So you want to write a grant…

January 11, 2021 Alexandra Tranmer

Grants are a valuable funding tool that public, private, and non-profit sectors rely on to support their operations, programs, marketing and other functions. Grants have been thrust into the national spotlight through COVID-19 recovery efforts, with grants being offered by everyone from local organizations to massive corporations like Facebook and Verizon. With so much competition facing small businesses and non-profits in obtaining these grants, how can an organization ensure that their application is a standout among piles of other applicants?  

Camoin 310 has extensive experience formulating grant applications to not only comply with the technical regulations of an application, but also telling the story behind the project to make the application come to life. Camoin 310 has secured over $50 million in economic and community development initiative funding for its clients over the last 10 years. This project financing has allowed recipient communities to support business expansion and attraction projects, rehabilitate housing for low and moderate-income individuals, replace vital infrastructure, renovate underutilized downtown commercial space, and enable small businesses to start and grow. Recently, I have personally been involved in writing Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants for CARES Act funding for the private and public sectors. Of course, the exact components of a grant will differ from source to source, but there are some tips and tricks that I have picked up along the way that will ensure your application is in prime condition when the reviewer gets their hands on it.

1. Clearly define the project and the intended use of funds

This may sound simple, but this step should not be taken for granted. While you may have an idea for a certain project that you want to execute, think about writing a mini-business plan for the project as a starting point. What is the concept? What issue or challenge is the project addressing? How does it fit into your current operations? Make sure to be clear how this project responds to the priorities of the funder and/or the particular funding stream that you are applying for. Sometimes the project is being developed when a funding source comes along, in which case, you may have to multi-task and devise the project in tandem with the grant. Either way, the project needs clear guidelines to be presented as a thoughtful and worthwhile endeavor. In a crisis situation like COVID-19, while there may be several issues that require immediate funding, try and prioritize the use that may be able to have impacts across the business or organization.

2. How will the project be implemented?

As much as the funder will want to grasp the project concept and rationale, they will also want to understand how the project will be implemented in practice. Have you discussed how partnerships will operate? Is there a point person for the project? Is that person equipped with the tools and resources to project manage? Think about implementation over the lifetime of the project as well, not just the start-up or closeout, but the day-to-day functionality of the project.  

3. Keep your company’s critical information at the ready

There are certain questions that you can count on being asked in different iterations in nearly every application. While it may seem like information that the director or manager of your organization might know off the top of their head – that person could be booked in meetings all week, on vacation, or otherwise occupied to get you the answers that you need. This basic information is extremely important to have on hand in a crisis so that you can quickly make decisions that are grounded in recent information. Instead, you could be in a position where you are trying to establish what your baseline is while it’s a moving target. This list of critical information to keep on hand might look something like….

  • Number of employees
  • Type of organization
  • Year founded
  • Articles of Incorporation for a non-profit
  • Annual Operating Budget
  • Most recent audited financial
  • Mailing address
  • Contact person email, phone number, and address

4. Build a realistic budget around grant funds

The budget is a critical component of the grant ask. The funders will want to see that the project has a realistic budget, with additional funds to leverage the grant. If partners are involved in the project you may need to obtain funding support letters from these partners. Make sure your partners, public, private, and non-profit are willing to demonstrate this level of commitment to the project. Having these conversations early on with partners will help avoid rushed conversations two days before the grant deadline. The funder will also want to see that their funds are being productively used. Therefore, the more detail you can provide as to where and how the funds will be used will make the case that your application is a well-thought out proposal with a path for success.  

Finally, it seems like a simple task….answer the question that is being asked. Although you may want to tell a certain story, make sure that you are clearly answering the question that is being asked of you. This might include restrictions that involve character limits or word counts, so a concise answer is usually most effective. Think clearly about what your application’s takeaway message will be for the grant reviewer.

If you’ve got a question about a grant application or are interested in learning about Camoin’s grant writing services, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at alexandra@camoinassociates.com

Cover photo: Adobe Spark