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Grant application rejected?

Your 14-point how-to guide: provide value and get your grant application noticed

Grant funding rejected - graphic showing bags of money with a cross through them

Grant funding can be difficult to secure, and small mistakes can be the difference between success and failure in winning grant funding.

Receiving a rejection letter can make you feel like never applying for funding again.

Don’t give up! I can help you out.

I’m sharing this 14-point guide to make sure all your bases are covered.

It helps you avoid simple mistakes and highlights things you may not have thought about or realised the importance of. We’re human after all, it’s easy to miss or overlook some points in the flurry of activity to get an application submitted before the deadline. Read through each point and decide whether it’s something you’ve got covered or if something’s been missing from your applications.

1. Evaluate sources of funding

Evaluating the sources of funding is where your grant-seeking should begin. An overview appears at the beginning of the grant guidelines, followed by the eligibility criteria. Together, these two things will let you know immediately if you align with the funder’s main goals. Record your findings for future reference.

Ensuring your project aligns with the funder’s intentions from the outset saves you time and allows you to find the most suitable funding opportunities. Remember the funder also has targets to meet, and they won’t hand out funding to projects which aren’t likely to further their own agenda.

Your preliminary research might involve viewing:

  • Annual reports
  • Strategic plans
  • Their website – Which types of projects are they or have they already funded?
  • Past grant guidelines

After researching, ask yourself again how well your project aligns with the funder’s intentions. Remember the funder is looking to give money to a project that provides value, in conjunction with a solution to a specific problem. Don’t waste time applying if your project won’t provide the funder with these outcomes.

2. Focus on the funder, not your own organisation

While funding bodies are generous in providing funds for worthy projects, they aren’t there to shower organisations with money for no return on their investment. In short, this means that gaining funding isn’t about you – it’s about them.

Fair warning, though, DO NOT change your grant application to “suit” the funder. Rather, your project should already align with funding requirements, and you’d be backing this up with proof that makes the project enticing to the funding body.

Remember, funders want to award grants to those projects that have a lasting impact. Depending on the grant criteria, that may mean a small community-based project with ongoing benefits, or a larger-scale operation that will bring jobs and prosperity to the region, for example.

Your application should talk about how much positive change can be gained from being awarded the grant. Build a picture of what the future would look like with your project in it. Help the funder to see the good this grant would bring, for all involved.

3. Read the eligibility criteria thoroughly

Now that you know you align with the funder’s strategic goals, you can move on to checking the eligibility criteria more thoroughly.

One of the first things assessors check is whether all the criteria set out in the guidelines have been met. If you’re not able to demonstrate something the funder has asked for, you’ll likely end up in the ‘no’ pile.

Common eligibility criteria include, but are not limited to:
– History and status of the business or entity, relevant to the grant opportunity
– Ability to meet financial & staffing requirements for the project
– Location, if relevant to the grant opportunity
– Timelines: can your project run to completion in the time given?
– Project scope must fall within the stipulated financials and expected outcomes
– Capability and merit in the use of resources, including the expertise of staff allocated to the project.

Not checking eligibility criteria thoroughly is an easy mistake to make. On the surface, it looks like a match but if you dig a little deeper into your business structure, your project plans, or upon reading the funder’s terms and conditions, you may find it’s not the best fit after all.

Granted (pun intended!) they are boring to read through. But if you know exactly what is required, you can make an informed decision about whether to pull out before any time or effort is wasted on applying for it.

4. Follow the guidelines to a "T"

Even though they are called guidelines, they should be called “rules”. They are a specific set of instructions that the applicant needs to follow to qualify for the grant.

While it seems easy enough, the list of instructions can make it easy to miss things. Not following the guidelines can result in your application being put aside immediately, so it’s worth having a little checklist against each item where you can immediately see which ones you meet or need more research for.

Remember, reviewers have many applications to go through. They won’t waste time trying to find information in your application if others have all the right things in all the right places.

Make it easy for them to find the information they’re asking for, and you’ll likely progress to the next step in the review process.

5. Know your project, know your competition

How well do you know your project?
Have you written a project plan before searching for a suitable grant?
Do you know who you’d be competing against for the grant?

Some grant applications ask who your competitors are, and this is beneficial for a few reasons:

1. It’s good to keep the competition in mind while writing your grant, because you may offer things they don’t. It will help to clarify a point of difference in your project, and you can work on making this stand out in your application.

2. Knowing your competitors also provides an opportunity to think about collaborating. For instance, if your competitor has a product or service that is complimentary to yours, rather than directly competitive, it may open a dialogue between you to seek a different type of funding in this, or future opportunities.

3. Knowing your competitors also lets you know where your support network lies. Grant applications often ask for letters of support and are a great way to show your reach and impact within the communities relevant to your project.  Make sure you share details of your project with both individuals and corporations to spread interest and gain support in the early stages. 

Having a project plan in place helps to clarify your message. It’s less work at grant application time because you know your project aims and expected outcomes. The value of being able to convey these messages clearly in a grant application is discussed in the next point.

6. The amount of funding being asked for

While funding bodies will stipulate how much money is on offer, you shouldn’t automatically go for the highest amount listed. For one, you’d have to back that up with a solid plan & budget to match the amount being asked for, and two, funders are often looking to award more than one grant amount across a range of projects, rather than putting all their eggs in one basket.

So while the total amount on offer is enticing, it would also be better to not put all your eggs in one basket either. Really think about your project plan and timelines, and the deliverables that come with it.

Would your application be better suited to a lesser amount, for a chunk of the project that can be fully realised with the time and money given?

7. Consistency between your project plan and your budget

By now you’re getting the gist that everything must line up. Writing the grant application is more than just filling in answers to questions. The preparation beforehand is what counts most. You really do need to understand the eligibility criteria and guidelines to ensure that the item(s) you’re seeking funding for are not excluded. Obviously, this could affect what you’re asking for in the grant application.

Your projected budget should include:

  • Separate quotes showing costs for equipment and services
  • The amount of your own financial contributions
  • The value of any in-kind contributions
  • A buffer for increases in costs due to fluctuating market conditions
  • Any specific requests by the funding body

The total budget across these areas should exactly match the amount asked for in the grant. Ideally, there would be three drafts of the budget. The first will be the ‘wish list’, which will then be refined in the second draft to align with the grant amount requested. The third will be a polished draft, ready to submit in the grant application portal.

When you’re able to demonstrate how your project plan and budget align with the grant opportunity, you’re more likely to be moved to the reviewer’s ‘successful’ pile.

8. Attachments

Attachments help to build a picture of your business and the project you need funding for. You should already have access to many of the general documents asked for in a grant application.

These may include:
– General business details (name, address, contact details)
– Strategic plan
– Financial records
– Legalities: registered business with ASIC/ ABN/ ACN/ DGR
– Insurances

The project attachments should at the very least be in some kind of working document BEFORE you need them at grant time. Starting from scratch at the announcement of the grant opportunity will undoubtedly cause stress with timelines and resources.

Project attachments you can prepare earlier may include:
– Authority for the project
– Approvals in place
– Quotes
– Expected budget
– Expected timeline
– Letters of support, from industry or community
– Project plan
– Risk mitigation strategies
– Marketing plans

These attachments are highly dependent on the type and amount of grant funding applied for. For specific attachments required, refer to each grant’s guidelines.

Having attachments ready before your grant opportunity goes live is the best way to stay on top of the process and ensure there’s no last-minute scramble for information if you find something is missing.

9. Risk Assessment

A risk assessment should have been included in your project plan. If, after reading the guidelines you’ve thought of other potential problems, add them to your list. You don’t need to write everything in the grant application, but it’s a great exercise to prioritise your greatest threats and have mitigation strategies in place.

Threats to the project may include:
– Limitations with technology
– Staffing and human resources
– Scope creep
– Supply chain issues
– Cost blow-outs
– Health and safety
– Regulatory compliance
– Other, more specific risks associated with your project

10. Clarity

With so much information going into a grant application, it’s easy to become a bit ‘waffly’. Tight word counts in some applications mean you need to be able to articulate your project succinctly. Have you practised how you might achieve this, without the text losing meaning?

Even difficult concepts should be able to be written in such a way that a layperson could understand. This can’t be underestimated, because the reviewers don’t always have experience or in-depth knowledge of your project.

Starting at the beginning, the headline should clearly state the purpose of the project. A clear compelling headline will make the reviewers want to read that little bit further. Each section following should be written as succinctly and clearly as possible, covering the main points while still directly addressing the criteria.

Have someone without experience read over it and tell you their understanding of it. If they’re not ‘getting it’, look at ways to make it easier to understand.

Your writing can be made clear and concise by:
– Eliminating wasteful words
– Ensuring every sentence is worthy of being there
– Changing sentences around to use fewer words
– Combining and shortening sentences where possible
– Using acronyms or abbreviations for industry jargon (so long as you’ve explained them first, every other instance of the word(s) can be abbreviated).
– Eliminating repetition
– Using bullet points instead of whole sentences

Always be prepared to do a few drafts of the answer. It allows you to hone the message to make sure it says exactly what you need to say with clarity.

11. Timeline

Be realistic. If you’ve created a project plan and have a draft timeline, make sure you’ve considered any delays that might occur. This might form part of your risk assessment, discussed above.

Your timeline must also match the release of grant funds. When and how the money will be paid to your organisation usually forms part of the guidelines. Use this knowledge to ensure your project aligns with the release of funds, and the amount of time you have to complete the project.

Things may need to be shuffled around to suit and this is fine so long as the deliverables don’t change. The project goals must still be achievable in the given timeline when funds are available.

12. Submission - leave enough time to write and review

Grantmakers often give relatively short turn-around times for submission, considering the amount of research and writing that goes into a grant application. Somehow you have to fit all this in around your regular working hours and time constraints. If you’ve followed all the points above, you should be in a good place to have everything on hand and you can get on with the business of writing it all up.

But the questions in the grant application are often harder to answer than first anticipated. And some questions appear to be asking the same thing. They’re not. You’ll need enough time to investigate and interpret what the questions are asking of you. This is why it’s so, so important to ensure you have enough time to write, review, and refine before submission is due.

If you’d like to read more, I’ve written a couple of blogs that you may find helpful.
Grant Writing Basics – Tips for a Rock-Solid Grant Strategy.
Should You Hire a Grant Writer?

13. Build relationships - stay in contact with funders

Build relationships with the funding body. Most grants are competitive, and you may not be successful on the first – or the first few – attempts. If you’re sure that your project meets the funding body’s requirements, stay in contact with them. Ask them questions. If you’ve had an application rejected, ask for feedback. Then use that feedback to strengthen your application.

By staying in contact with the funders, you’ll stay on their radar. You’re building rapport, trust, and credibility as an entity that can provide value with its funding dollars.

14. Tell your story - build a compelling case for the funding

So how do you make your need for funding stand out, among all the other worthy candidates? Learn how to tell stories. While many grant applications will contain facts and figures – all important stuff – the ‘stand-out’ applications will be those that guide the assessor through a story, promote understanding, and bring home how and why your project can make the difference the funder is looking for.

Consider the assessor’s point of view. Having to go through possibly hundreds of applications with similar information would make anyone’s eyes gloss over. Making your application both relevant and relatable will be a breath of fresh air. The assessor has a better chance of ‘getting it’, and in turn helps you move closer to getting the funding. 

Time to bring it all together

By now you’ve seen that putting a grant application together isn’t about writing a bunch of answers to questions. It takes knowledge, forethought, planning, tweaking, organisation, and prioritisation to make the most of the opportunities.

If you find yourself a bit lost in the process or you’re time-poor, let’s chat about how I can help you out.

I hope you’ve found this guide a useful addition to your grant writing toolkit.

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