Five things you need to do to prepare to apply for a grant:
You are preparing to submit a grant proposal and hoping to get funded. You have already identified a grant that is a good fit (If you have not, reach out to us, we can help you find a grant through either our free or, more aggressive, paid grant identification or research services). Now, what do you need to do next to increase your chances of an award? There are several different requirements when it comes to writing a grant. Many of those requirements vary widely from project to project, and it is essential to make sure you are prepared and have the best chance of success. As a first step, ALWAYS read the entire RFP or RFA (Request for Proposal or Application) and make sure you understand and meet all requirements for Eligibility, Competitiveness, Levels of Need, Capability, and Technical Merit.
1) Confirm eligibility.
For this step, you need to make sure that your organization meets the grant application’s absolute priorities. Absolute priorities are priorities that are not optional, they are requirements. Suppose you are applying for a Department of Education Grant. In that case, you likely either need to be (or be partnered with) a Local Education Agency, which in most cases is a district but might also be a Charter School Association or BOCES. If it’s a HUD grant, you will either need to be (or need to be partnered with) a housing authority or agency. For HHS grants, you will likely need a health-related organization onboard or as the lead applicant. These required statuses and partnerships are common in State and Federal grant programs, so make sure you either are directly eligible or have a partnership in support of your efforts. Often absolute priorities will require that you structure the program you are proposing to cover specific topics or offer services either in a certain way or to a specific population. These are all critical. Missing any of these priorities or failing to demonstrate in your writing that you meet and exceed these requirements often results in the funder rejecting your application and, worse, not even reviewing it. Likewise, most government grants are released, submitted, and managed through Grants.gov. There are several registrations you will be required to have to submit your application. Log on to Grants.gov, as soon as possible, register for it and www.SAM.gov, and make sure you have a CAGE Number. These three things can take several weeks or longer to set up. Make sure you do this very early in the project or possibly in preparation for finding the right grant. That way, if you discover a grant that is a great fit, but the deadline is only a few weeks away, you can still apply if you have everything else in order. If you are unsure about any of these, please reach out. Our experts are available and always willing to discuss your project and how we can support it.
2) Are you Competitive?
To determine competitiveness, you need to understand the absolute priorities and the competitive priorities (i.e., How is the funder going to score this application, and what can you do to be as competitive as possible (get the best score)?). In Department of Education grants, this might be how many students you propose to serve or the Free and Reduced Lunch Eligibility rate for the population you are proposing to serve. Partnerships to support the program or the support of your local elected officials may come in to play here as well. These scored criteria and how well you address them are what makes an application competitive. Independent reviewers read and rate each proposal using a rubric for their scores. Your score is usually the average of multiple independent reviewers. These criteria differ widely from grant to grant, depending on each competition’s funder and the program focus. Fully understanding each application and your approach to each of the priorities will be critical. Often letters of support from partners addressing where and how services will be provided are required. Writing your proposal clearly and concisely addressing all of the priorities can make (or break) your chances of an award. Ultimately, your score will determine if you are funded or not, and applicants do not get the chance to explain their applications to the reviewers. If it is written in a way that clearly meets the criteria, you will get points. If it’s not clear, your score suffers. A professional grant writer with reviewer experience can significantly increase your application’s competitiveness. If you plan to write it yourself, a professional reviewer or the review of a colleague with writing experience can also help increase your chances of success. If you need help in either category, please reach out, and let’s chat!
3) What is the level of need of the population you propose to serve?
Almost all program grants are focused on providing services or support to our communities in need. Who are those people, and what is their level of need? If it’s a housing grant, you want to demonstrate in your application the full extent of that need in your community as well as the access your organization gives the funder to help those in greatest need. That could be the number of people or families that are homeless or at risk of facing housing insecurity. An educational grant could highlight disparities in the graduation rates, attendance, or poverty rates of the entire district or school population. To understand this fully, you need to understand the purpose of the grant. Likely, Congress appropriated these funds because of the national level of need. You want to demonstrate that the population in the community you are proposing to serve is needy and deserving of that help. Suppose your community does not have a high level of need. In that case, you may want to propose to serve a neighboring community with higher levels of need (so long as the grant allows it) or consider a different funding opportunity. Ultimately, the funder is looking for the funds they appropriated to support the services in the areas of greatest need. Your organization is uniquely positioned to provide that help if you are funded.
As funders want the awards to serve the populations in greatest need, they also want to make sure funds are going to organizations that can demonstrate capability. They want the applicants to have access to the populations of need and have experience or partners who can make the most impact with their funds. Does your organization have experience with this type of program? If so, you may want to share the measurable results from previous projects, services, or grant programs that you have provided in the past. This could include evaluation results from a previous grant where you demonstrated effectiveness or supported an effort through a partnership. Suppose you have not had any experience in the type of specific service proposed in the grant application. In that case, you may benefit by bringing in partners who do have that experience to show that you can run the grant program and make the most positive impact on the population to be served.
5) Technical Merit
Technical merit includes the grant application guidelines of how it should be written and can vary widely from proposal to proposal. It also determines, in most cases, how much work it will be to write the application. Some application submissions are restricted to 10 pages double-spaced, while others are 80 pages or more single-spaced. Font size, line spacing, and margin size are all factors that determine how much space you have to make your argument. Graphs, pictures, introductions, and different sections of the grant may count towards those limits in some applications but not in others. Understanding these rules is essential, as some funders will disqualify an application entirely if you go over the limit, or they may only review the pages within the limit. Grammatical errors or not being completely clear and concise when addressing every scoring criterion can chip away at your score as well. For these reasons, a professional grant writer can vastly increase your chances of success. Even if you are a grant writer, a professional technical review of your application can be immensely beneficial.
Any resources that an organization puts towards the effort to apply and win grant funds can be helpful. If you are not well versed with the grant writing process and writing in general, bringing in some additional professional help can multiply your chances of success. If the application you are considering is your first venture into the realm of grant writing, be prepared for a steep learning curve, but also make sure you are prepared. Preparation for the program and the application process outlined above can maximize your score and your chance of funding. Being properly prepared can be the single largest factor in your success. Even if you are not successful on your initial attempt, ALWAYS reach out to the funder and request the reviewers’ notes (if they are not automatically provided). You put the work in, and you deserve to know exactly what the funder liked and didn’t like about your application. If you just missed the funding threshold, it might not take much to re-write and resubmit an application and pick up the few points you missed. If you have questions about how we can help or would like to discuss a specific project, it is always free to chat with one of our grant experts. Reach out today at www.grantwriters.net or 505-326-4245 (8am-5pm Mountain, Monday-Friday).