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Grant Application Processes

Before you start writing, you want to assess your eligibility, prioritize which grants to write, and assess your capacity and time for writing and managing each potential funding source.

This is the third article in a series on grant writing. Read the introduction to the entire series.

Assess eligibility
First, you will need to read through the eligibility guidelines presented by the funder. If there is anything that disqualifies your organization, you can stop and move on to the next funding opportunity. Make sure to read the RFP thoroughly as eligibility requirements may be spread throughout the entire document. Take a look at this article on reading RFPs for helpful tips on how to efficiently read through an RFP to determine eligibility.

An often-overlooked eligibility criterion is the geographic consideration. Make sure the funder will invest in your type of community (i.e., urban vs. rural) and your city, state, or region. Also, double check to make sure the funder accepts open submissions. Some funders only invite select organizations to apply. In these cases, if you have not been invited, your application will not be eligible. Finally, make sure the funder will provide the type of support your organization is seeking (e.g., if seeking capital/building support, then be sure that the funder is open to awarding this type of support).

Prioritize funders
Once eligibility has been confirmed, it is good practice to prioritize which funding opportunities to pursue. Make sure you understand each of the identified funder’s goals. Review the language the funder uses and the types of programs they have funded in the past. Review the funder’s website to see if a listing of past awards is available and, if needed, look through their 990 form (the form they submit to the IRS each year). This form is publicly available, and you can usually find it on the online platform, Guidestar. Sometimes a funder will say they support a variety of programs but may have an unstated affinity toward a certain type of program. Also look through the website or 990 to confirm that the funder is a good geographic match. If they tend to fund in certain areas outside your geographic region, even if you are eligible, that may give you a hint that you are less likely to receive funding.

Next, analyze the funder’s capacity. Is it a local funder that gives out a large number of awards? Is it a national funder that only gives out one award? Prioritize funders who give more awards and who tend to fund different organizations annually (rather than the same organizations year after year) as it greatly increases the chances of being funded. Sometimes funders will also state the size of their applicant pools, and/or the percent of proposals funded in the past year. This will also provide insight as to whether your organization is more or less likely to be funded.

Read more about researching funders in Article 7: Grant Research Guide

Assess capacity and time commitment
Hopefully, you have a good handle on the capacity of your neighborhood association to provide programming. If you do not, now is a good time to have that conversation, before you begin writing grants. Consider the following key questions:

  • Will the proposed program require more staff or volunteer capacity than you currently have?
  • Can you reasonably track expenditures to the granting source without putting an undue burden on your financial management staff or volunteers?
  • What is your capacity to create data collection tools, administer those tools, analyze the data, and report back to the funder?

Each grant will create different requirements that your organization must be able to manage. Make sure you know the answers to each of those questions as they relate to any grant you are applying for. It is better to not apply for a grant than receive a grant you do not have the capacity to manage. Failing to meet grant requirements may have a long-term detrimental impact on your organization’s ability to apply for funding in the future.

It is important to weigh the time you will spend writing the grant with the amount of the award. Some grants have small awards but require significant time to write and report. Others may have simpler application processes and be more attractive from a time commitment standpoint. 

Begin the grant writing process
After you have determined that you are eligible, you are a good fit, and you have the capacity to write the grant and to conduct the project, then you want to start working on your highest priority grants. Here are some tips to get you started on the right foot:

  • Make a work plan. Include all needed documents, deadlines (make sure to note times in your time zone and not the funder’s time zone), and submission details (online form, e-mailed packet, mailed hard copy, ). Delegate sections as needed by noting who is responsible for which component on the work plan. You may want to read the RFP several times to ensure you do not miss any important instructions or components.
  • Create a template to work from, particularly if the grant is submitted via an online form. In the template, include all instructions, exact question wording, and character/word counts for each question if applicable. This will allow you to work on the grant proposal over several days or weeks, without fear of losing work in an online form.
  • Draft a budget as one of the first orders of business in the grant writing process. Knowing where you want to direct the funding will guide the development of your written narrative.
  • Start working on gathering all needed documents and obtaining letters of support or other required material from third parties.
  • Follow directions and make sure to submit your application within the deadline window and in the proper format.

For a discussion of each component of the grant application process, see Article 9, Application Components