Three people sit around a table. The two on the far side are seen from the shoulders down; they wear business casual clothes and the one on the right (in a tan blazer) is gesturing toward the person on the other side of the table. The person on the side of the table nearest to the camera is sitting with their hands folded. Their hands extending from buttoned cuffs are the only things that can be seen of this person, and the hands are folded on top of a document with headings highlighted in blue.
Experts recommend keeping your grant application succinct and straightforward, and only providing relevant, requested information. — Getty Images/ijeab

Many organizations invest tons of time and resources into writing grant applications. Data shows that nonprofits, for instance, spend an average of 80‒200 hours writing a single federal grant application. This investment makes it all the more important that your grant application stands out for the right reasons. Follow these tips to ensure that your grant application is given careful consideration by a selection committee.

[Read more: What's the Difference Between a Grant and a Loan?]

Keep your writing succinct

Many grant RFPs receive dozens, if not hundreds of applications. Award committees have a lot of reading to do; as a result, applications that include a simple, powerful description of the problem, model and impact stand out among the crowd.

“We’re often reading applications where we have detailed, very informative explanations of the work, and I think it’s important from a messaging standpoint and for the impact on the reader to really capture their attention and capture their imagination,” grant expert Umi Howard told the UPenn Center for Social Impact Strategy. “The tighter the messaging is, the more it will stand out as we’re reviewing multiple applications.”

Often, the best way to keep your writing simple and straightforward is to follow directions. If an application asks for specific information, provide it — and don’t go overboard. “If it asks for X, provide X. Don’t give Y & Z,” said one entrepreneur.

Build a relationship with the funder

Networking won’t guarantee that your application gets chosen, but it can help you submit a better proposal. Many grantors are happy to answer questions about the application and can shed some light on the process, helping you to better manage your expectations and resources.

It’s much better to have a right-sized set of goals for whatever you’re proposing, or get a clear sense as to where you are in your own life cycle

Umi Howard, creator and manager of the Lipman Family Prize at UPenn’s Wharton School

“Sometimes organizations assume that funders won’t connect on the phone or provide feedback, when that’s not actually the case. A request might get you something that you didn’t think you could get,” said Howard. “And mostly because the program officer can offer a bit of clarity around what’s being asked in the application, what the process is, and add points of clarification that help the applicant better understand the application.”

There’s a myth that having a relationship with the funder will immediately move your application to the top of the pile. That’s not necessarily true, but networking with the funder can help you learn more about the organization and frame your application accordingly. “What are their areas of interest? Do they fund locally or nationally? Who are the staff and board members? Matching your interests to those of the foundation or government agency is very important. A good match saves time and energy,” wrote The Balance.

Be realistic

In an effort to stand out from the crowd, many organizations overpromise what they can achieve with the funding. This effort can make your business stand out for the wrong reasons.

“It’s much better to have a right-sized set of goals for whatever you’re proposing, or get a clear sense as to where you are in your own life cycle, and make sure the funding you’re seeking is well-suited for what you’re claiming or hoping to do,” said Howard.

One way to ensure your application is realistic is to make sure all the sections you’ve written correspond to one another. Many grant-writing teams divvy up who writes which section of the grant proposal. As a result, when each section comes together, the result is a bit disjointed. Hire an outside grant writer or designate one person to be in charge of making sure your proposal is streamlined and accurate.

In addition, spend extra time on your numbers. “When you compete for a grant, the committee will want to see how you’ll use the money to evaluate impact. If you don’t know your numbers, you can’t share explicitly how the money coming in will impact the money coming out, and that could put you at a serious disadvantage,” said Chris Ronzio, CEO and founder of Trainual and the winner of a grant for $150,000, told AllBusiness.

[Read more: How to Write a Grant Application for Your Organization]

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Published July 30, 2021