Kirsten lowis

My secrets to successful grant writing…

With over thirteen years’ experience in writing successful grants for my company and for other organisations, I believe that there are no secrets or magic formulas, except to lean on or employ someone experienced to help.

However, in the case that you want to give grant writing red-hot crack yourself, here are a few tips to help you out:

MOTIVE

Your motive to apply for a grant should not begin at the keyboard. Put pen to paper and map out a good reason WHY you/your organisation wants/needs funding through a grant, for example:

“My business needs a shopping cart on our website”
But, Why do you need a shopping cart?

“Because, we have a new suite of products to promote and sell online”
But, Why do you want to promote your products online?

“Because, we need more sales”
So, Why do you need more sales?

“Because we need to make more revenue”
Why do you want to make more revenue?

“Because we want to… (employ more staff more… develop more products… make more profit…).”

Kapow!! There you have your motive!

Instead of: “My business needs a shopping cart on our website” turns into,

“In order to employ more staff, develop more products and make more profit we are applying for a grant to fund a shopping cart onto our website!”

Once you work out why you need the funding, you can then start researching the criteria for suitable grants.

Start with surveying the field and find out all of the grant opportunities offered by state bodies, local councils and philanthropic trusts. In some cases, universities, banks, large corporate organisations and even some health institutions offer grants. You will need to understand the selection criteria, guidelines required and what kinds of projects they will fund. Also try to get a sense of what motivates the grant’s judging panel.

BUDGET

Working out how much funding you require is not as simple as it seems. Think of the funding source (ie. Government, philanthropist) as an investor in your business.  They will want to make sure you can demonstrate why your business/organisation is the best place to invest their money to achieve the outcomes they desire. Preparing a realistic and detailed budget is crucial to achieving a successful grant application.  You will need to demonstrate a realistic and timely account of what your project involves from concept to completion. Be sure to accurately cost all items associated with the funding, and make sure it balances.

HONESTY

Be honest about the content of your application.
Be honest with yourself!

Is your idea solid, or do you need to spend some more time on it before applying for a grant? It’s always best to bounce your concepts and ideas around with friends or a professional grant writer/advisor and make sure you are ready to apply.

I often find that my clients need more help with the art of thinking or structuring before they are ready to apply for a grant.  Sometimes they just have the beginning of an idea – or they have a full-on project idea that needs a lot of work to break it into down into stages.

SELECTION CRITERIA

I have found that grant assessors/funding bodies are constantly frustrated by how often the selection criteria is ignored or irrelevant in applications they receive.  Make sure you take the time to search and determine which category or funding body is most suitable for the project you want funded.

ASK FOR HELP

Every grant pack provides the applicant with masses of information, however nothing beats personal contact to get a feel for how a funding body considers the selection criteria.  Pick up the phone and ask plenty of questions, but…make sure you do this well in advance of the application due date – not the day before.

KEYWORDS

Being aware of the lingo used to write a grant is extremely important. There are certain words that are used in certain sectors, and at certain times e.g. product, inclusion, leverage, process, function etc. Try to determine what type of language is appropriate for your sector to ensure your approach to writing the grant aligns within the funding body framework.

APPLY RULES

I use George Orwell’s six rules for writing in every grant submission.   These rules are about the use of language, rather than the creation of stories.  I do believe that conveying your idea thorugh a narrative is important, but it’s important that you apply these rules to ensure your message is not misinterpreted (by emotion):

  • Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

In a nutshell, my rules are simple: cut out the bullshit, and avoid long-winded or clever answers accompanied by extended attached notes.  There usually isn’t a need to justify your concept in an academic or complicated way.  If you don’t understand what you are writing, the grant assessor most likely won’t understand either.  Try to break down the language into the most simplest and accessible format.

K.I.S.S

Writing a grant is not the time to outline your organisational history. Retain the grant assessor’s attention by keeping your responses to the selection criteria super simple. The most important factor in writing a grant is to convey your “why” to the assessor in the opening sentence – regardless of what it is – in a punchy, succinct and confident prose.

DRAFT FIRST

As 99% of grant applications are submitted via an online portal, make sure that you draft (and edit) your responses in Word or Notes and then cut and paste into the portal. There have been a number of times I have lost information by completing the submission online, and the connection suddenly it drops out.  Boom!  Gone!!!

CHECK

It’s critical to ask someone to read through your submission to make sure you’ve clearly articulated your message.  I call this a sanity-check.  Sometimes an inexperienced reader can be very helpful as they don’t know the sector or project you are writing about.  On the other hand, an experienced grant writer will help articulate, navigate and communicate the submission on your behalf.

or… USE A PROFESSIONAL

If you find that you’re out of your depth, please… give me a call or drop me an email.  Often when you appoint a grant writer, the collaboration can be powerful. When I meet new clients,  we bounce around ideas and go through all of the above. I will then ask you to describe in one sentence the Who, What, Why, Where, When and How of your project.  We will then flesh it out into one paragraph and then perhaps two to three paragraphs.  This forces us both to distil what you are thinking and get to the core of your “why”.

Need more advice and tips? I’d love to help.  Simply pop your details in the space below…

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