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Taking Grant Writing to the Next Level

14 July 2015 at 12:01 pm
Lina Caneva
Winning grants is not just about the reading guidelines and meeting deadlines. Taking some time out to examine how you are seeking funding can reap rewards writes grants expert Jo Curtin.

Lina Caneva | 14 July 2015 at 12:01 pm


Taking Grant Writing to the Next Level
14 July 2015 at 12:01 pm

Winning grants is not just about the reading guidelines and meeting deadlines. Taking some time out to examine how you are seeking funding can reap rewards writes grants expert Jo Curtin.

You’ve applied for and received lots of grants in your time, and by now you’ve figured out the common pitfalls – avoiding missed deadlines and allowing time to proof-read are a great start.

Your organisation relies on income from projects large and small to keep the cogs turning, and it’s time to take stock: how can you improve your approach so that your grant-seeking is more successful and effective?

Put yourself in the shoes of the funder

What does the grant body get out of funding projects like yours? As you develop your proposal, take a moment to consider what the funder wants to achieve:

What’s their strategic plan? It’s probably on their website, but you can ask for a copy if it’s not.  Are there specific or broad outcomes that they are looking for as an organisation?  Your proposal should emphasise how your project will help them create impact in the areas that are meaningful to them.

What projects are they excited about? Check the funder’s social media presence and look for examples of funded projects that are being highlighted.  These are the projects that have resonated within the funding body and proposals for similar ideas might spark interest.

Ground-breaking or nuts-and-bolts? Try to get a sense from checking previously funded projects whether the organisation is excited by innovation, or prefers to fund low-risk projects.  Read the bios of their board members: do they seem progressive or conservative in their approach to funding? If bios of the assessors are publicly available, make a similar judgement and adjust the tone of your application (or switch gears altogether).

Put yourself in the shoes of the assessor

Often the people who are assessing your grant are people just like you – “peer assessors” are common in grant bodies, they are regularly volunteers from similar organisations to those applying.  Imagine reading hundreds of applications on screen and scoring each one against the assessment criteria published in the grant guidelines. It can be a thankless task.

Help the assessors wade through it – while standing out from the pack – by trying the following techniques:

  • Your first sentence: buzz or bust

Experienced grant writers spend as much time crafting the introductory sentence as they do the rest of the application. Capturing the essence of your intent succinctly and evocatively is hard work and takes significant effort, but it’s worth it.

  • Attach a picture

     Supporting documents can often include visuals.  The funder will want to share pictures of projects they fund: show them the happy faces of the people involved in your project.  As well as demonstrating your previous experience, your aspirations and your intentions without writing an essay, pictures are a great way to make your application personalised and memorable.

  • Align your buzzwords

Industry specific acronyms are annoying and will switch off assessors. Jargon should be avoided unless you’re confident the same buzzwords are regularly used by the funder.

  • Use dot points

Keep your application concise.  You don’t need to explain everything you know about your project, just the parts that are relevant.  Consider adopting a journalistic writing style: starting with the crucial information first.

Hone your idea

How do you go about workshopping an idea: taking it from the kernel to making it POP!?

  • Interrogate the idea before you apply anywhere. Conduct a brainstorm.  Do a mind-map.  Think through the Who-What-When-Why-How? Run it past other people and incorporate their feedback.
  • Prototype an idea on the small scale, then upsize it.  Take a long-term view: a low-risk micro grant could help you test your theory and gather the necessary evidence to demonstrate that a larger investment is worthwhile.
  • Use evidence and plan your evaluation early. What information can you collect at the start of your project that you will be able to benchmark against at the end?  Are there alternative ways to collect and document the experience of participants and the project’s impact on them? Think outside the box: evaluation doesn’t always have to be a traditional survey – why not ask participants to cast a vote by placing a marble in a jar at the exit, or ask children to draw a picture of what they experienced.
  • Pick up the phone early. Explaining your idea to the grants officer can help you refine your pitch.  Be frank about what you’re really hoping to achieve and see if the grant staff can help you sift through the nuances of the published guidelines. Questions to ask include: what was funded last time? Has something like what I’m proposing been funded before?
  • Get strategic. Check back with your organisation’s strategic plan and make sure your project aligns with it. Are the guidelines of a particular grant opportunity compromising your project idea? If you don’t think the idea clearly meets the grant guidelines, find another funding opportunity.

Develop strategic partnerships

Most funders love to support partnerships.  Collaboration breeds innovation, and in many cases it can help sustain a project beyond an initial funding investment or grant period.  Funders love to see other organisations providing support for projects (in cash or in-kind) and it can be strategically beneficial for them to align themselves with more than one organisation through a single funding arrangement.  

Picture a launch event of your project: who would the funder like to be shaking hands with?  What sort of organisations would the funder like to have their logo alongside on your promotional materials?

Consider approaching your local community radio station for a partnership: they have active community members participating, a means to get a message across, and a captive audience.

(This article is compiled from the insights shared at a City of Maribyrnong ‘Making Connections’ Grants Lab workshop.  The panel of speakers included Jo Curtin – Community Broadcasting Foundation, Selene Bateman – Auspicious Art Projects, Helen Rodd – Neighbourhood House Manager and Joe Toohey – Regional Arts Victoria, and was facilitated by Bryce Ives – Present Tense.)

About the author: Jo Curtin is the Senior Grants Administrator at the Community Broadcasting Foundation. Having worked with the Foundation since 2007, she began her career in leadership roles within community broadcasters SYN Media and 3ZZZ. Curtin tweets @jojocurtin and the CBF tweets @cbfgrants.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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