All About Applications
ALL ABOUT APPLICATIONS
The application process for public grant funding is often more competitive and may require more documentation and a longer application process. Private grant funding may have a simpler application process, but may also be more selective in the organization they choose to fund. This may mean that they prioritize organizations by budget size (e.g., revenue less than $500,000), service area, target population, time since incorporation/501(c) status, etc.
On this webpage you'll find tips for successful applications and support on different application formats.
The program summary or executive summary is the Cliffs Notes version of the entire proposal ranging in length from one paragraph to one page.
The needs statement is a description of the community or population to be served by the program. This is not the space to discuss the program or the organization. The needs statement can be bolstered by data, but it is better to have data that is right sized. State level data on the prevalence of students with anxiety or depression will not be as compelling as school district or even better school level data for why your program is needed in your community. Comparing your data to comparable state or national data may be quite compelling.
Answer this question: How will the program improve the issue?
This section is where the program and its activities are described. This section should also include why this program is expected to address the issue described in the needs section. The section also needs to describe how the proposed activities are likely to lead to improvements that will be outlined in the objectives section.
Answer this question: What will the program improve?
The objectives section is the place to describe what will be improved by the program. Example: ABC Program will increase the academic outcomes of student participants through decreased school absences, decreased behavior referrals, and increased test scores. This section is often combined with the evaluation section.
The evaluation section describes what metrics will be measured to show progress toward the objectives. This section will often include what tools the organization will use to measure the indicators.
Unless the funder asks only for the amount requested without detail, the budget section should be a table showing the proposed expenses requested for the program. Some funders will provide a budget template, while others will not. When a template is not provided, how detailed of a budget to provide will depend on the funder. While a program budget should be developed in collaboration with fiscal/accounting staff, how a grant budget is provided can help frame the program story in visual form.
The budget narrative is the section to explain what the requested funding would pay for. The level of detail will, like the budget section, depend on the funder. This is also a good place to describe what other support you are seeking or have secured for the program. If the funder will only pay for certain expenses, this is where those items should be described as well as what other expenses there are for the program and how those will be supported by other sources.
It cannot be overstated how important this tip is because if your application is not read because it is deemed ineligible or unresponsive, there is 0% chance of being funded. Be sure to read the application instructions thoroughly to determine the deadline, the page, word, or character limits, what attachments are required, what signatures are required, what font size must be used, and what size margins and spacing are required.
Many applications require attachments such as financial statements, board minutes, signature pages, letters of support, organization charts, etc. These can often be gathered or completed (or nearly completed) right away which can save time versus scrambling at the last minute to pull them together. It can also be helpful to provide a template for letters of support with sections for personalization for the organization.
Make sure that all sections of the proposal agree to what is being proposed. A reviewer is not likely to score a proposal highly that mentions three behavioral health specialists in one section but asks for five in the budget.
It's important to write with a strengths-based tone. Write with confidence. The funder is not going to care what the organization needs. The funder wants to know how their funding will make their community/county/world better.
This is best written after everything else is completed to ensure that a full picture is provided at a very high level with one or two highlights of unique or compelling parts of the proposal highlighted if space allows. The program summary is the place for a brief description of the proposed program including what will be done, who will be served, and what will be the benefit. Example: The ABC program will provide after-school services to low-income middle-school aged students to help them be ready to transition to high school.
Reviewers often have dozens of applications to read. Simple, concise statements are much better than long, flowery sentences that don’t really say anything.
It is a great idea to get someone who does not know the program to review the proposal before it is submitted. They can help identify sections that are unclear or use jargon that has not been explained. Reviewers are not stupid, but they may not be subject matter experts.
It may be necessary to request grants from multiple funding sources. While the core of the program and the application will remain the same, it is important to tailor the request to the specific funder's area of interest and requirements. Don’t ask for staffing from a funder that won’t fund personnel. Do emphasize your something that is of particular interest to the funder such as afternoon school activities for a funder interested in social development of students.
Develop a timeline for writing the sections, gathering attachments, and getting forms signed. Plan time for those who need to review drafts for submission as well as for delays.
Do not wait until just before the deadline to submit a grant proposal. A technical glitch such as a power or server outage could prevent a last-minute application from being submitted by the deadline. There are also funders who take favorable note of who submits earlier.
Cash flow issues for reimbursement grants should be reviewed. Public grant funding is almost exclusively reimbursement-based, meaning that revenue from the award will not be provided until invoiced. Payment can take days to weeks following an invoice submission. Reimbursement may also be delayed due to the contracting process which may be prolonged for organizations who are new to the funder or for a new program. This needs to be considered when planning for programming to ensure bills can be paid until funding is in the bank.
In order to build and maintain a relationship with funders, it is important to communicate with them even if there is no reporting requirement. This is especially true if there are any unanticipated challenges or changes to the program. And sooner is better in those situations.
Always keep the funder informed even if not required, especially if there are hiccups or changes. Funders don’t want to learn at the end of a grant or several months after a known issue arises that there is an issue. Ideally, your organization will be able to inform the funder of the issue and the plan to improve performance (how will you get the most service units/best outcomes given the situation). But don’t wait until you have the perfect solution to present with the bad news. It is never fun to receive a call from a funder who learned of the issue from someone outside your organization or program.
Proper accounting of expenses paid with grant funding is important, even if it is not requested by the funder.