in grants funding. The trick is in ensuring your group is one of the recipients.

Hunting for grants

The first challenge is to find the right grants program for your group.

When your organisation is looking for funds it pays to take a wide and generous view of your operations. Thinking broadly about your activities, members and supporters could make you eligible to apply for many more grants from governments, foundations, philanthropic organisations and councils. Check out the Thinking Laterally help sheet for more tips on how to do this.

Once you have identified all the areas you might qualify for, it's time to get choosy. It's important to pick the right one.

Counting the Cost

The more things you have to do to get the money the more you have to consider whether you're actually gaining on the deal. The bare bones of running a grant take up some of your resources - drafting applications, planning programs, running evaluations, reporting - and the more things you have to do the more resources it takes. You could have to carry out special outreach programs, advertise, or organise.

Don't go for a grant just because it's there; think carefully about your resources before making the decision to apply.

(You should also ask yourself, though, whether these things aren't worth doing anyway. A wider audience is a good thing in itself, and may pay for itself over time in increased subscriptions or donations.)

What does a funding agency look for in a grant application?

Despite the great diversity of the various grants programs and the amazing array of interests and target markets, funding bodies really need to be convinced of two things: that a significant need exists and that the applicant has the capacity to meet that need in a creative and fiscally responsible manner. Below is a list of just some of the things different agencies may be looking for:

  • Projects that will affect or involve as many people as possible - a small project may have broader applicability if it can be used as a model elsewhere.
  • Realistic projects with strong and dedicated backing and a high likelihood of success.
  • Projects that have broad community appeal and support.
  • Projects that provide a long-term solution rather than a short-term fix.
  • Projects that will make a difference.
  • Something new or visionary that is being held back only because of a lack of funds.

Writing your application

Most grant applications seek submissions that include the following.

A brief description of the organisation

This is not the place to write a long-winded history of your organisation but to describe your purposes and long-range goals. The grant evaluators want you to demonstrate how your existing programs were developed to meet identified community needs. You will need to establish confidence in your organisation's capacity to deliver. Include short descriptions of the qualifications and experience of key staff and general project management competencies.

The case for support

It is critically important to establish a specific solution to a problem or issue in a geographically identifiable area. Addressing the problem should be realistically achievable by your organisation. A small community organisation will not be able to solve all the problems of the world.

Subjective impressions will not hold any sway but a simple evocative case study illustrating the issue may capture the imaginations of assessment panels. This should be backed up by accurate data based on objective research. Statistics that are out of date or incorrect will damage your case, sometimes irreparably.

Evidence of community support is often required. Don't just include letters of support for the organisation but rather ones supporting the project and outlining why they think it will make a difference to the wider community.

The proposed project

In this section you should demonstrate that you have developed a clearly defined, creative, achievable and measurable strategy to address the issue/s previously described. Make sure you:

  • Clearly define your aims and objectives - An aim or goal is usually an abstract but very succinct description of what your program hopes to achieve. These objectives should be specific, achievable within a 12-month time frame, relate to a distinct geographical location and result in real outcomes that are easily measurable.
  • Outline your methodology - The objectives need to be matched with strategies that show how each will be achieved, by whom and by when. This should begin with a rationale for why the particular approach was chosen at this time and for this community.
  • Provide an evaluation strategy - Grant proposals need a detailed evaluation strategy to measure accomplishment of program objectives. Ideally, provision should be made for an independent outside evaluation of the proposed project. (See the Reporting on your Grant help sheet for more information on this.)
  • Address the budget - The required presentation of the program budget can vary from a simple, one-page statement of income and expenses to a more complex set of budget papers, including explanatory notes and revenue or expense items. The main thing is to be honest about your proposed expenditure and income. (See the Project Budgeting help sheet for more information on this.)

Read How to Write a Successful Grant Proposal Part 2 for more tips on getting your application into a winning position.