The Grant Application Primer

by Joyce Luhrs

From our earliest memories in school, we heard “read the directions first!” Every time

I start reading an application, including a grant-related one, these words ring again and again. Whether applying for a foundation, corporate, government, or community grant award as a nonprofit organization, an association with a different tax status, an individual, or a business, I always keep these rules and application “how-tos” in mind.

Application Availability. Applications may be gotten with a request to the funder with a phone call, a written postal mail request, or by an e-mail.

Review Carefully. Peruse the application first to get an overview of its sections, the information required, points of contact, among others. Then, go back and read the entire application carefully. Check that all pages have been included in the application. On occasion, application booklets may be missing a few pages or printed incorrectly. As more funders opt to place their guidelines on their web sites, check that the information is current.

Determine Eligibility. Before responding to the request for proposal, an applicant needs to make sure it meets the eligibility requirements. Some common requirements are stipulated according to type of organization -- non-profit, Internal Revenue Service designation as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization , community-based nonprofit groups, government agency, local educational agency, private school, commercial enterprises, higher education institutions, consortia, partners, an individual, among others

Other eligibility pointers include the following: the purpose of the grant, stipulations about how grant funds may be used, targeting organizations that meet a specific need, identifying groups or individuals that work with a particular niche in the community, matching funds requirements, noting geographical locations, highlighting specific qualifications required, and others.

Amount Available & Number of Awards. Look for the minimum and maximum award amounts, the average size of a grant and the number of awards that will be made.

Some funders may stipulate distinct award amounts for different purposes.

Remember the Appendix. If an appendix is included, do not overlook it. Occasionally, funders, especially government agencies, will insert legislation that provides additional details and insights about what is sought.

Look for the “Gotchas.”. Some things to watch are: page limits, font size, type of paper used, spacing requirements, conflicting guidelines found in different sections of the RFP, the number of copies to submit, pre-proposal notification, partner requirements, stipulations about attachments, and deadline phrases like “postmarked by” or “due on.”

Always read the fine print and watch for asterisks, as additional information is sometimes noted or found in another part of the application. Are any exceptions or waivers discussed? These may include information about how a document may be submitted, technological glitches, among others.

Develop a Checklist. Prepare a list of all information that is requested and check that everything has been completed before the application is submitted.

Make Another Copy. Accidents happen. On the day the applicant inserts the original version of the forms into the printer, it jams, and the paper pops out torn. Tea or coffee stains on the forms may not reflect well upon the applicant. Either request an extra copy of the application or make another copy to be available if Murphy’s Law should strike.

Provide Information Requested. Give only what is requested, no more, no less. Answer all questions completely and honestly.

Format. Some funders list very specific guidelines about how an application must be organized. On occasion, funders, especially government agencies, state very clearly in their applications that a proposal will not even be reviewed if those guidelines are not followed.

Be Neat. First impressions do matter. The application is often the only thing that a prospective funder has about an organization. Preferably, prepare the application and all attachments on a computer. Although the typewriter has become somewhat of a dinosaur, forms that cannot be scanned may need to be completed using this older technology. If a typewriter is unavailable, hand printing the information neatly with block letters is acceptable, too. Narratives should be typed.

Original Signatures. When a signature is required, be very clear about which representative from an organization may sign the document, and notify the individual, who generally is the director, chief executive officer, or the equivalent. A good idea is to check the director’s schedule to identify time when that person will be in or out of the office. A proposal writer does not want to find out at the last moment that the only person who can sign off on the application is away.

Write Clearly. Like a good book, all points in an application should connect from beginning to end. Sentences and ideas should be clear and concise. Proposal writers should not use slang terms, jargon, or perjorative language that will not only make the reviewer push the application to the bottom of the pile but also leave a lasting, negative impression.

Proofread. Read the entire application and check for spelling and grammatical errors. Line up a couple of people to read first and final drafts of the complete application.

Ask, if Unclear. If a guideline is unclear in the application, call the funder’s representative listed as a contact. Write down your question(s) before picking up the telephone or sending an e-mail. Program officers are willing to help, but they do not want their time wasted.

Adhere to Deadlines. Deadlines may be posted as rolling, one per year, several times a year, or even every few years. Try to complete everything one to two weeks before the due date. While this may be a dream and an inconceivable reality for some, the current push by government agencies and more and more foundations and corporations requiring that applications be submitted electronically, means that organizations and individuals are now at the mercy of several entities working properly such as the applicant’s computer system and the Internet Service Provider of everyone involved.

Get a Receipt. Always request a dated receipt with a postmark for proof of mailing, when an application is sent through the United States Postal Service. If a commercial carrier is used, obtain a dated shipping, label, invoice, or receipt.

Make a Copy. Don’t be caught off-guard if the application doesn’t reach its final destination. Keep copies of the entire application package.

Back-Up Text. Recreating text is a nightmare! Don’t be caught off-guard with a computer crash, the Internet Service Provider going down, a Kernel panic attack, or a nasty virus or worm assault on a computer system.

About the Author: Joyce Luhrs

As President of Luhrs & Associates, Joyce Luhrs brings a diverse background in the for-profit and non-profit sectors. She has 19 years experience providing marketing, public relations, and management services for businesses, nonprofit organizations, schools, and colleges throughout the country. Among her accomplishments, she has implemented public relations campaigns to English- and Spanish-language media and conducted marketing campaigns to diverse cultural groups.

Her articles have also appeared in Enterprising Women, Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, The Bottom Line, New Jersey Jewish News, Garden State Woman, The Ballroom Review, Salesian Sisters Partners In Giving, Business inBergen, The Ohio Journal of Science, Psychological Reports, 201, and Social Behavior and Personality.

Joyce Lurhs

Ms. Luhrs has served for several years on the scholarship application review committee of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey’s state education committee, and on the board of trustees of a local League of Women Voters. Her contributions have also encompassed serving on the board of trustees of a New Jersey community foundation. As an active member of the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO), Ms. Luhrs served two terms as Vice-President of Marketing on NJAWBO’s State Board of Trustees and previously served as Public Relations Chair. She also completed one term as Vice President of Marketing of the NJAWBO-Bergen Chapter