Eight Tips for Writing a Successful Grant Application

2 March 2020

This post is written by Snap Out, a user and market research consultancy and grant writing specialists in Milton Keynes.

You may have seen our recent post about five misconceptions of grant funding.

In it, we mentioned what we think is perhaps the biggest misconception out there: That a grant funding application is easy to write. The truth is, they can be a real challenge at first and getting started can feel a bit overwhelming.

However, we’ve written our fair share of grant applications over the years and can promise you that, once armed with the right insights, they aren’t as tricky as you may think! With this in mind, we thought we’d come back with a new post, full of our tips on how to write a brilliant grant funding application.

Notebook and Pen

Notebook and Pen

Tip One: Allow Plenty of Time

Grant proposals are a big task; you can’t expect to write a one overnight. And certainly not if you want it to be successful!

A high-quality grant application can take around two months to write, spending around 1-2 days a week on the application. This is a guideline for large grants for budgets from governmental sources. Other funding bodies don’t require so much information and can be quicker to write.

Regardless though, everything about writing a grant takes time. There are lots of steps to complete and some of them take much longer than others. For example, putting a team together and having a clear project plan.

So make sure you schedule your time wisely!

Tip Two: Choose a Funder Carefully

If you read our previous post you’ll know that grants are not free pots of money, so with that in mind don’t apply for anything and everything with the hope of securing funding.

You need to think carefully about where you are applying: Does it fit in with what your project is trying to achieve? Does it fit the criteria outlined by the funder? Does your product or service fit with the funding body?

If in doubt speak to the funder. They are always happy to help and answer any questions that you may have. On top of this, it can be helpful to follow their social media pages and sign up to their newsletters, all of which could give you invaluable insights.

Most importantly, always read their guidance notes and eligibility criteria: Just because the funding title sounds like what you’re after, doesn’t mean your project is the perfect fit. Don’t waste your time or theirs by applying for funding that isn’t right for either party.

Tip Three: Do Your Research

Research the funder – What are they asking for?

Research your topic area – is the idea you have new or has it been done before? What is the funding body trying to achieve?

You need to ensure that you address what they are asking for. For example, if the grant is to promote health and wellbeing, make clear what activities will be involved that do this.

It’s important that you show that you know your stuff! For example, if you’re asking for funding to help you launch a new product, research what’s already out there, how are you different and what your USP is. If you want funding for an idea you have, why is it important and how will it change current thinking?

Furthermore, ensure that you look at who the funder has previously awarded funding to. Ask yourself what their ideas and topics were. It shows both what the funder is interested in and how they liked things framed, which will really help strengthen you application.

Tip four: Plan, Plan, Plan!

It goes without saying that without a plan you are setting yourself up to fail, as with most things in life.

Take your time and plan every detail of the project and the application. A proposal is like a story, it needs structure and it needs to demonstrate that you’ve put real thought into it.

Map out how the proposal will look and take time to consider how you will structure it. Some applications have clearly set out boxes in which you have to answer and address specific questions, whilst others ask for a document which answers key questions and eligibility criteria. The outline should describe every step of your plan and you can then expand on these fully in each section. We recommend basing the outline on the criteria set out by the funder, keeping to their sequence and terms.

Set deadlines for each part of the proposal writing and ensure you keep to them, that way you will have time to draft, redraft and proofread before the final deadline!

Weekly Planner on tablet

Weekly Planner on tablet

Tip five: Write a first draft

Getting something down on paper can be the hardest part, so we recommend starting with anything! It doesn’t have to look good, and it certainly will not be perfect, but it’s a work-in-progress and you have to start somewhere. After you’ve made a plan and an outline and you’ve looked at your brainstorm, get your ideas down on paper. As long as you follow the first tip and allow plenty of time, you will have the chance to tweak, polish and refine later.

If you get stuck or your mind goes blank, move onto something you can answer and then go back to it later. If you’re struggling, start with the things you enjoy talking about, or the things you find easiest to talk about. For example if the proposal asks for you to discuss the team involved and this is easy for you – start here!

Tip six: Justify and Evidence Everything

Remember that you are asking for a funding body’s financial support, so you need to be able to justify everything that you’re asking for. Reviewers don’t like vagueness. Therefore, make sure you address, explain and expand on every point you make.

For example if you are saying that your project will help the community, explain how. Will it create jobs? If you are saying you need the money to expand, explain how. How will the funds do this? Be specific. The clearer you are the easier your proposal is to understand and the more likely the outcome of the proposal will be a positive one.

Most importantly, never make uneducated guesses! Don’t guess the numbers or the impact, instead take the time to research and evaluate them. There are certain ways to calculate and demonstrate impact. If you guess, your proposal will not make it. Reviewers are looking at reasons not to fund the project, so don’t make it easy for them by including bold statements with no evidence and costs with no justification.

Tip Seven: Demonstrate Need

The reviewers want to know why you need the money.

For example, let’s say you want to develop a new product. You need to convince the reviewers this is important. What impact will it have? Will it create new jobs? Does it help people? Will it change society? It is environmentally friendly? What’s the ROI? In addition- what will happen without the money?

Remember the reviewers are people, so tell a story with a beginning outlining a problem, need or issue, a middle where you provide the solution and an end where you detail the results and outcomes. This allows the reviewers to make sense of your proposal in a clearly defined way, and allows them to see what you can offer and what would happen if you couldn’t offer it.

Tell the reviewers up front what you are going to do and why.

Tip Eight: Get a Second Opinion

Towards the end of the writing process, review the proposal carefully. Double check that it hits all the key criteria, eligibility and requirements. We recommend the following steps:

  1. Read the eligibility criteria and key requirements
  2. Proof read your proposal for the grammar and spelling: does it make sense? Are there any minor errors such as spelling, font issues or grammatical issues? Some say that reading back to front is a good way of catching errors otherwise unnoticed, as your brain won’t “read” incorrect, missing or mis-spelled words from memory.
  3. Proof read your proposal for narrative and content: does it follow the rules and instructions outlined by the funder? Is it set out the correct way? Does it hit the eligibility criteria and key requirements? If you followed a clear plan outlining the key requirements within each section, then the answer to all of these should be yes.
  4. Get a second opinion: We recommend that at least two people proofread your work in confidence. Send it to a friend for proofreading and, if possible, we highly recommend sending it to an external expert who can proofread it with a fine tooth comb. This boosts the chance of success hugely!

We hope you have found these tips useful. Remember, don’t feel discouraged throughout the process as it isn’t easy for anyone.

We wish you the best of luck with your grant application.

Have a question about grant funding? Email us today at [email protected]