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WRITING GRANTS 101 – Tips to make your life easier and less frustrating.

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

Writing grants can be confusing, frustrating, anxious, nerve wracking, and extremely satisfying when approved. Here are some things to keep in mind to help:

1. ACTIVELY SEARCH OUT AVAILABLE GRANTS. Network with organizations such as the United Way, your municipalities, your provincial and federal representatives.

2. NETWORK WITH OTHER SIMILAR ORGANIZATIONS. Learn how they are finding funding. It can be a challenging conversation as organizations can be protective of their funding streams, but if you are diplomatic and upfront about what you want to learn, most will offer some advice.

3. IS A CHARITABLE NUMBER REQUIRED? Not having one is not the “end of the world,” but you may need to find a willing partner who does have a charitable number. We suggest having a defined “Memorandum of Understanding” in place if this situation applies to your organization.

4. TALK TO THE FUNDERS IF POSSIBLE. Funders want to support good programs. Funders don’t want to waste time with grants that don’t qualify or don’t fit. Talking to a funder can also help you with financial expectations; for example: your organization may want $25,000 but the funder may have a $3,000 cap. Funders will also know who else is applying and if they see a partnership opportunity, they may connect you to another organization.

5. IS THERE A PARTNER ORGANIZATION? Funders love collaboration and some require it. This is more than just the MOU if you are using another organizations’ charitable number, this is whom else you can bring into the project to expend and create sustainability.

6. BUILD A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FUNDER. Provide the funder with information on how your project progresses and when it accomplishes its goals. Funding organizations want to know that their investments deliver on their objectives.

7. ALLOW TIME TO COMPLETE THE APPLICATION. It may take an entire day to complete an application, do not get frustrated. It is worth noting however, that sometimes certain information is common to all grant applications and it is worth saving “common” information for easy access.

8. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE FINAL DAY TO APPLY. Virtually all grant programs will have deadlines; always try to apply as soon as possible. It is always on deadline day that your internet dies.

9. READ EVERYTHING prior to starting:

a. Does your organization meet the qualifications listed, if you are not sure, please ask before beginning.

b. Before starting to fill out the application, make a list of all of the documents that you will have to have to attach.

c. Assume that you will have to apply on-line, so having access to a computer, internet, and a scanner/printer should be considered before starting.

d. If you are unsure about something, usually there is a contact listed on the grant application, call or email and ask your questions. Something that the contact might appreciate, when you read through the application make a list of all of your questions so you can ask all of them at once.

e. Type all the answers into a Word document as you write them. Then copy and paste into the grant application. Save often. The number of times a form has crashed and you forget that brilliant sentence you just wrote…it happens too many times! Having the answers in a separate document will save you time and aggravation.

10. ANSWER EVERY QUESTION. Assume that the organization that has issued the grant application does not know anything about you or what your organization does. Funders will not stop and search your website or ask anyone … your job is to educate them as concisely and as completely as you can within the space parameters that you have. Remember concise.

11. FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS. If the grant asks you to enter: How many clients have you helped in the last 30 days? They would like a number written as a number, 67 for example not sixty-seven.

12. CHECK ALL THAT APPLY. The more diverse your clients are, the more likely and approval will be. Many organizations do not read or do not appreciate the question and if a question such as “Who will benefit from your project?” some applicants will answer with only selection: “men” when an answer that includes: men, women, and children represents a wider scope of assistance.

13. ENSURE THAT YOU HAVEN’T MISSED A POPUP QUESTION BOX. Some application questionnaires will have questions within questions that are easy to miss.

14. IF YOU ARE STUCK, ASK QUESTIONS. Do not assume if you have an issue, call and clarify, which is another reason not to wait until the last minute to apply. Many application forms will have a “Help” reference contact.

15. IF THE APPLICATION WANTS DETAILED FINANCIAL REPORTS. Clarify what they require, if your brother-in-law does the books and he is not an accountant that will not likely be good enough. Protect yourself and your charity by having an accountant sign off annually on your books, it will help with grant applications, and it will protect your organization. If you are collaborating to use another organization’s charitable number, you will need all their information and access to their signers, as they must approve the grant application too.

16. EXPLAIN YOUR PROJECT IN DETAIL. Your project should have a different name than your organization. Your explanation needs to explain what you want the funding for, what the benefits will be, and whom the group are that will benefit. There is also nothing wrong with having fun with the name.

17. PREPARE A BRIEF AND CONCISE SUMMARY. This balances the previous point. In the body of the application, it will be necessary to layout the project in detail; quite often, the funder will ask for a one or two line explanation of the project in broad strokes.

18. HAVE A BUDGET PREPARED. Have a clear layout of your project’s budget, have estimates and quotes available as supporting documents. Double-check your math.

19. READ PREVIOUS GRANT APPLICATIONS AND STUDY THE LANGUAGE. Try to avoid the same language that everyone else does, find unique ways to make your application stand out. Write clearly without industry “jargon” or “buzzwords.”

20. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS. Do not express anger at a funder who is unable to help you and your project. It’s extremely rare that a “no” is personal. If you are turned down, have a debriefing call with the agency, the feedback may surprise you. It may also be possible to reapply.

21. KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS. If the grant wants a sustainability plan, saying, “We hope to fundraise to keep the project going,” is legitimate, if you actually have a fundraising plan directed to that specific project. So many great programs run for 3-5 years and then close because the fundraising just is not available to support it.

22. CONSULTANTS. There are people who write grants for a living, you cannot pay them from the grant they are writing and it is unethical to pay them for just successful applications.

23. ATTEND GRANT WRITING WORKSHOPS. The Community Foundation Grey Bruce generally holds grant-writing workshops (outside of pandemic conditions) with funders such as The Trillium Foundation, The United Way, and Bruce Power etc.

24. FLEXIBILITY IS IMPORTANT BECAUSE EVERY GRANT AND EVERY FUNDER IS DIFFERENT. Some grants will only do capital expenses; others only operational and others just service provision. If you need operational, but have found one that supports capital, use your capital budget for operational, and apply for the capital. Just don’t start anything until the grant documents are signed. Tailor your application for the particular agency, learn about the agency and the kinds of applications they have approved in the past, find out what is important to them.

25. DO NOT PRE-SPEND A GRANT. Regardless of how urgent your funding need is; do not pre-spend the grant before you have permission to. While what you have already done may fit the grant parameters without the signed grant, no expense should be incurred. If you speak to the funder and they give permission, get it in writing – email and put it in the file.

Good luck and thank you to all of you for the hard work and dedication that you and your associates/volunteers provide to help so many people in your communities. We hope the contents of this post will help you get the funding for your important programs and activities.

Acknowledgements: A very large thank you to Francesca Dobbyn and Misty Schonauer for their insights and contributions.

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