Have you ever had a grant application rejected? Pretty frustrating, right?
There are lots of reasons why grant applications are rejected but two of the top reasons cited by grantmakers is that the organization or proposed project didn’t meet eligibility requirements or weren’t the right fit.
If you’re ready to win more grants and save yourself (and your application reviewers!) a lot of time, money, and frustration, you should only apply to grants that are the best fit for your organization. So how do you know a “best fit” opportunity when you see one? All it takes is some time, basic research skills, and a willingness to be honest with yourself about your organization and its capacity.
The 8 questions below will help you better assess funders and grant opportunities so you can find the best fit opportunities for your organization.
ARE WE ELIGIBLE?
This is the most basic of all the questions and should be the easiest to answer, which is why I recommend asking it first. Most funders outline eligibility requirements very clearly. Review each one carefully and if you don’t meet every requirement, don’t apply.
If you aren’t sure about a specific requirement, simply call or email for clarification (unless, of course, the funder says not to contact them).
If you realize you aren’t eligible but hate to pass up the opportunity, consider partnering with an organization that is eligible and ask them to be the lead applicant.
DOES OUR WORK FURTHER THE FUNDER’S MISSION?
While it’s less common to see mission statements for corporate and government funders, foundations almost always have a mission. Just like your organization’s mission, a funder’s mission statement guides all their decisions, including what organizations they’ll fund. That’s why reviewing a funder’s mission statement is so important (hence, #2 question on the list).
In addition to reviewing their mission statement, read about the funder’s history, values, and current priorities. Ideally, you want to find funders that are aligned as closely as possible with your own organization’s mission, vision, and priorities.
ARE WE WITHIN THE FUNDER’S GEOGRAPHIC SCOPE & FOCUS?
Some funders support organizations across the world or throughout the U.S. but many have a narrow geographic scope and focus. A funder’s scope is the area in which they theoretically will fund, and their focus is the area in which they provide the most financial support.
DOES OUR PROPOSED PROJECT MEET THE FUNDER’S REQUIREMENTS?
Even if your organization is a good fit, your proposed project may still not be quite right. The best way to determine if your proposed project meets the funder’s requirements is to review any project descriptions or requirements provided in the grant notification or on the funder’s website. In the absence of clear guidance, you’ll want to review the funder’s mission, priorities, and previously funded projects to try to answer the following:
- Will our proposed project serve a demographic group that is a priority for the funder?
- Does our proposed project address the problem in a way the funder has shown a preference for in the past?
- Does our proposed project incorporate any methodology that the funder clearly does not support?
- Does the funder have a clear preference for new versus existing programs?
- Does the funder provide the type of funding (e.g., capital, general operating, program) we’ll need for the proposed project?
CAN WE MEET THE FUNDER’S REQUIREMENTS IF WE’RE AWARDED?
Remember earlier when I said this process requires you to be honest with yourself? Well, now’s the time!
Before you apply, review any post-award requirements very carefully. These requirements are different for every funder and grant opportunity but here are some of the more common ones:
- Cash or in-kind matching
- Monthly, quarterly, and/or annual reports, which may require implementation of new data collection processes
- New staff, technology, supplies, or equipment that weren’t covered by the funder
- Minimum number of program participants, service recipients, or partner organizations
- Project completion within a specified time period
The unfortunate reality is that your organization may not have the capacity to meet the funder’s requirements, even with the extra funds. So be sure to consider all requirements before you apply. You don’t want to have to reject a grant after you’ve been awarded and the last thing you want is to accept a grant and fail to meet the funder’s requirements.
IS THE GRANT THE RIGHT SIZE?
You may be thinking that any grant is the right size. But there’s definitely a right size and a wrong size when it comes to funding amounts. Consider the following wrong-size examples:
- You’re seeking funding for a project that will require $100,000 to successfully implement. You’ve found a funder whose largest grant is $20,000 and you have no other committed funders. If you apply to this funder and receive $20,000, you’re still $80,000 short. But your new donor still expects you to meet all your proposed objectives within their limited grant period. This is definitely a wrong-size opportunity and will likely force you to reject the grant.
- You’re seeking funding for a project that only requires $10,000. You’re researching a funder that only gives grants in the amount of $50,000. You figure that $10,000 will be such an insignificant amount that you’re guaranteed to get funded, so you apply anyway. Seemingly logical thinking but this is still the wrong size and your application will be promptly rejected.
Another consideration here is if the grant size is proportional to the resources it will take to apply. Preparing a quality proposal takes time and money and sometimes an opportunity just isn’t worth the effort.
DO WE HAVE THE CAPACITY TO PREPARE A QUALITY PROPOSAL BY THE DEADLINE?
Here’s another opportunity to be honest with yourself.
You know that quality proposals require time; some more than others, especially if you’ll need to develop new programs or collaborate with partners on the application. If you don’t have the time to prepare the best application possible or if doing so will push you, your staff, or your partners to the breaking point, you may want to pass.
DO WE HAVE A GOOD CHANCE OF WINNING THE GRANT?
The last thing to consider is your chance of receiving the grant.
The easiest way to assess your chance of winning a grant is to look at the number of grants given by the funder each year or the number of grants available under the specific opportunity to which you’re applying. The greater the number of grants, the higher your chances.
You can also judge your chance of winning a grant by asking yourself some hard questions about your organization and proposed project. Here are some to consider:
- Are we proposing a truly high-quality solution to the issues we address?
- Are we drifting from our mission just to meet the funder’s guidelines?
- Do we have strong partners?
- Do we have a history of successfully providing services similar to those we’re proposing?
- Is our proposed project reasonable?
- Is our organization the strongest candidate for this opportunity?
These 8 questions may seem like a lot to consider for every potential grant opportunity but it will become like second nature once you do it a few times. Plus, applying only to funders that are the best fit for your organization and proposed projects will save you time, money, and frustration AND will win you more grants. Yay to that!