Top 15 Things to Do Before You Write a Grant
Have you ever made it halfway through a grant application only to realize you don’t meet the eligibility criteria or that your team doesn’t have the bandwidth to complete it on time?
Doing your homework before you write a grant is key to grant writing success!
Today we will share the fifteen key questions to ask and steps to take before you write a single word for your grant application.
Top 5 Questions to Answer Before Writing a Grant
So, you’ve found a grant that you are thinking about applying for! You might be wondering, is there anything I should do before diving in? The answer is yes.
Answering these five questions before you write a grant can save you time and effort. They will ensure you are ready to move forward. Don’t skip this step – you’ll thank yourself later!
1. Are we grant ready?
Even if you or your team has lots of grant experience, the timing has to be right. Before writing a grant, make sure to check in with your team or organization – is our organization in need of a grant? Do we have the bandwidth to take this on right now?
To determine if you are grant ready, you’ll need to estimate the time needed to complete the grant and check in with yourself and your team (if you have one) to assess your other responsibilities.
Estimate Time: How long a grant will take depends on the type of grant you are applying for. This handy document provides estimated hours based on the type of grant. If you applied for a similar grant in the past you can also use that as an estimate of how long your current application will take.
Gauge Bandwidth: With the time estimate in mind, sit down with your team and take a look at your calendars - from the current day up until the grant deadline and ask yourselves:
Are there major events that could get in the way of completing the grant? These could be professional, like the launch of a new program, or personal, like your sister getting married.
How much time could I realistically devote to grant prep each week?
If the time your team can devote doesn’t add up to the time needed to complete the grant, or if there are major events that could impact grant completion, consider waiting for the next grant cycle. If the answer is “we’re ready”, move forward!
2. Are we eligible?
Finding out qualifications for a grant is critical but can be overlooked! Check in with the grant you are interested in and confirm that your organization meets all of the grant application requirements. Read each carefully.
If you are unsure, reach out to the funder directly to check in. Most funders are more than happy to help with this step because it ensures they are only getting relevant proposals. For example, grants may only serve a specific country, state, city, or region or a certain type of organization (i.e., must have 501(c)(3) status or must be a faith-based organization).
If you’re using Instrumentl, you’ll find all the grant eligibility requirements and funder history in your Matches view, saving you time in identifying good fit funders.
3. Is this grant a good fit?
Just because you are eligible, doesn’t mean the grant is necessarily a good fit. Make sure to read the grant application carefully to see if your organization fits well with the funder’s goals and objectives.
For example, if your organization offers educational support to struggling students, but the goal of the grant is to assist children with social emotional support, it might seem like it could work because you have similar populations. However, it might not be an ideal fit from the perspective of the funder.
Our free webinar on decision matrices for deciding when to pursue a grant is a great resource for answering this question.
In the case where you’re looking to filter down on your grant results, check out our free grant workshop on how to find good fit funders.
4. Can we complete it on time?
Be realistic about the due date and timeline. How do I know if I can complete it on time? Estimate how much time each section will take you – this can depend on the word count, type of grant, and other factors. Then, estimate how much time you will have to work on the grant each week. From there, you can work backward from the due date.
It is good practice to plan on finishing the grant about a week ahead of the actual due date. This gives you some wiggle room in case things don’t go exactly as planned. It will also give you time to review the grant before submitting it.
You can also consider how long prior grant applications have taken. Do you know your team tends to need more time than estimated or can work more quickly?
If you haven’t before, ask everyone to track their time when working on the grant this time (free online tools like Clockify are easy to use). Estimating time needed for future grants will be even easier in the future!
In summary, giving yourself plenty of time to write a grant is key to producing a successful grant application. Starting something you can’t possibly finish in time is frustrating for everyone.
5. Does it help us reach our goals?
You might be eligible and a good fit for a grant that you can complete on time, but it might have such a small budget that it won’t make an impact. Or the grant might require you to propose a project that doesn’t fit the direction your organization is going to take.
Before starting a grant, take a look at the grant application requirements, goals, and budget of the proposed grant. Then, look at your organization’s mission statement, values, and goals.
Are you squeezing yourself into a grant that doesn’t really move your organization’s goals forward? Is the budget going to allow you to complete the full project? Is the organization funding the grant in line with your organization’s values?
If not, keep looking. Just because you are eligible doesn’t mean you have to apply.
Top 5 Things to Do to Prepare for Starting a Grant
Now that you’ve answered the above questions and decided to move forward with a grant, there are a number of things to do before you write a grant. Doing these grant writing prep steps ahead of time will make the process smoother for everyone involved!
1. Identify Your Team
Whether your non-profit is large or small, assembling your team for the grant writing process is an important first step. Don’t have a team? No problem!
If You Don’t Have a Team
If you are the grant person at your organization, one great option is to partner with another organization. By combining forces, you both can increase your chances of grant success by showing the funder you are collaborative and prepared.
Not ready to partner? Be creative by tapping people at your organization who might be able to help – an accountant can help with the budget, a marketing colleague might be a great writer or can read over your writing, and an organization leader can provide you with the data you need.
If You Have a Small Team
Small grant writing teams can be the sweet spot - you are just the right size to share the workload but without the challenges of keeping track of a large team. However, if you have a small team, it is likely members of your team are wearing more than one hat at your organization. Call a group meeting before you start writing a grant to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding their roles and the proposed grant application.
If You Have a Large Team
Large teams can be great because you have lots of hands on deck! This means distributing the workload can be more manageable because everyone can take the small piece they specialize in. However, large teams can be harder to keep track of. If you have a large team, make sure you have one person serving as manager to keep track of expectations and deadlines.
2. Read the Instructions
This may seem obvious, but this is the most important step of grant writing prep and is a crucial step of your grant writing checklist!
Set aside plenty of time to carefully read each step and use the grant’s instructions to formulate your master grant writing checklist.
One way to do this thoroughly is to sit down with a printed copy of the grant instructions along with a computer (or piece of paper). Read each instruction and then translate it into one (or several) actionable items.
For example, the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation offers these instructions:
You might transfer these instructions into multiple, specific, to-do items:
1. Write statement of need
- Ask Jen who works in the program to provide an anecdote
- Get participation data from our last project from Greg to show how we have helped children in the past
2. Write a description of the proposed project with Devon from program development
3. List three clear SMART goals
4. Write section on products and dissemination with Antoine in outreach
- Write a list of past products we have produced
- Look at past grants for how products have been disseminated
5. Ask Tina in accounting to work on budget
3. Set Deadlines
While you might jot down the due date, consider also setting deadlines for each step on your grant writing checklist. This can help keep you and your team on track. Identify major points in the process, or major sections of the grant, and set a deadline for each. Alternatively, you could set smaller deadlines for each item in your to-do list.
Remember, it’s important to consider how long each section will take when you set your deadlines. This ensures you devote the appropriate amount of time to each section. If you’re newer to grant writing it’s a good idea to allot twice as much time as you think it will take to write. This way, the worst that can happen is you are done early!
Don’t forget to also set deadlines for things after writing, like reviewing and editing the grant, or getting feedback on it!
You can manage all your tasks related to your grant applications in your Tracker on Instrumentl. Try Instrumentl for 14-days free.
4. Research the Funder
Before writing, do some background research on the funder of the grant.
For example, you might examine their website closely, reach out to contacts within their organization, or make a new connection.
Getting to know the organization or people you are writing to can help you tailor the style, tone, and emphasis of the grant for maximal impact. It can also give you insight into finding out about qualifications for a grant that weren’t clear from the application.
For example, you could ask:
- Can you describe your organization’s mission and goals in detail?
- What do you see as the greatest need for (target population) right now?
- Have you funded organizations like ours in the past?
- What other funders do you work closely with?
- What do you wish prior applicants knew before applying for this grant?
Unsure about how to get those conversations started? Check out our upcoming 1-hour webinar on talking to funders.
5. Talk Budget
You might be wondering, why haven’t we talked about money yet? Yes, money is likely the primary reason you are applying for a grant and it is critical to think about before writing a grant. Gather information early about how you will structure the budget – there are lots of resources online about writing your budget to check out.
How do you gather that information? The key to budget preparation is knowing who at your organization makes those decisions. Connect with those people who can share operating costs and make estimates based on past projects.
Top 5 Things Grant Writing Teams Forget to Do Before Beginning a Grant
Even experienced teams sometimes miss these important steps to do before starting a grant. Completing these steps before you get started can pave the way to successful writing and funding. They might seem optional, but your future self will thank you for doing them!
1. Designate Roles
Whether you have a team, are partnering with another organization, or you are the team, designating roles is important! With a team or partner organization, this will look like being clear about the expectations for each person. This ensures nothing falls through the cracks, but also reduces friction among team members. Team delegation can follow 5 easy steps:
1. Define the Task: clearly write out the task with specific, measurable outcomes.
2. Choose the Right Person: consider using the Situational Leadership Model to understand individuals on your team.
3. Provide Information: on the deadline, your expectations, and why you asked them to do it (this can provide motivation).
4. Clarify Roles and Responsibilities: Make a chart (like this) of each team member’s responsibilities.
5. Check In: Make sure to follow up with each person to answer questions, provide guidance, and offer feedback.
If you are tapping people in other roles at your organization to help, give them written instructions on what you need and by what date. Be sure to build in some wiggle room in case they run behind.
If you are the team, designate day(s) or week(s) where you are wearing one hat. For example, this week I’m in writing mode, next week I’m in budget mode. This will help you focus, be more efficient, and reduce confusion.
2. Ask for Letters of Support
The earlier you can ask for letters of support the better. Give the organizations or people who will support your organization and grant proposals plenty of time to prepare. This shows them that you are prepared and respect their time. If you can, give them a brief synopsis of the proposed project or funding agency so they can tailor their letter to the proposal.
Check out our replay of our one-hour workshop on how to get stellar letters of support here.
3. Get Feedback
You don’t need to operate in a vacuum! Many teams wait to get feedback from others or leadership until after they have prepared the proposal.
While it’s nice to feel prepared when presenting ideas, waiting until you have the proposal set in stone is too late to take and integrate feedback effectively. Get feedback on your plan and idea for the proposal ahead of writing.
Asking for and receiving feedback can be difficult. Going in with a few strategies can help:
- Schedule a Time To Meet: While it may be tempting to only ask for feedback over email, scheduling a meeting will ultimately be more productive, as you can ask specific questions and follow up questions to improve your proposal.
- Know What You Want: Going into the meeting with a variety of questions about areas you feel could use improvement can help guide the conversation toward productivity. Include both general and specific questions, and don’t be afraid to ask for positive feedback as well. Questions might include:
What are your overall thoughts about this project? (general)
How could I strengthen the paragraph about past program data? (specific)
What do you see as the greatest strength of the proposed project? (positive)
- Take Notes: Everyone has had the moment where they walk out of a meeting and immediately can’t remember the specifics of what they were asked to do. Take notes! Feel awkward taking notes? Tell the person when you walk in “I’m going to take some notes while we talk - I value your feedback and want to make sure I remember the details of what we discuss today.”
- Be Open to Feedback: Stay open minded, ask questions to clarify points you don’t understand (or feel they didn’t understand), and thank them for their time. It is tempting to defend your work, but if you initiate the conversation by letting them know what kind of feedback you want and what draft you are on (This is my first draft so I’m looking for general feedback on X or This is my final draft so I’m looking for specific edits on X) you will feel more comfortable with what they share.
- Implement It: Take the feedback seriously and act on it! You can even follow up with that person to show them how you integrated their feedback into the proposal.
4. Gather Data
Imagine if, rather than searching for data that support what you already wrote, you could write based on data! This is the benefit of gathering your organization’s data before you write a grant!
Take a look at your organization’s data on its programs, past funding, and impact. Using the data, paint a picture of how your idea will improve upon this. For example, using your organization’s annual report can be a great starting point. For example, the American Kidney Foundation’s annual report has a great summary page that would be a good place to start for reporting impact data for a grant.
5. Use Examples
There is no need to reinvent the wheel! Pull prior grants from your organization that were successful and see if there is any general language you can reuse or edit for your current application.
Do you have partner organizations or colleagues who would be willing to share a prior successfully funded grant from this funder with you? While we certainly don’t condone plagiarizing, seeing the tone, length, and key elements of prior proposals can help you make sure yours is appropriate.
Wrapping Things Up: Top 15 Things to Do Before You Write a Grant
This has been a comprehensive list of everything you need to do before you write a grant. What’s important to know from this? Grant writing is a detailed process and you don’t want there to be any surprises! Following these steps will prepare you, no matter how busy you are, to write a successful grant.
Our five questions help you prepare for writing a grant by ensuring your team is prepared, you and the grant are a good fit, and you can complete it on time.
Our five things to do to prepare to write a grant make you grant-writing ready by pulling together your team, making a to-do list with measurable goals and deadlines, researching the funder, and thinking about your budget.
Finally, we remind you of the five things many grant writing teams forget! Don’t miss the chance to designate roles, ask for letters of support, gather data, and tap colleagues and mentors for examples and feedback.