Writing your first grant? These tips will help.
Writing grants is a huge commitment and one usually made by a busy volunteer with their fingers in many community pies. Well I’m here to tell you we’ve all been there and you’re not alone.
Words by Samantha Morris

So you’re writing your first grant and you have no idea where to start? This list of tips will be a useful starting point.

1. Have a very clear idea of what it is you’re asking for

First things first, funders fund projects not organisations. It doesn’t matter what kind of track record your group has, if your project is a bit hard to articulate it’s probably not going to stand up against the hundreds of other awesome projects applying to the same fund. Be really, really clear about what it is you’re asking for and more importantly, why. That means you need to understand the problem in your community that you’re trying to solve.

As an example, say your not for profit group needs new lighting for a sporting field. It’s pretty obvious here that the problem you’re solving is having a dark field when the sun sets. However, funding bodies (who are predominantly government agencies) are not in the business of buying lighting. When politicians cruise around their electorates making funding commitments, they’re not usually spruiking the benefit of lighting up sporting fields. 

What governments are in the business of ensuring is active and healthy communities, increased participation of young people in sports, reducing the incidence of heart disease and diabetes and promoting major regional events (for example).

So that means when you’re applying to a funding body for lighting, you need to couch your application in terms of these bigger picture priorities.

2. Read the guidelines

And then after you’ve read the guidelines, read them again. Honestly, it’s the most basic grant writing principle, but it’s the one that most people gloss over. The guidelines tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about applying for the grant in questions. Whether you’re eligible, what you can and can’t apply for, what support material is required and the specific outcomes the funding body is hoping to achieve. Collecting support material can take weeks, so it pays to know early if you need to find a copy of your constitution or bank statement or to know the President’s date of birth or have written Council approval or demonstrate that you’ve engaged with local Traditional Owners.

3. Write your application offline

If your funding body has an online application process, I’d highly recommend copying and pasting the key questions (the actual questions about your project) and working on your application offline. Pay attention to word limits.

4. Use plain English

New grant writers often find themselves tied in knots over buzz words and jargon they assume will increase their likelihood of funding. The only jargon or buzz words you ever need to use are the ones the funding body has included in its guidelines or application form.

5. Write succinctly

There’s a famous quote by Mark Twain. He was writing a letter to a friend and started “I’m sorry this is such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”. I’m reminded of that quote whenever I’m proof-reading someone’s grant application. To write succinctly takes time and practice. It’s fine to do a huge braindump in response to a question, but at some point you need to refine your answer so that it wastes no words and gets straight to the point. 

6. Ask for help

Most funding programs have dedicated staff whose job it is to answer questions about the guidelines, application forms, assessment process and eligible projects. Please use this resource. And if you do, don’t leave it until deadline day. 

Remember, there’s a sure-fire way to NOT get a grant and that’s to not apply. If you’ve ever watched colleagues or like-minded organisations get grant after grant and wondered why, chances are it’s because they applied. Give it a crack, you might be surprised at the outcome.