Six questions to ask before applying for a grant

It is can be very hard to apply for a grant when you have questions and there is no one available to answer them.

In last month’s column, I highlighted a paper entitled “Right-sizing the Grantmaking Process,” which was written by Project Streamline, an initiative of the Grant Managers Network. In that paper, there is also a list of suggested questions that grant seekers should ask themselves before applying for a grant, which is the focus of this month’s column.

These six questions will help you determine whether it’s worth your time to apply for a particular grant. I think these are excellent questions; I find that people often want to jump right into applying for a grant, when in fact, it’s not a program they should consider. I believe these questions raise issues that many who are new to the grant-seeking field will find particularly helpful.

Is your work aligned with the funder’s mission, goals, and objectives?

Readers of my past columns will not be surprised to see this as the first question. It is a waste of time to submit a proposal for a project and/or an organization that does not align with these three areas.

What is the likelihood of receiving funding?

This question is a little more difficult to answer. One of the best ways to determine this likelihood is to look at factors such as the presence of an established relationship with the funder (because you’ve received a grant from the funder before, for example, or you have a direct connection to one of the program decision makers), the types of organizations that have received funding in the past, and the types of projects that have been funded. You also can look at funded proposals to see if your project is of a similar scope and impact.

Do the funder’s application and reporting requirements allow you to fairly and accurately portray your work, its challenges, and your successes?

Again, this question might be difficult to answer, unless the grant maker provides the actual reporting templates up front. Some funders do have these materials posted on their websites, making them easily accessible to all, not just to grant winners. If you found that the application and reporting processes were unfair for a prior award, I would seriously reconsider applying for funding again from the same grant maker.

Does the funder make its application and reporting requirements and timelines clear up front—including budgets and any attachments?

If these items are not made clear, it could possibly signal that moving forward with a project with this funder could be an experience fraught with frustration—along with opportunities for many mistakes to be made. It also could be difficult for you to put the grant application together properly if these items are not made clear. Imagine trying to create a proposal, timeline, and budget for your project that meets the funder’s specifications if this information is unclear or there are hidden agendas.

Is the amount of effort required to complete the application, reporting, and program delivery something you want to invest in, given your current staffing levels and other resources and priorities?

If you have a small grants office, looking at these areas is of critical importance.  Federal grants, for example, typically take quite a bit of time to apply for and to manage. Although winning a grant is exciting, not being able to manage a grant-funded project can be a horrible experience. Also, do not be swayed solely by the dollar amount being awarded. Sometimes even small grants have extraordinary program delivery and reporting requirements that are out of proportion with the amount of money they bestow.

Who at the funding organization is available to answer your questions? If no one is available, is it worth applying?

It is can be very hard to apply for a grant when you have questions and there is either no one available to answer them or no system in place to ask questions and receive responses. If you do apply for a grant with several questions looming, keep in mind that your chances of being funded might be compromised, because you will be applying based on your best guesses. However, you might be able to get some of your questions answered if you contact former and/or current grantees.

I think a similar question that goes hand in hand with this one is, “Is it worth reapplying if you do not receive reviewers’ comments?” Again, if you do not receive any feedback regarding your proposal, you have no idea why you were not chosen for funding, and you’ll be unsure how to make your proposal stronger when reapplying. For me, this is a particularly frustrating aspect of being a grant writer.

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