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What Makes a Strong Grant Application?

Simple Strategies to Strengthen Your Grant Application

Rachel Bennett

Written by Rachel Bennett, WCCF Grants Manager

Email Rachel at rbennett@waukeshafoundation.org

In my role as Grants Manager at the Waukesha County Community Foundation (WCCF), I orchestrate our annual competitive grant process, the Community Grants Cycle.  In doing so, I have the privilege of working with our Grants Review Committee, comprised of prominent business leaders and philanthropists throughout Waukesha County, all with varying backgrounds. Although I’m the conductor, they are the decision makers—tasked with determining which applications to move forward in the process and, eventually, which should be awarded funding.

Through my preparation of evaluation summaries and presence at all meetings, I’ve learned that it’s not necessarily the flashiest requests that appeal to the Committee, but rather the most thoughtful. Here are some tips for those applying to our Community Grants Cycle, and perhaps other organizations’ funding opportunities.

“Evaluating grant applications is both a science and an art.”

– Melissa Baxter, WCCF President

1. Become a Guideline Guru

Prior to applying for a grant, read the Grant Cycle Guidelines carefully and do not hesitate to reach out with questions. It pains me when we have to reject applications that don’t meet the guidelines, especially knowing the time and energy the grant writer spent on the proposal.

2. Design a Budget that Speaks Volumes

When tailoring your application to meet the Guidelines, pay special attention to your program/project budget and the Cycle’s funding range. It is beneficial when the amount you’re requesting shows a significant impact on the budget.

3. Translate Your Terms

When detailing your request, be sure to explain technical terms and site names that are specific to your organization. The application needs to make sense to someone who may not be at all familiar with your organization, area of focus, or geographic location.

4. Methods that Measure Up

Ensure your method to determine effectiveness of the potential funding is sound. List the goals of your program/project, and the specific tools you will use to measure the success of meeting those goals. Whether it is a survey to clients or internal service-delivery tracking through a specific database, be descriptive.

5. Master the Storytelling Strategy

Explaining the impact of your request is most important, particularly as it relates to the service area of the funder. Tell the story of impact and include figures when possible. You should pull at the heartstrings of the Review Committee through your storytelling and appeal to their heads with the numbers clarifying impact.

6. The Early Bird Advantage

Lastly, submit your application early if possible. Do not wait until the last minute.

While I can’t speak for other funders (though it never hurts to ask!), I offer to review applications submitted 10 business days prior to the deadline. Though my review does not offer feedback on the request itself, I will let you know if you are missing information or if you should add more context to certain areas.

Overall, grant writing is about tailoring your request and thoroughness – not the glitz of a certain project or program. Don’t be afraid to ask for general operating support if it’s what’s needed most. I’ve learned so much through working with our Grants Review Committee. I hope the tips I shared are helpful to you. Learn more about our Community Grants Cycle here.

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