30 Jun Avoiding the pitfalls of grant-seeking in a pandemic
Applying for grants is highly competitive at the best of times – and is often pressured. Now that we are in the midst of a pandemic the pressure has notched up for both grant-seekers and grant-makers. For grant-seekers, you’re likely to be navigating the world of working from home (I know some who have had to work in their car to get the requisite peace and quiet), dealing with reduced resources and revenue twinned with a spike in demand for services, and needing to stay across programs re-aligned for digital delivery.
For grant-makers, it’s also been a very intense time with many responding rapidly to the unfolding crisis and changing how they support the sector. As well as creating new Covid-19 funding rounds, many funders have moved quickly to relax reporting requirements on existing grants, extend timelines, and ease restrictions to offer more untied funding.
Phone lines have been running hot with grant applicants calling trust and foundation officers to discuss their projects and predicaments. As Jodi Kennedy, GM Trusts and Philanthropy, Equity Trustees said in a recent RESET 2020 webinar hosted by the Xfactor Collective: “It’s bloody tough out there”.
In the face of so much pressure, it’s really important not to fall into the trap of submitting a rushed and poorly prepared application. Cutting corners won’t help you achieve cut through; the Golden Rules still apply. Some of the most common weaknesses I have seen and continue to see are:
• The ask gets lost in the project description: with funders busier than ever, you want to grab their attention in the first paragraph. Cut to the chase and start by stating what the grant will achieve, what its impact will be for those it is supporting. Then you can go into more detail.
•Generalised statements of need without substantiated data: this always rings alarm bells! I recently assisted a charity operating in the homelessness space – we used stats from the 2016 Census night overlaid with the increase in demand they have experienced since Covid-19 hit. And to back up the effectiveness of an intervention model widely acknowledged to be beneficial, we drew on some international research.
• Budgets – getting it all to tally: I often find that the description of project activities and the budget, and budget narrative, are mis-matched. As if the left and right hand are having a different conversation! I read the budget narrative and discover staff posts that are not mentioned in the project activity for example. And often conspicuous by its absence is any allowance for project management. As a rule of thumb, it’s acceptable to put in 10% of the total project costs to cover project management; this includes making sure project managers are aware of the reporting requirements. And have you costed in the project evaluation?
• Which brings me neatly on to measuring project outcomes: just last week a client confessed that she always gets muddled between outputs and outcomes. An easy way to remember the difference is that outputs are literally what you are putting out – your services, your deliverables, your products. The outcomes are what comes out – the results – from those outputs, and these are typically measured by changes in the experience, lives, behaviour, thinking and attitudes of your beneficiaries.
• Assuming prior knowledge: it’s easy when we live and breathe our organisation’s work and projects to forget that assessors reading your application may not know about your charity or have specialist knowledge about your particular sector. Put yourself in their shoes and make sure you don’t leave them with more questions than you answer.
• Criteria and word counts: sounds obvious I know, but all too often in a tunnel vision approach to get the grant done by the deadline, these crucial details get overlooked. You must always address the criteria mindful of any weighting, and adhere – STRICTLY – to the word counts!
Whether you’re applying for grants in a pandemic or under more predictable conditions the key is to be well prepared. How well prepared are you? What areas of your grant-seeking could be strengthened? Contact me today for a free grant fitness audit. Call me on 0431 865248 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org