As part of Mia’s corporate social good program, we recently provided feedback on a series of past grant submissions. Here are our top tips for paving the way to grant writing success.
Most not-for-profits, charities and social enterprises rely heavily on government grants and fundraising to keep them running. This makes applying for – and being awarded – government grants a vital part of NFP operations. So, what are the key grant writing practices that will lead to success?
It was this challenge, faced by a sector that is usually under-resourced, that helped form Mia’s corporate social good program, announced in March this year. The program provides selected not-for-profits, charities and social enterprises with pro bono bid and grant writing support to increase their chances of winning government tenders and grants.
Specifically, the program supports acknowledged organisations that drive gender equality, provide family violence and recovery services, and deliver family services.
We are proud to have begun working with an organisation that provides such services. We recently provided feedback on past grant submissions and wanted to share a generalised form of this feedback more broadly.
This builds on an earlier Mia post around what you need to be aware of when applying for grants. In this post, we focus on how you would address the application questions (or criteria) in your response.
Grant Writing Tip 1: It’s all about the policy
Remember that government grants will always have a policy or strategic intent behind their funding. These can be things like:
- Supporting business resilience (for example, there’s currently a grant to help small businesses build digital capability in their businesses)
- Uplifting a particular sector (e.g. advanced manufacturing – helping businesses to change their manufacturing processes to transition away from traditional manufacturing processes), or
- Supporting new innovations, industry sectors and/or entrepreneurs.
Therefore, it is important that your application strongly demonstrates you understand the policy rationale and strategic intent behind the grant.
The grant guidelines will give you some background details around the aims and objectives of the grant. You should ensure that your program/project/business addresses all of the aims and objectives. The aims and objectives are also a good way to pick up keywords that you can use as part of your response.
Also check the government department’s website for any other frameworks, strategy, policy documents or media releases that can help you to understand the policy intent.
Finally, don’t dismiss related policies. For example, you may be responding to a grant around business resilience and also be located in one of government’s priority metropolitan or regional areas – think Monash, Maribyrnong or Geelong as an example. Link your grant application to how the funding will contribute to increased business activity in these areas.
Grant Writing Tip 2: Don’t hide yourself (or important information)
While it is very important that you demonstrate your understanding of the problem (through statistics, research and other information and data), make sure that you aren’t lost in the detail.
I like to think of the structure of a response like an inverted pyramid:
- Most important information first – What is your idea/solution/project? Who are you? Why are you the best person to receive funding for your idea? Always link this back to the evaluation criteria and the aims and objectives of the grant program.
- Capacity and sustainability – Government wants to give a grant to an organisation that has the capacity to provide the program or service and financial viability to grow this program or service without ongoing government funding. Demonstrate why your size and skills are important to manage that program or service. Describe your partnerships to enable you to fulfill grant outcomes. Also, demonstrate you have additional funding streams to deliver and grow the program and service in a sustainable manner.
- Contextual Information (or further detail) – This includes any research or other information that supports your idea or adds context or colour to your response.
You should try to always link each response back to your idea/solution/project, as well as the aims and objectives of the grant program. Keywords that you’ve identified in the program guidelines, evaluation criteria and the broader policy context are great ways to guide your responses.
Sometimes it can feel like you’re stating the obvious, but it’s always better to do so rather than risk assumed knowledge. There is no harm in stating: “We comply fully with the eligibility criteria. There are no criteria in which we do not comply.” Always describe you, your business and your idea in as much detail as the grant application will give you room for (there are usually word or character limits).
Grant Writing Tip 3: Remember the criteria (and the aims and objectives of the grant)
We’ve said this in the previous section already. But we can’t emphasise it enough! All your responses must also link back to the evaluation criteria as well as the aims and objectives of the grant.
For example, if you’re addressing criteria or requirements as statement of fact:
We comply with X. We have Y certification.
A better way to enhance the above statement is to also include some sentences on why this is important. Such as:
These compliances are industry standards that support the [policy context/aims/objectives]. It also means that we are ready and experienced to deliver on our [Idea/Project].
There is one other thing I’d like to note. Governments will try not to be too prescriptive when it comes to grants so that there is an opportunity for them to consider great ideas or different approaches. But, if you read the grant guidelines carefully, there are often very big hints about what the government is expecting to see in the grant proposals.
For example, we read one grant program guidelines that hinted very strongly on ‘partnerships’ (the word was used at least 22 times in the guidelines) and was also noted in the evaluation criteria. This grant was seeking proposals that demonstrated collaborative partnerships in the delivery of the program/project. Partnerships were a key factor in this grant and needed to be addressed very clearly. In such a case, the response should also include information about the working relationships you have with the other delivery partners to reduce the perception of risk of the partners working together. (i.e. We’ve successfully worked together for over five years to deliver X.)
As we said in the policy section – look out for keywords. They’ll often provide a hint as to the expectations of government.
Grant Writing Tip 4: Check for consistency
If you have the time (and the inclination!), it’s always a good idea to get someone else to read your grant application. A fresh pair of eyes can help you pick up any inconsistencies in your response.
For example, when mentioning specific numbers, you need to make sure you don’t contradict those figures later in the application.
Say you’re reporting on gender breakdown of your workforce. In one part of the application, you reported that you had one female and eight males in executive positions. Further along, you state roles filled by females: Chief Operating Officer, Executive Director – HR, Executive Director – Operations.
You can see where the consistency might be confusing: is it one female in an executive position or three?
Consistency is important, because when government is evaluating responses, it is always considering the risk to delivery. It’s one of the main reasons why we’re always advising our clients to not only be consistent, but also to be clear.
I’d like to think that government usually takes a common-sense approach; if it’s simply a mis-spell or a typo, this won’t usually set off any alarm bells. But if the information is unclear, or inconsistent with previous response answers, they will be concerned.
A friend or colleague not involved in writing the application is a great resource to help you pick out these inconsistencies and will make sure your response is scored on the merits of your idea/program.
For more information about our social good program and grant writing services, please contact Mia Chief Operating Officer, Diem Huynh.