How to Write a Killer Grant Application

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I work in nonprofit administration during the week, and a large part of my job is assisting the Grants team at my organization with crafting compelling grant applications. I actually figured out that I enjoyed editing other people’s writing while working on grant applications. 

This is funny to me, because in college I took a class that was supposed to be focused on arts administration and presenting, which included an assignment to write a mock grant proposal for a local nonprofit or community group. 

Of course, being who I am I made this harder for myself than it needed to be (I’m working on it) by choosing a community group that operated out of a for-profit venue. There are waaaaaay fewer grants available for for-profit ventures than nonprofits. To make matters worse, the reason I was committed to this group was because I had been doing an ethnography of them all semester, rather than assessing the needs of the venue at which they gathered. 

When I handed in my mock proposal, my lovely advisor, who also taught the class, told me it was, “challenging,” (code for: the worst thing you’ve ever written).  Needless to say, I hadn’t quite hit the nail on the head.  

Luckily, I’ve been able to redeem myself since college, and have been instrumental in the preparation and submission of several successful grant applications. Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing your own application for funding.

1. Manage your time

Granting and philanthropic organizations haven’t exactly kept up with the times when it comes to user experience online. Many organizations’ online submission interfaces are buggy, cumbersome and redundant. Some government agencies and other orgs even still require…*gasp*…hard copies. 

Make sure you leave enough time before the deadline to workshop your narrative (more than once-over!), compile supplementary materials, and enter the information into the interface. 

BONUS TIP: Be mindful of word and character counts! Most narrative questions have them, and spaces and punctuation may or may not be included. Having to shorten your answers on the fly under pressure from a deadline is not fun.   

If you do change something in an interface, change it in your working document too. Your document should have all the same information as your final submission, for archival and future application purposes. 

2. Prepare your app in a word processor. 

Make a document to hold all elements of your application when you first begin work on it, in a program like Word or Google Docs. Copy the application interface ver batim into your document, then reformat it so you know which questions to answer and how. Interfaces often have finicky saving mechanisms, and you don’t want to lose your work! 

3. Keep scans of relevant documents close at hand

Know where you have filed important documents like organizational bylaws, identification, tax forms, budgets, receipts, contracts, etc. Granting organizations often ask for these as supplemental materials. Make copies and keep them with the grant application, either digitally or in hard copy. My organization keeps everything associated with individual grants in specific folders on Google Drive. 

4. Confirm eligibility

Make sure to research and verify that the organization and grant program you’re applying for funds and prioritizes projects like yours. Read FAQs, calls for submissions, and granting organizations’ websites and funding priorities.

Some organizations will require that you fill out an eligibility quiz before continuing with your application. Make sure you know basic information about your organization and your request like tax status, grant history, total budget, request amount (as compared to the average award for the program) and populations served.

Nothing is worse than wasting time preparing an application just to find out you weren’t eligible in the first place, or get rejected because of poor fit due to lack of reserch.

5. Know the anatomy of a grant application going in. 

Grant applications have a pretty standard structure. The order in which these sections appear, or how extensive they are may change, but many grant applications have some or all of these sections: 

  • Organizational Information: Things like name, tax ID numbers, organizational structure, budget, and primary contact information.
  • Budget: May be for the specific project, or the organization’s entire fiscal year if you are requesting general operating support.
  • Narrative/Request Information: The lengthiest part of the app, includes an explanation of your project + request, key players, performance metrics, etc.
  • Supplementary Materials: Organizations often require uploads of various documents to verify claims, eligibility and fit. These may include financial statements, board list, tax documents, contracts, work samples, photos, or other means of augmenting your application. Some materials will be mandatory while others may be optional.
  • Certification: Most grant apps will require an official signature of either the individual applying for the grant or someone in a leadership role if the applicant is an organization, certifying that everything in the application is true and complete, and that whoever submits the application has permission to do so. 

There is grant money out there for all kinds of stuff. If you can dream it, you can probably ask someone else to pay for it. These are five things to keep in mind when pursuing grant funding. 

Happy applying!


Need help applying for grants? I can do that! Reach out to me and tell me about your project and the program you want to pursue, and we’ll craft a killer app together!