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Tips on Applying for Grants

Plan ahead—know what you need

Before you begin contacting funding sources, think through what your organization wants to accomplish and what resources you need to get the job done. It is important to be thorough in your thinking, and specific about the details of your task(s). As part of this process, you will want to consider short-term and long-term goals. Whether your needs are simple (for example, funds for a new piece of equipment) or more complex (such as start-up costs for a new service), you should be prepared to explain exactly what you need and why.

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. In addition, many organizations target their giving to agencies which reside within specific geographic boundaries. Others provide guidelines related to the size of their grants. Make a list of funding organizations whose stated guidelines closely match your funding goals.

Consider multiple sources to cover different needs

It is often a useful strategy to seek funding from multiple sources. If your planned projects or activities have a number of components which can be funded independently, you might want to consider seeking smaller grants from more than one organization.

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 which is prepared specifically for the organization from which you are requesting funds. Most funding sources provide guidelines regarding applications, including content, structure, etc. It is wise to pay careful attention to the language used in these guidelines as it can provide you with information about the funding organization's priorities. Use of similar language in your proposal will demonstrate that your goals are aligned with those of the funding organization.

Follow technical guidelines established by each funding source (timetable, method of contact, etc.)

As previously noted, most funding organizations provide guidelines regarding applications. Some instructions are very specific while others are more general. Instructions may include submission deadlines; requirements for proposal length; specific content which must be included in the proposal; etc. Some organizations may require that an initial letter of intent be sent and approved before a full application can be submitted. Most organizations are very specific about when (i.e., during what part of the calendar year) applications are accepted, although some accept proposals on an ongoing basis. It is important to follow all of these instructions carefully. Applications which do not meet guidelines risk immediate rejection. On the positive side, those proposals which comply with technical requirements, such as proper format and sequencing of content, are easier for reviewers to follow, and are more likely to receive favorable consideration.

Be clear, specific, and realistic in your application

Too often, good ideas get lost in large volumes of confusing verbiage. Bigger isn't necessarily better. Be clear about what problems you are addressing as well as the solutions that you are proposing. In doing this, use simple language that reviewers will understand rather than technical language that you think might sound impressive. In addition, it is a good idea to be modest and realistic in the statement of probable outcomes of your project. Inflated claims can be offensive (if not laughable), and might backfire.

Don’t overload application with unnecessary or unrequested materials

There is such a thing as overkill. 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.

Find out whether previously accepted applications are available for review

Some funding organizations publish lists of agencies which have been awarded funding in the past. Consider contacting successful applicants to obtain copies of their proposals and/or for suggestions that might be helpful.

Have someone review your application before you submit it

This is an important step in the proposal development process. Most people who develop grant proposals are 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.

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

Most funding organizations will give applicants 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. While it is hard to sit and wait, in most cases this may be the best strategy.

If you application was denied, consider contacting 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)

Some funding organizations are willing to discuss strengths and weaknesses of proposals with applicants who have not been successful in securing funding. Whenever possible, use this opportunity to learn more about how you can do better.

Adjust your goals, your approach, and/or your application as needed. Keep trying!

Learn from whatever feedback you can 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. Chances are, your efforts will pay off. Good luck!

Last Updated: Friday January 16 2009
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