Project planning for grant writing in ten easy steps

You have no business going anywhere near a grant application form before you’ve got a clear idea of your project and mapped out a plan.

A good project plan means your project has a greater chance of getting funded, but it also means you’re much better prepared to successfully manage the project if and when it does get the funding it needs.

Ideally, you’ll have a series of project plans sitting on your hard drive waiting for the right funding program to be announced. Then when that happens, you’ve got all your information ready to go.

Project planning can be long and complicated. But this is a simple ten-step project planning process which will help you get your head around what it is you’re trying to do, exactly what steps need to occur, how much it will really cost and who needs to be involved.

1. What are you hoping to achieve?

Make sure you have a very clear idea of the specific outcome you’re trying to achieve. This isn’t about building a fence (it’s about water quality) and it’s not about a new drone (it’s about monitoring vegetation). Funders need to know about the end goal and they’re usually pretty clear about what they will and won’t fund. If you’re not helping achieve the actual goals articulated by the funding body, you probably won’t get funded. Likewise, if you don’t have a mission or vision that’s compelling and likely to be well-understood by your community, people probably won’t care about your project.   

2. Why does it need to be done?

Most projects come about because someone has identified a problem and come up with a solution. Funding bodies want to know how you came to settle on that solution, what evidence there is it will work and why the problem needs to be addressed in the first place.

3. How will you do it?

This is about strategy and methodology. You need to make the connection between the problem, your solution and why it will all work. Here, you’ll document the actual process you’re putting in place to solve a problem. For example… What are you hoping to achieve? Improved water quality. Why does it need to be done? Erosion. How will you do it? Fence off a river from cattle.

4. What steps will you take?

This is about documenting your methodology. Using the above example we know that we want to fence off a river from cattle, but what are the specific steps we need to take to roll that project out? Some projects are straight forward. Some are more complicated. You may need planning approval, you may need earthworks, you may need to engage volunteers, you might need to advertise in a newspaper. All of those activities take time and resources and should be documented. It’s very difficult to put an accurate budget together if you haven’t taken the time to think about each step required.

5. When will each step occur?

This is simply about documenting the timing associated with your project. You don’t necessarily need to list dates – although that can be helpful if you’re dealing with a project that must take place at a certain time of year. Your timeline could be designed to fit around the date your funding is approved. That would be week one. Then you’d list out each step and when it would occur from there.

6. How much will it cost?

Project planning is a cyclical process. You note the steps, which adds things to your budget, you identify new people who must be engaged, which adds steps to your plan, you identify new risks, which adds costs to your budget and so on. It’s impossible to create an accurate budget without planning each element of your project.

7. How will you manage risk?

Funding bodies need to know that you’ve explored any risks associated with your project but also that you’ve identified the strategies to reduce those risks and have budgeted for any of the associated expenses.

8. Who will you involve?  

Funders LOVE projects which are collaborative and have strong connections with the communities they’re supporting. It’s hard to fake that stuff and it takes time. You can’t really develop a relationship with a new organisation in the moments before submitting a funding application. If you sit down and think about the people you need to involve well before you apply for a grant you’ll be able to engage them early on in the process. When you’ve genuinely engaged other organisations, your application will be stronger. Sometimes you’ll need to involve people for regulatory reasons or because you need approvals or permits. Sometimes your funding body will stipulate that you must engage Traditional Owners on whose land you’re working. Sometimes you’ll need letters of support and sometimes partners will need to provide actual cash. Don’t leave partnerships until the last minute.

9. How will you know whether it’s worked or not?

How can you report back to the funding body about the outcomes you have actually achieved if you haven’t worked out how to measure and record them. Funders love to know you’ve thought about how you’ll document and report on your successes. 

10. How will you tell people about your work?

This is about communication planning and acknowledging the partners to your project. Funders need to know you’ll be acknowledging the funding received, but also that you’ll share successes (and failures) with others so they can learn from you (or not repeat the same mistakes). When you plan for communication, you’ll probably identify new partners and new expenses, and so the cyclical project planning continues.

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