Applying for a grant is a complicated and challenging process that doesn’t cover only writing an attractive proposal. Besides, the fact that they usually accept applications once a year reduces your chances to win one. To nail it, you need to take into consideration numerous pitfalls.
In this article, we’ll guide you through 10 crucial steps to succeed in applying for your dream grant. You may find it useful whether this is the first time you’re testing your luck or you’ve already tried to apply but failed.
But first things first…
What Is a Grant?
Depending on their type, grants are publicly- or privately-funded schemes, providing entrepreneurs or non-profit undertakings with benefits, such as cash awards, tools/equipment, training resources, or reduced taxes for using certain resources.
Grants are generally given to non-profit organizations. However, when provided to individual entrepreneurs, they presuppose assisting projects that aim to bring value to the country’s overall economy or society, e.g. developing products that improve healthcare. Also, different organizations offer grants for business activities that match their specific missions.
The great thing that makes grants really attractive is that they do not presuppose you paying any interest or the cash award back at all. That said, most direct (cash) grants expect you to match the grant amount – which means you’ll need to cover 50% of the cost of the project by yourself.
What you need to remember is that:
- Almost all grants are offered to existing businesses. Thus, if you haven’t set off your startup, small chances you could apply for one.
- Grants are typically looking for innovative undertakings, meaning your project has to somehow contribute to society.
- Applying for a grant and receiving an answer is a lengthy process. Besides, most of them accept applications only once a year. That’s why you need to start preparing as soon as you decide to apply for a grant.
- Grants are highly competitive. That’s the main reason why you do want to think of how to make your application customized, unique, and really worth reading.
- As we’ve said earlier, most of the direct grants expect you to match them with your own budget.
- All grants state exactly how you’re supposed to spend or allocate your money.
Further, we offer you our 10 tips to succeed in the application process.
1. Do Your Research
Before starting writing your application make sure you’ve picked the right grant. It seems obvious, but very often, startups skip this initial step. Availability is not the main criterion. Take your time and do your careful search on the grants that fund similar projects. You could try different tools, like Grant Connect, which will help you find the best grant opportunities. Think of the local grants first for they are likely to be more loyal. The best tip here is to look for the grant that seems to have been written specifically for your business.
2. Make Sure You Are Eligible for the Grant
The most frustrating thing to do is to apply for a grant and get rejected for being inappropriate. Pay your attention to the requirements of the grant before applying. Check the following:
– Your business size and classification. Usually, grants expect you to be a Limited Company or a business with a specific number of employees.
– Your purpose. Make sure your goal coincides with the purpose of the chosen grant.
– Your location. If the grant is available for startups from a specific region you do not belong to, you’ll be rejected.
– Your business industry. The same goes here – if the grant doesn’t deal with your specific industry, no further discussion is possible.
3. Learn About Your Grant Officer
When you’ve investigated everything on the grant and its requirements, it’s time to learn more info on your grant officer. The main point here is to check how closely the funder is connected with your project and whether you share the same values. Get some copies of their annual reports, look through their website, or get connected on LinkedIn. The more you know about the funder, the more chances to hit them. And don’t be afraid to communicate with your grant officer (we’re gonna talk about this point a bit later 😉 ) – this will not only help them remember you but also increase your chances to be selected.
4. Follow the Guidelines
The guidelines of the grant are not just recommendations – those are the same requirements you need to follow, so take them seriously. All grants explain vividly what should be done to meet their requirements. All you need to do is read carefully and DO it. Spend time on customizing your proposal and give the funder exactly what they look for. If they ask for a short statement, one paragraph is enough. If they ask for two to four pages, four and a half pages are more than needed.
Every grant differs, but typically, all of them expect you to show:
– Your business plan. Make sure it also contains all the required points, like the executive summary, business overview, operations plan, market analysis, products and services, competitive analysis, management team, financial plan, projections, etc. Customize your business plan to each grant the way you’d do it with your CV when applying for a job.
– An explanation of how you’ll spend your money. It should be as brief and exact as possible. The main idea is to confirm you know exactly where your budget will go (read more about it in the “Be Clear About How You’ll Use Your Money” section).
5. Demonstrate the Importance of Your Topic
When writing your application, make sure you explain the impact and benefits of your project to its full extent. It doesn’t mean you should concentrate only on your idea and leave the work plan and processes behind. The point here is that you need to show your funder why this work is worth considering so that it doesn’t leave any doubts. A funder won’t understand the importance of your project without a reasonable explanation. That’s why try to provide enough background for them to understand the problem, describe what has been done by others, and show how that still doesn’t solve the issue.
Moreover, the importance of your startup is actually what you need to demonstrate in your cover letter, too. Although, normally, you will write your cover letter last, make sure you clearly explain the idea of your project in it. The funder will read it first, so the way they feel about your cover letter will also influence their interest to read your application further. Treat your cover letter as the first opportunity to connect with the grant givers.
6. Stay Honest
Many startups take their application as an opportunity to promote their project and forget/deliberately avoid mentioning the potential negative effects of their work. However, your application MUST contain full info on your undertaking, together with the possible limitations and negative outcomes. Your fund givers MUST know what they will deal with, including the worst scenarios. Don’t be afraid that your idea will look worse – analyzing and understanding your ‘weak’ points will only demonstrate your problem-solving skills. Besides, we all understand that there are no perfect projects, just make sure you have your plan A together with plan B in place.
7. Be Clear about How You’Re Gonna Use the Money
As we’ve talked before, your fund givers need to understand you know how to spend the money they and their partners will provide you with. Actually, sometimes, they will look at the budget first to reduce the number of valid applicants. And very often, applicants are disqualified for providing an invalid/improper budget, by underestimating or overestimating their costs.
Although the budget you submit may be the last thing you attach to your application, take care of it. Remember, it should be realistic and exact. Sometimes, you may be even asked to add the CVs of your key team members to it.
8. Make Your Application Easy to Read
Try to look at your application with your reviewer’s eyes. Your funder is most probably a busy person who’s got to read hundreds of applications. Make sure your application is as easy to read as possible for the reviewer. Find that balance between the short form and the completeness of the info you provide.
This applies not only to the way you structure your text but also to making it reader-friendly. Your writing should be clear and simple. Don’t use long sentences and specific jargon. Try to use short sentences whenever possible.
This is something that you definitely know, but that is worth highlighting – follow the deadlines. Imagine your frustration when all the work’s been done, everything’s been prepared, and you simply forget to submit your application on the right day… Check the grant website for updates once a week if you’re afraid of missing something. And don’t forget to SUBMIT your application on time.
And the Last Thing… Follow Up Regularly
That’s OK to keep in touch with your grant officer after submitting your work – use that to your advantage. Ask if they have any questions on your application or contact them if you have some. All this helps get more info and start building relations with your funder.