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Innovation Is the Answer to Securing Grants

6 September 2018 at 7:30 am
Andrew Cairns
Andrew Cairns, CEO of Community Sector Banking, reveals the secret to making grant applications stand out.

Andrew Cairns | 6 September 2018 at 7:30 am


Innovation Is the Answer to Securing Grants
6 September 2018 at 7:30 am

Andrew Cairns, CEO of Community Sector Banking, reveals the secret to making grant applications stand out.

With not-for-profit budgets being squeezed left and right, competition for grant funding continues to grow more fierce.

I see evidence of this each year, in our annual Social Investment Grants Program. Our program has been growing steadily since it was launched in 2014, with more funding (and with that, more applicants) available each year.

But applying for grants can be extremely time consuming for not for profits, who might otherwise be spending that time supporting their communities. So what’s the secret to making your grant application stand out?

When our independent committee analyses applications to our annual Social Investment Grants Program, there are three key areas that make organisations stand out:

  1. Innovation in program design and delivery.
  2. Holistic, scalable solutions that focus on empowering people to improve their situations for the long term, rather than band-aid fixes.
  3. Well-developed plans that demonstrate a commitment – and an ability – to succeed sustainably.

Let’s explore these areas further.


This year Community Sector Banking has invested in eight organisations through our Social Investment Grants Program. These organisations and many others who were shortlisted pushed the bar by proposing innovative ways to empower people who are experiencing domestic abuse or homelessness.

One such organisation was 3Bridges Community in New South Wales. Among their many programs, they have a Care and Share program, which supports older women at risk of homelessness with training so they can provide in-home care in exchange for reduced rent as well as wages.

Another successful grant recipient was the Hobart City Mission in Tasmania. The Mission’s DIY Dads program will provide eight self-contained units for single fathers for up to two years, as well as training in areas such as budgeting to help them thrive independently.

Not only do these two programs address the immediate needs of people experiencing domestic abuse or homelessness, they build long-term solutions through innovative models that combine care and support with training. Benefits ripple out to not only strengthen the people these organisations support, but also their families and communities

Holistic, sustainable approaches

Programs that provide long-term solutions to empower people are particularly attractive to grant funders.

For us, one such program was UnitingCare West’s Care for a Cup, which will establish a social enterprise mobile coffee cart to offer training and support to people experiencing homelessness to gain employment.

There is growing demand in the hospitality industry, particularly when it comes to cafes and coffee carts, providing plenty of opportunities for people looking for work. The industry’s low barrier to entry and its geographic flexibility also make it a great option for people looking to break into employment. Providing training in this area ensures the program is financially sustainable, scalable and can equip its trainees with skills that employers are seeking right now, putting them on the best possible footing for lifelong empowerment.

Well-developed plans

Grant funders are not simply giving away money – they are making a social investment. They want to see a social return on that investment by seeing how their funds are empowering people and strengthening communities.

Funders also want to support programs and organisations that they judge to be most likely to succeed. Any evidence of solid planning, predicted impact and due diligence that you can provide will help your application stand out.

The more an organisation can show it has thoroughly developed its concepts, the more likely it is to secure grant funding. This will include evidence of relevant approvals, budgets, consultation with experts and affected parties, risk-benefit analyses, sound management of previous grants, and the capability to actually run the programs they are proposing.

Grant funding rounds will always be highly competitive. However, the right planning and thinking outside the square can make your application stand out – moreover, a program with innovative design, that’s holistic and sustainable, will be better positioned to create real impact into the future.

For more information see:

Andrew Cairns  |  @ProBonoNews

Andrew Cairns is the CEO of Haven Home Safe, a homelessness organisation that specialises in social and affordable housing solutions. Prior to joining Haven, he held several senior management roles including more than 19 years with the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group and almost five years as CEO of Community Sector Banking.

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