Community Foundation of St. Joseph County

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Strengthening Your Grant Application

Tips for Applicants

RiverBend Cancer Services

Often, representatives of local nonprofit organizations ask us, “How can I make my grant application more competitive?”

In September 2015, the Community Foundation’s Program staff hosted two information sessions focused on providing some answers to this question. These meetings were well attended and productive, and we've compiled the highlights below.

Remember: Every grant cycle is different, because the competition for funding is constantly changing. At the end of the day, the Community Foundation has a finite amount of money to award, and the Grants Committee must prioritize based on the cases made by applicants. If your project does not receive funding, please understand that many factors are part of that decision. If you still have questions after reading this, email our Program staff or call (574) 232-0041.
 

What do the most competitive grant proposals have in common?

  • CLEARLY DEFINED NEED: The most competitive proposals address a critical need in our community. Tell us why this project is timely and important, and then back up your proposal with pertinent information and local data. Consider including the experiences and voices of those you serve—they can be powerful elements in making your case.

  • DETAILED PLANS AND OBJECTIVES: Strong proposals are built around complete, well-defined plans and objectives. You should include key details of your plan such as dates, times, duration of programs, key staff and their expertise, and specific plans to recruit clients. And be sure your objectives are clearly stated, measurable, and achievable.

  • STRONG CONCEPTS AND SOLUTIONS: The best grant proposals are thoughtful, evidence-based approaches to problem-solving that tackle significant issues in our community. Is your proposal based on a proven model that has succeeded in other communities? How does your proposal represent an improvement over programs that may already be in place in our community? What case can you make that your concept will have the desired results? TIP: Have you reviewed the examples of projects that the Foundation has funded in the past? You’ll find these on our website under the “Recent Grants” link in the specific grant category for which you’re applying.

Where do some grant applications run into trouble?

  • ERRORS IN PROJECT BUDGETS: A complete, accurate, and realistic budget is critical to your application’s success. It’s one of the most important components that the Grants Committee considers. Provide as much detail as possible. When needed, add line items to clarify why you’re requesting specific amounts. Provide justification for your numbers—for example, use estimates from vendors. Include a detailed income side of the budget. The Grants Committee wants to know what other support, if any, you have secured for the project. The best budgets align with the grant narrative. All elements in the narrative should be represented in the budget. Always double-check your math. TIP: The Foundation offers a free Budget Template to help you build your grant budget. Don’t just “plug in” numbers—rather, change the template to meet your project’s specific needs. You’re not required to use the Budget Template, but it can be helpful.

  • ERRORS IN COVER SHEETS: All information on your Application Cover Sheet needs to match the information in the budget that you’re submitting, including the amount of money you’ve requested and your project budget totals.

  • MISSING REQUIRED ITEMS: You’ll find a detailed list of everything you need to include with your grant application in the Grant Guidelines document specific to the grant for which you’re applying. All of the Grant Guidelines can be found here.

  • EXTRA ADDITIONAL MATERIALS: Don't submit additional materials that are not requested as part of the application process; those materials will not be provided to the Grants Committee. If you have questions, give us a call.

What else does the Grants Committee want to see?

  • SUSTAINABILITY: Strong grant proposals include plans for the future of the proposed program. Does your organization have a realistic, specific plan to sustain your program once the grant funding is exhausted? The Grants Committee is looking for multiple renewable sources of funding, such as annual donors, service fees, ticket revenues, endowment income, and others. Even when a clear need and a proven model exist for the services proposed, a project may not be funded if the Grants Committee doubts that it is sustainable.

  • CAPACITY: The Grants Committee will want to know: Is your organization financially healthy? What’s its track record? Does it have the overall capacity—in terms of staff, expertise, finances, facilities—to implement your proposed project?

  • TIMING: Think about where you are in the “life” of your project. Strong applications demonstrate to the Grants Committee that research has been done, data has been gathered, and partnerships have been put into place that will help the applicant successfully implement the project. TIP: Large capital campaigns are more likely to receive grant funding in their later phases, once a significant percentage of major gifts have already been secured.

  • ALIGNMENT: Your narrative must align with your budget; also, your plans need to align with your stated goals. And be sure that the project you’re proposing aligns with your organization’s mission and expertise.