Checklist for Success on Public Grant Applications

In America, nonprofit organizations generate more than $1.3 trillion (yes, that is 12 zeros) annually, of which about 75% comes from government/public sector resources.

That said, there are tremendous opportunities for you to garner dollars from federal and  state funding sources in the form of pass-through grants, contracts, and fee for service projects. Here are some essential tips to maximize your success with public grant applications:

  1. Read before you start to write. Take time to carefully review the technical requirements for the RFP.  Make sure you understand all requirements so that you are not disqualified at the onset.  It may help to literally move away from your computer (or close your laptop) and simply read a paper copy of the RFP with only a highlighter pen in your hand. Think before you write.
  2. Need Statement/Target Population – Who?  Why? If your program serves young women, for example, be sure that your data illustrates compellingly why young women in your community need your program. Be specific and don’t assume that everyone understands the problem that your nonprofit/program addresses.
  3. Edit carefully. If you are copying and pasting older copy from a common grant template or prior year grant applications, be sure that the data you provide is up to date and follows the funding time line. Use ‘search/replace’ function, spell check, and multi-pass editing to make sure you catch all outdated references.
  4. Make sure you are presenting evidence-based programming. When you are writing about the results of your nonprofit’s experience, get to the data-not the platitudes. If your program has been operating successfully for more than five years, share more than one year of outcome data. Don’t simply say that you’ve been successful-show it. Demonstrate that your program has been successful in reaching the outcomes and goals that your organization has set for itself.
  5. Present a detailed work plan. Since there is invariably a limited amount of space for your narrative section (and make sure you stay within page or font-size guidelines), use the work plan to paint a picture of what your program looks like. Include steps such as planning, implementation, quality control, and evaluation, and add a timeline even if one is not required. Other sections demonstrate your knowledge and passion for the work–here is where you also showcase your team’s administrative skills and project management. Include a chart or a diagram of how you intend to manage deliverables, communicate as a team, or track expenses.
  6. Match/cost sharing – Make sure your financial picture is crisp. In some state grants, for example, a match/cost share is required, which helps to ensure that agencies that receive funding are sustainable. Be clear on the definition on what kinds of funds qualify as acceptable (i.e., does it need to be cash, or can you show in-kind as part of the requirement). In general, you want to show your organization has a strong financial footing with a range of options.
  7. Outsider’s perspective. We are often so close to our own work, we can’t see the forest for the trees. While there is still time to edit and clarify, have someone who doesn’t know your program read your application and ask them questions about your program. Can they answer them?
  8. Avoid “parroting.” Some grant applications ask for a logic model. If one is required, take the time to develop your own; don’t simply copy the funder’s model and add in a few different components related to your program. This is true for any general requirements, such as bullet point lists, from the RFP.
  9. Appendices. If a checklist for application contents is provided, be sure to use it. Either way, if you are applying for funding for a single program, you need to include an organizational budget. Appendices are also good for your board roster and biographies of board members, and your tax-exempt letter.
  10. Check the math. Make sure that the budget narrative and budget numbers match. If you’re unclear on the level of budget detail required in a grant application, err on the side of more detail. Recruit someone else to help you make sure that all of the rows and columns are added correctly.