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A (Hopefully) Useful Template for Starting a Grant Application

Cassie Carroll's picture

Oh grants - I know grant applications are intimidating, especially if you've never written one before. We all hear the horrors of lengthy applications, multiple forms, unclear directions, etc.... but if you have an idea, there are some simple steps you can take to prepare your idea for a grant application, no matter the format or specific opportunity instructions.  Grants, foundations and sponsors are all great ways to apply for dollars to expand, grow, build, add, teach or learn.

In the grant world, we call this a logic model - which is not a well-liked term to most. However, I've adapted the qualities of that model to something more digestible to help plan the elements of your proposal. The easiest way to explain how to break out your idea and the information that would be described under each question is to use a tangible example - I will use the idea of  "brand and marketing training for farmers in Champaign county" to explain how to use this template. I'll go step by step through each question and start breaking down our results, audience and rationale for our intended project, with some anecdotes about information to list and think about under each question when preparing to write a grant proposal.

I'm not an "expert" by any means, but thinking about grant projects this way before writing an actual application helps me get my mind around how to best articulate my project, idea or the work that I want to accomplish. If you have anything to add or see anything that I've missed, please feel free to comment and add your tips, tricks and edits to this post!

Q1: What do you want to do?

  • This is your grant's foundation and running theme - what is the idea or activity you want to accomplish with the potential funding? Some examples are building a hoop house, training chefs on using seasonal produce, help other farmers learn about cover cropping and no-till production systems. Honing in on the project you look to accomplish will help you fill in all the other sections below. For this blog, my project will be to train farmers in marketing strategies to increase their visibility and profitability in Champaign county. If you're trying to address the needs of a particular audience but aren't sure what they need, an email survey or speaking with your potential audience directly before starting this work might be a great way to uncover potential opportunities to create value for your intended audience.
  • We'll use the example of branding and marketing training for farmers in Champaign county as the thing we really want to seek funding to accomplish.

Q2: Why is this activity important to do now?

  • Under this question, you want to discuss the various national, regional and/or local reasons and trends, justified by data, that are occurring in your project's subject matter. Think about these two things: What is the problem? What is the solution? Answer both of these questions in this section and discuss the crucial opportunity for more information, training, education, and/or research on that subject matter. 
  • For our example, I would most likely try to find facts about the decline of farmers' market profitability for farmers and overall sales numbers of specialty crops. I might find information about sales declining that I would want to use. I would also talk about our experiences at TLC with farmers struggling to launch and manage outreach and that some of our farmers don't have a logo, website or brand. I would note that customers need to be able to recognize their farm visually through a logo or webpage and tell customers stories about their farm to garner regular support and consumer purchasing. Then, I would justify why it is so important that these farmers receive support in marketing to ensure their farm business remains profitable and stays in business to maintain our local agricultural economy.

Q3: Who will be affected by your project? Who will be trained/reached?

  • Define your audience. Think about age range, location, whether your audience is an underserved population, background of the audience, etc. 
  • For our example, I would be targeting beginning and established farmers who are trying to reach consumer, restaurant or grocer markets in Champaign county. I don't want to reach a specific age or demographic necessarily, but you could focus your work on underserved farmer populations in this case. Additionally, I have defined a location and will seek farmers that sell in Champaign county for this work. I am not looking for a specific background in this grant, but I am looking for farmers who do not have a brand and/or a marketing strategy who have been farming for at least a year and have some experience selling at a farmers' market or selling to consumers and/or businesses who want to improve their sales. 
  • The project could also affect customers in the community, increasing purchasing and eating of healthy, locally-produced food due to increased recognition of local food sources. However, I might use this in my outcomes section since it is not the target audience that will be served by the work I look to do in the project.

Q4: How will you accomplish your project? How will you reach/train your audience?

  • In this section, think about the actions you will take to accomplish your project. Will you conduct a survey of your audience to find out the topics they are interested in learning about? Will you hold workshops? Will you create a publication? Will you promote the results? Will you conviene experts or partners around a topic? Also think about a reasonable timeline for accomplishing those project steps. Be reasonable and realistic about what can be accomplished in a given time frame.
  • For our example, I will hold two workshops lasting 4 hours each on the topic of marketing and branding for farmers. I will bring regional marketing experts and farmers using successful branding and marketing strategies to share their stories and expertise. I will create a "best tips" guide for farmers and create a step-by -step "Getting Started" marketing plan for farmers. Before the project, I will consult with regional organizations to find successful tips and resources used to train farmers in marketing. We will survey workshop attendees after the workshop to gain valuable input and build a promotion plan for workshop resources to provide farmers with further education in the region.

Q5: How many people in your audience will your project affect?

  • Think reasonably about the number of people that you're able to reach with your project.  If you can, use existing metrics to guide your target. It is SO important to track metrics of reach on your website, social media, and other platforms. An easy way to do this is through Google Analytics for your website, as well as Facebook and Twitter analytics - those are available for free. It is also important to think about how you can partner with other regional organizations and leverage their network to get the word out about your project or work - others might find your work valuable for their audiences too! 
  • For our example, I would look at our past workshop attendance and online reach. At The Land Connection, we can have 8-80 people at a workshop, depending on the topic and scale of event. However, we usually see our average attendance at workshops being around 25 - so I would probably note 25 participants per workshop will directly be affected by the proposed project. I would also think about how many people, out of those attending, would increase their marketing knowledge from the workshop. A change in knowledge, an implemented action, a decision made, or an analysis completed is a project outcome. The number of people that attended a workshop, for example, is an output of the work done. No change in attitude, action, or knowledge occurred, but the action happened and affected that many people. This can get tricky - when you get in the weeds of outcomes and outputs, but a good teacher told me to think of outcomes as a result that occurs because of an intervention in their everyday life - aka a workshop, viewing a video, etc. Now that you have your audience numbers defined, think now about how you would collect that information....

Q6: What will the end goal of your activities be?

  • This is where you will list project outcome(s). Will you train people in a critical production method? Will you increase your sales of produce to local markets or restaurants? Will you test and determine the effectiveness of grazing fencing? You may have one critical project outcome, but you may also have multiple, depending on your project. Will you be sharing the results with other farmers or organizations? Will you provide training? What change would you want to have occur with that audience you touched? How will you collect this information?
  • For our example, I would think about how many people, out of those people attending and/or viewing materials, would increase their marketing knowledge from the workshop. A change in knowledge, an implemented action, a decision made, or an analysis completed is a project outcome. The number of people that attended a workshop, for example, is an output of the work done. No change in attitude, action, or knowledge occurred, but the action happened and affected that many people. This can get tricky - when you get in the weeds of outcomes and outputs, but a good teacher told me to think of outcomes as a result that occurs because of an intervention in their everyday life - aka a workshop, viewing a video, etc. Now that you have your audience numbers defined, think now about how you would collect that information.... because most granters want to understand actual impact of your project. This can be done via post-workshop surveys, electronic surveys, quizzes, and many other methods, depending on your project.

Q7: What resources will you use (people, print, organizations, etc) to accomplish your project?

  • Will you need staff? Will you need to print materials? Will you need paper and ink to print those materials? Will you need to rent space to host the event? Will you need to build a webpage to host information? This is the place that you should list the things you will need to accomplish your project - the inputs to make the project occur. This section can also help you identify the things you will need to list and price for your project budget as well.
  • For our example, I would need to rend out workshop space, possibly at Prairie Fruits Farm to have an on-farm experience and ensure they have projection equipment for the workshop presentations. I will need marketing experts to present at the workshop, folders for participant workshop materials, paper and ink to print workshop agendas and resources, and refreshments for the event. I will also need people to plan the agenda, organize and promote the media, and disseminate post-project information. I might also want to bring some farmers and experts to speak and teach at the workshop. These are just a few of the inputs I will need for the project's success.

Q8: How will you promote your results? How will you share the information you've learned with others?

  • Many grants ask about how you will share your results or information that you've learned through the project. This can be done through workshops, webinars, web resources, articles, presentations, social media, and much more. Think about your intended audience and how they access information when you're preparing this section. For example, farmers find value in workshops, but sometimes don't have time to attend them in person due to a variety of reasons. How could this audience be reached in addition to an in-person training opportunity?
  • For our example, I would provide hand outs and materials to workshop participants, but then after the workshop, I might host a webinar for those that couldn't attend, or host workshop resources online and promote them through our social media, e-newsletter, and other online methods. I would also share our information with other organizations in the region who train farmers to disseminate the resources and information further in our community. 

If you can answer all of these questions, then you're ready to write an application and customize it to the funder's specifications. Make sure to read a funder's mission and vision, program areas, and research past grantees, if possible. This will help you write a tailored proposal that meets the needs of the funder. 

The ordering and format of the questions of each grant, foundation or sponsorship ask may not be the same, but this can serve as a guide to filling in the application blanks and expanding upon your notes, depending on space restrictions. One note - when you're writing grants, be sure to be concise and to the point in all sections of the grant. This guide can help you drill down to the necessities of your project and keep your writing focused on those core objectives for your proposal.

Also - there is a really fun blog that talks about the do's and don'ts for nonprofits called "Nonprofits with Balls". They are, as they say, "exploring the fun and frustration of nonprofit work". There were two really interesting blog posts recently that could be really helpful when writing your proposals. One is on the things that funders get annoyed with nonprofits about when receiving grants, and another on the things applicants are annoyed about with funders. It's a really fun read, but it highlights some of the things to look out for when applying and writing your proposals:

http://nonprofitwithballs.com/2017/01/grantseekers-how-irritating-are-you-to-funders-use-this-checklist-to-find-out/

http://nonprofitwithballs.com/2017/01/foundations-how-aggravating-is-your-grantmaking-process-use-this-checklist-to-find-out/

I hope this helps reduce some of the stress or relieve some of the fear of grant writing through answering these key questions about your idea or topic you're interested in pursing. If you need help or have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to The Land Connection - we're here to help our farmers and communities access the funding necessary to do great work in our state!

Happy writing! Do you have any tips and tricks to share? Is there anything that I left out? Please leave it in the comments - thanks, in advance, for your contributions!

 

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