Step 1: Identification of the problem:
One thing you have to understand is that for a proposal to receive funding, the donor has to be convinced that money will have a positive impact and a measurable outcome in the community. Therefore, you should begin the process by identifying a need that you intend to fill.
The most important question is the one that gives an insight into the problem your community is facing and how to make things better for them. For instance, you may see that the problem is the polluted river that needs cleaning. However, if the community does not agree with you on this need, it may be very difficult to get a grant to address it.
Some of the things that will help you work smoothly in identifying a problem that troubles the community and is agreed upon are:
Involving the stakeholders
For a grant proposal to be successful, all the stakeholders must be a part of the process from the onset. But who is a stakeholder? Well, this is anyone who is affected by the project or is interested in the project in one way or another. For instance, if you intend to clean up a polluted river, the stakeholders will be all the people who are affected by the pollution, the responsible ones for the problem, all of those who will be involved in the clean-up process and the government among other entities is important in regulating the quality of water.
Once you have figured out all the stakeholders, the next thing is to plan a meeting with them at the time and place of their convenience. Sitting together does not mean that everything will be agreed upon. A few might disagree, but your main goal is to try hard to arrive at a consensus. You can bring in a professional facilitator in case you are working with a large group so that it is easy to manage the disagreements among people.
Defining the problem
The other role of the stakeholders is to help define a clear and concise description of the problem that the community faces. You will realize that you may need more than one meeting to get things straight and people on the same page. The truth is, the effort will eventually be worth your while. Once people agree on the problem, you will realize that the rest of the work will flow smoothly.
One thing that you have to bear in mind is to use the most relevant and up to date information available and referencing the sources from which you draw the information from. This plays a role in accurately describing the problem while avoiding attributing blame.
Describing the impact of the problem
Here, it is important that you use a clear language in describing the impact of the problem on both the society and the economy. If the pollution of the river affects wildlife, it is important to state that. However, you also have to demonstrate how that affects human beings living along the river or its surroundings; maybe they can no longer fish or swim in the river because of the pollution. In other words, you must demonstrate how the situation has changed people’s lives.
Investigating the possible cause
Even though the cause of the problem appears obvious, it is important to seek a formal agreement from as many stakeholders as possible. Depending on the kind of grant you are preparing, and the grant-agency you are targeting, the amount of evidence you collect varies. If a formal investigation has not been conducted yet, it is advisable to start by forming a committee to oversee the whole investigation as well as prepare follow-up reports.
It is also important that you bring in an outside investigator to serve as a neutral party so that the credibility of the process is bolstered. Additionally, even if all the stakeholders agree on the cause of the problem, there is still a need for a formally documented investigation to help in quantifying as many factors as possible, based on the requirement of the grant. Instead of using jargon, use layman terms that all the stakeholders can understand.
Step 2: Describe what you hope to achieve
Now that you have given a detailed description of the problem and its cause, it is high time that you focus on the possible solutions or outcomes of the proposed activity. When you implement your project, what will happen as a result of it? How do you know that the situation will improve? For instance, if the problem is river pollution, will people get back to swimming, fishing or even consuming fish from the river again?
Outline the outputs and outcomes as a measure of success
One of the biggest mistake that most people make is using these two terms interchangeably or even confusing one for the other. Outputs simply refer to measures of project activities. Outcomes, on the other hand, refer to changes that occur as a result of these project activities. It is important to note that outputs matter a lot as they lead to outcomes.
In our river pollution scenario, an output can be an increase in the size of the vegetative buffer on the side of the stream. An outcome, on the other hand, maybe the resulting increase in oyster harvest. This is mainly because the buffer stops the pollutants from getting into the river. Additionally, you must bear in mind that a donor may have specifications on how to measure success.
Identify the key outcomes
It is important to note that some projects might have a long list of outcomes while others might not. For instance, some of the outcomes you can get from a river clean up include; people will start swimming, fishing, eating fish, and boating on the river among other activities. Therefore, ensure that you work together with the stakeholders to come to a consensus on two or three primary outcomes.
Set realistic outcomes
Ensure that your projected outcomes are very realistic and achievable. One thing that you have to realize is that some pollutants will always exist in the river. You may not be able to lower the level of pollution to acceptable limits within a year or five years. Therefore, before you start making promises you cannot keep, make sure that you consult with an expert to determine what outcomes are realistic in your situation.
When you fail to meet your goals, it might get harder for you to get additional funding in the future. So, it is better if you promise less and strive hard to exceed their expectations.
Measure and record the results generated from the project
When drafting a proposal, it is important that you state which measurements you hope to achieve along with the timelines. If you intend to lower the number of pollutants in the river, you can use numbers or a range to quantify. If it is something that you cannot measure, then there is no need to include it. If people are going to catch or eat the fish from the clean river, you may include something like ‘the pollutants will reduce by 25-30 ppm’ meaning that people will be able to fish and safely consume it.
Pay attention to the result
You must keep in mind the goals of the project. In other words, every activity needs to be evaluated to determine how it contributes to achieving the ultimate objective.
Step 3: Design the program
Now that you have figured out where you are and where you intend to go, the next step is to determine the best route to get to your destination. Understand that the best path is not always the shortest, easiest, quickest or cheapest. So, how will you decide which path to follow?
Get expert opinions
Every grant maker has a group of expert staff who can help you. Therefore, when you contact the funding source, you must explain in detail when you ask them for their expert opinion. At this point, all you need is their expertise.
Research what others have done
One mistake that many people make is trying to reinvent the wheel. Rather than doing rocket science, try to develop an idea based on what people have already done. Look closely at their failures and successes.
You can also get information from professional journal publications and press releases. You can do this by contacting professional associations. Researching is different than just reading what other people have done. It is about learning these past projects firsthand by visiting the site or contacting the people involved by email, phone or letter.
Get buy-in from the stakeholders
Whatever solution you arrive at, all stakeholders must agree on it, and this is what we refer to as ‘buy-in.’ Yes, you may never get a 100% vote, but you have the opportunity to avoid overwhelming mass opposition. There is a high chance that people will support a project that they helped create in the first place.
Additionally, you must request the stakeholders to show their support through an official letter or document to demonstrate their commitment. This will show legally that they agree with what you intend to do and will not suddenly oppose you. They should also indicate how they will assist you either in terms of labor, money, space, time, supplies, or materials, among other requirements.
Describe the solution clearly
This is something that you and your stakeholders should do. It is important to clearly state what should be done and the people responsible for carrying it out. If the project is technical, you may find it necessary to create two versions; one expressed in technical terms and the other in lay terms. It is important that all the people, whether educated or not, understand what your plan is.
This means that you must clearly describe what the plan is, how you intend to achieve the desired outcomes, the timelines, and a detailed work plan. This goes a long way in helping you clinch that funding and obtain lots of support from the stakeholders.
Step 4: Locate funding sources
Now that you have a consensus on what the solution and program design is, it is time to find the resources. This includes people, money, and equipment, among others. They are the things that you need to get the project done. Locating funds is not an easy task. You need a significant investment in time, as well as careful planning. On the other hand, so many donors take a long time reviewing the grant proposals before they can make a decision.
Start with the organizations or people you already know
Most donors provide money for specific purposes, and this means that you have to make a targeted search based on this information. You can start with the most obvious choices like those that have funded similar projects as yours in your region. If your solution is outside their scope of funding, there is a chance that they will point you in the right direction.
Ask them if they can introduce you to organizations that they have a relationship with, then set up a meeting with the people to whom you have been referred to. This is something that will lend you credibility as opposed to just going blindly without any referrals.
Use the internet to find more donors
There are so many places online that you can visit to get access to funders. One of these sites includes www.grants.gov which is the central source for locating more than 900 funding programs from over 20 grant-making agencies. You can also choose to check individual federal agencies on the website to see what grants they offer.
What questions to ask when reviewing your probable source of funding
Once you have found a funding source that you deem promising, it is important that you take time to study them and learn as much as you can about their organization and their funding program. This will help you find out whether you are interested in working with them, whether they fund projects similar to yours, whether you qualify for a certain program or if you meet all the grant requirements.
Establish a close relationship with the grant program officer
Request for proposals (RFPs) normally lists a contact person that is responsible for the management of the process. If you are seeking funds from them, you must arrange a meeting or a phone conversation with them. The truth is, these people are experts in their fields and they might be able to help you through the application process and may even have knowledge about the type of projects you would like to work on.
During your meeting or conversation, ensure that they know about your organization, its accomplishments and the project you are proposing. Make sure that you confirm your eligibility for funding. Ask questions on the grant announcement and clarify any confusion. The truth is, asking questions will not make you foolish, they will only help you avoid making mistakes in your grant application.
Involve the funder in your project
You have to bear in mind that the donor is a key stakeholder in your project. Therefore, you have to make every effort to involve them throughout the process. For instance, you can invite representatives to be on an All-hands call for the key milestones. While there are funders who want as little involvement as possible as just giving you money and receiving periodical reports, others prefer being hands-on and sharing in the success of the project.
Step 5: Draft your proposal
This part will be covered in detail in the next chapter of this book. However, one thing to understand is that you have to tailor each grant proposal to every funder. This means that you have to use the style and format that the funder prefers. Most organizations make their winning proposals in public and you can use them to inspire yours. Use them as your guide when assembling yours. Learn from them like which information to include, omit, style to use and the terminologies that are preferred.
The good news is that each RFP has a set of information that needs to be included and the format that has to be used as well. Some even specify the number of pages and the font size. Others require that you make online submission of the grant application. Therefore, it is important that you read through the RFP carefully and make clarifications where needed.
Most importantly, you have to honor deadlines. Most grant programs have very specific deadlines. When you miss one, there is a high chance that your application will be eliminated and hence the chance of getting funds is gone during that cycle. Therefore, as you draft your proposal, allow plenty of time for delays as this happens during the writing process.