Six questions to ask before you apply

Six questions to ask before you apply

What if you come across two grant opportunities, one for $20,000 and the other $50,000 — which do you apply for? While it may seem obvious to go after the larger award, upon closer inspection there are more factors to pay attention to. Here are six questions to ask before applying.

1. Is the award the right size?

It goes without saying the amount of money awarded should be enough to be worth your time. Another important way to assess the award amount is whether it is the right size for your organization to utilize.

Grantors will often want to see that:

  1. a grant award will play a key role in advancing your work, and
  2. the work is not entirely dependent on their grant to proceed.

For example, a $30,000 grant award is a substantial part of a $100,000 budget, but without it the work could still likely move forward with $70,000.

2. Is it general operating funding?

General operating funding is the most flexible and least burdensome kind of grant funding because the grantor is comfortable with the grantee deciding how it is used. If a grant is offering general operating support, the opportunity is much more attractive because you can use the money for anything associated with your operation and reporting requirements are usually satisfied by general updates on the progress of the organization.Program funding is a more common form of grant funding which carries specific requirements and restrictions that are intended to target the money for particular purposes. Usually, this type of grant can only be used to fund activities closely related to a specific program and must be accounted for accordingly. Program funding can be an important and helpful source of funding, but utilizing it usually requires more effort to track and manage.Pro tip: Be very honest with yourself about whether or not you really need program funding. If a grant is well-aligned with your program and there is an existing funding gap, go for it! However, it's very common to see organizations reallocate money from a program elsewhere to make room for more program funding, only to realize playing musical chairs with the organization's budget just to pack in a few thousand more dollars causes more hassle than the money is worth.

3. Are the application and reporting process of reasonable length?

A typical private foundation grant requires between 15 to 20 hours to complete, while a federal grant application can take more than 100 hours. More and more grantors are making their application forms viewable online, which is helpful because it allows you to estimate how much time you will need to complete the application.Pro tip: Pay close attention to the format a grantor requests your financial information to be in. Some grantors ask for very particular budget formats, which can require a skilled financial manager to spend hours translating standard budget documents into the grantor's preferred format. This can be expensive and extremely time consuming.Don't forget to check out the reporting requirements, as well. Some grants carry extremely burdensome requirements that tie up your time later on.

4. Is the grantor aligned with your mission?

Grantors have almost as wide a range of missions as grantees. Some are hyper-focused on funding a particular kind of work to achieve a specific result, others give in more general ways or support whole sectors, and some want to play a role in experiencing the work, themselves. Understanding what a grantor is trying to achieve is critically important to your grantseeking success. For example, a grantor who specifically funds cancer research may not fund a 10K race to support cancer survivors, even though they care deeply about curing cancer.Pro tip: Be extra cautious of proceeding with a grant if creating new programs or services is a condition of the grant. You should not create programs solely for the purpose of winning a grant. For example, if your organization works to preserve forests and you win a grant, but in order to receive the funding you must take 100 of the grantor's staff members out on an expedition to plant trees and this is not typically a service you offer. The time and resources you and your team spend implementing this additional requirement will lessen the value of the grant, itself.

5. Have you applied for a similar grant before?

If you come across a promising grant application with questions and requirements similar to grants you've applied for in the past, move this grant up your list of prospects! Assuming you have a well-organized proposal library, you should be able to quickly find answers you can recycle for this new grant to save yourself lots of time.

Pro tip: Reapply for grants you are rejected from if you receive encouraging feedback from a grantor. Many grantors appreciate persistence, they'll likely be able to see how much progress you've made since you last applied, and will have had a chance to get to know you and your organization during that time.

6. Do you think you can win?

This may seem like an unfair question, yet you likely have more insight than you realize regarding your odds of winning a particular grant. Do you have any warm personal relationships with the grantor? Do they give to the same groups year after year, or do they rotate? Have they awarded grants to any peer organizations? Can you speak with one of their previous grantees for their opinion? Don't underestimate how much intelligence gathering you are capable of.

Conclusion

The more of these questions you can answer 'yes', the more likely the grant opportunity is a good fit to pursue. Ultimately, you and your team should weigh each grant opportunity carefully when deciding whether or not to apply. If you have other ways of evaluating grant opportunities we didn't mention, feel free to share them in the comments below so that others can learn from you.