Best Practices

Sail Through Online Grant Season

By February 15, 2017No Comments

Completing online grant applications can be a special kind of hell for the uninitiated. Just when you think you’ve got it all under control, unforeseen problems can arise to ruin your day.

Frustrated fundraisers often say that the online grant process, especially for government applications, is survival of the fittest. Surely, we should be rewarded for just getting through it successfully! Use this quick guide to help you prepare for a submission that is smooth-sailing and rewarding.

  1. In advance of the online open submission period, make sure that your company is registered, passwords are discovered, and that the required documents have been submitted.
  1. Use history as a guide and obtain a copy of the company’s last submission. What did you apply for? How was the budget formatted? Were you successful in your request?
  1. Print out a complete copy of the blank application. You may have to do screen shots to obtain everything.
  1. Keep close by the name, email and phone number of someone at the agency who can answer questions that may arise.
  1. Sit down with a glass of wine or a soothing beverage of choice. Take a deep breath. Review the application in its entirety to make sure you’re aware of everything that is being requested. Note the word counts. If you have collaborators who are completing separate sections, make them aware of these word limits. If they’re not the type to stay within word limits, make their deadline sooner rather than later so you can edit.
  1. Note any sections in which you can simply drop “boilerplate” language and sections which will require original language. These sections will probably take longer to complete.
  1. Schedule a team meeting to discuss the application and make assignments to collaborators.
  1. Pay attention to requests for ancillary documents like budgets, resumes, letters of recommendation, work samples etc. Once you know what you need, assign the appropriate collaborators to complete them.
  1. Create a one-page calendar of deadlines to share with the team. Have their assignments detailed on the calendar with specific due dates to be discussed, and note who needs to approve various sections.
  1. At your team meeting, talk to your collaborators. If they were involved in the process last year, what went right? How could this year’s process be improved? How should you focus the application? How long did it take?
  1. Give your team a hard deadline well in advance of the due date. “I need you to complete the budget by 2/10/17.”
  1. Create a word document for all the narrative sections. Once it’s finalized and approved, you can drop it into the online forms. Work it like a crossword puzzle. Fill in the sections you know first, then move on to other sections that require writing or research.
  1. Know your audience. Who will be reading your application? Someone who knows your field well? If so, then feel free to include “insider” language. Otherwise, make sure your writing is succinct and speaks to the broadest audience possible. Write, then re-write, then edit—always keeping your reader in mind.
  1. As you work through the application, remember that you are responsible for collecting what you need from others. Be sure to send email reminders at least once a week. “How is that budget coming along? Is there anything you need from me?”
  1. Consider future generations. What will they want to know when they look back at your application? Be sure to notate how you and your collaborators arrived at certain conclusions, particularly in budgets. Where did you draw the numbers from? Who contributed to each section of the grant? How will others replicate your effort next year?

Remember Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will.

Don’t be the applicant who can’t upload their grant on the date it’s due because the website is crashing or stalling with hundreds of other submissions. Or, worse yet, your computer decides to take an unscheduled hard or software holiday. Set your due date a few days in advance of the “do-or-die” deadline to beat the crowd and have time to deal with any problems that arise.

Once the application is submitted, be sure to print out a hard copy for your paper files, and save a PDF for your electronic files. Make sure everything, including budgets and working documents, lives in a single electronic folder for future reference. If you took written notes, scan them and put them in the folder as well.

Thank your collaborators and let them know that the application was submitted on time.

Ring the DUNCH rock star money bell! You’ve completed an online grant application!

By Jill Garland and Rebecca Cardwell