1. Plan ahead—know what you need
The first step before contacting any funding resource is to assess what your organization wants to accomplish and what you need to get the job done. It is important to be realistic and thorough in your assessment, and specific about the details of your task(s). As part of this process, you will want to consider your short-term and long-term goals. Your project may be simple (for example, funds for a new piece of equipment) or more complex (such as start-up costs for a new service), but you must be prepared to explain exactly what you need and why.
2. Research funding sources—know who pays for what, where, etc.
Before you start applying for grants, review available resources to find out more about prospective funding organizations. Many foundations provide statements about the types of activities or projects that they will and will not support. Many organizations target their giving to agencies residing within certain geographic boundaries. Others provide guidelines related to the size of their grants. Make a list of funding organizations whose stated guidelines most closely match your funding goals.
3. Consider multiple sources to increase your chances or cover different needs
One of the best strategies is to seek funding from multiple sources. Once your grant is written, you can propose it to several different funding sources at once ( as long as it fits the funding organization), increasing your chance of getting funded! Also, your projects or activities may have a number of different components which might be funded separately, you may want to consider seeking several smaller grants from different organizations rather than one large grant which may be more difficult to fund.
4. Approach each funding source individually—don’t prepare a generic proposal
A mistake that many grant applicants make is to submit “cookie cutter” proposals. It is very important to develop a grant application prepared specifically for the organization from which you are requesting funds. Even if you are “shopping” your grant around you need to remember that most funding sources have very specific guidelines regarding applications, including content, structure, etc. You must pay careful attention to the requirements and language for each granting agency’s guidelines as they provide the information about the funding organization’s funding priorities and overall goals. Following the requirements and using similar language in your proposal will show the organization that your goals are in line with theirs.
5. Follow the grant guidelines established by each funding source (timetable, method of contact, etc.)
The majority of funding organizations provide guidelines regarding the preparation of your application. You will find guidelines often very with some being very specific and others more general. Grant instructions may include submission deadlines, requirements for proposal length, specific content that must be included in the proposal, etc. Sometimes an initial letter of intent is required and must be sent and approved before a full application can be submitted. Most funding organizations are very specific about when applications are accepted, but some accept proposals on an ongoing basis. It is important to follow all of these instructions carefully. Applications not meeting guidelines risk immediate rejection! Proposals that do comply with the funding organization’s requirements, such as proper format and sequencing of content, are easier for reviewers to follow, and are more likely to receive favorable consideration.
6. Be clear, specific, and realistic in your application
Very good ideas can get lost in confusing volumes of verbiage. Bigger isn’t always better. Be very clear about the issues you are addressing as well as the solutions that you are proposing. Use simple language that reviewers will understand rather than verbose language that you think might sound impressive. It is also a good idea to be modest and realistic in the statement of probable outcomes for your project. Inflated claims that aren’t realistic will most likely backfire and result in no funding.
7. Don’t overload your application with unnecessary or unrequested materials
If you send videotapes, publications, or other unrequested items along with your proposal, they might be reviewed or they might be tossed out. At worst, you run the risk of annoying the proposal reviewers. Only send what the materials an organization requests and nothing more!
8. Search for previously accepted applications if they are available for review
Sometimes funding organizations will publish a list of grants that have been awarded in the past. You may find a synopsis of each grant or the entire proposal! You might try contacting successful applicants to ask for copies of their proposals and/or for suggestions that might be helpful.
9. Have someone review your application before you submit it
This is a very important step in the proposal development process. People who develop grant proposals are usually pressed for time and often wait until the last minute to have someone check their work. If at all possible, have others read your work far enough in advance so that you can make the changes that you need to improve the proposal. Remember, no matter how many times you read your own proposal, a fresh set of eyes will always see mistakes that you didn’t!
10. Find out when applicants will be notified—be prepared to answer questions posed by reviewers, but otherwise, be patient until the review has been completed
Funding organizations usually give applicants very clear information about how long the review process will take. Some organizations request additional information or ask questions as part of the review process, while others simply evaluate the materials that have been submitted. It may be difficult to just sit and wait, but in most cases this is the best strategy.
11. Regardless of whether your application is funded, always contact the funding source to get feedback about your application so that it can be strengthened in the future (for the same funding source or for others)
Most funding organizations are willing to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of proposals with applicants who have not been successful in securing funding. Even if your application is funded, it is always good to find out how to improve your applications and make them better. No application is perfect, there is always a way to improve. Also, contacting the funding agency also lets them know more about you and your organization, creating a stronger network with funding agencies.
12. Adjust your goals, your approach, and/or your application as needed. Keep trying!
Learn from the feedback you get about your proposal and try new strategies. Be open-minded and flexible about options. You may need to re-think your goals, adjust costs, apply to other funding organizations, clarify your communication and/or make other changes in your approach. Improving your application will only increase your chances of winning!