Anyone can apply for grants. It doesn’t matter if you’re a not-for profit, a new or well-established small business or a government organisation. Grants are intended to fund solutions for specific problems, varying widely in size and scope; there’s a huge variety of grants available each year for all types of organisations.
Whether you’re a first time grantseeker or a veteran, securing additional funding for your organisation through grants can often seem overwhelming. Working as both a grantseeker (over 5 years for not-for-profits in Australia) and a grants consultant working with a large variety of stakeholders with different levels of understanding about grants, I’ve found that it never hurts to dust up on the basics.
In this inaugural edition of ‘FUNDED Australia’, this article will be the first of a long line of useful insights into grantseeking. This time around, we’ll be looking closely at the initial stages; questions like ‘Where do I begin?’, ‘How long will an application take?’, ‘Is my project/organisation eligible?’, ‘How/when is it appropriate to talk to the funder?’, and so on.
Let’s begin with a popular Grants Office Australia mantra:
“Grants fund projects, not purchases.”
Typically, funders at all levels (i.e., Government, Foundations, etc.) are interested in projects that are new, innovative, aligned with their organisational priorities and which will provide ongoing benefits to their target communities. This will all be spelled out in plain English under the grant program’s ‘guidelines’ but let’s take a step back and discuss the initial steps.
You should first think about what you’re going to do with grant funding. There are two ways to go about this:
- You have a project in mind that needs funding and are interested in looking for a grant to fund it
- You have found a grant that looks interesting and believe you can form a proposal that would be a good fit
If you’ve never applied for a grant before, the first option is typically a better approach. Ideally, management at your organisation can dedicate some resources and time in advance to set fundraising targets for projects for the year. These are not your core operational activities but rather, almost like a ‘wish list’ of projects that would provide significant benefit for your organisation and are ‘shovel ready’ (i.e., can commence quickly after funding is secured).
Option two is still a good way to go but is usually a route more suited to experienced grant-seekers. Individuals and organisations with established fundraising strategies will be on the lookout for grant programs that they can apply for and often use this approach.
Either way, before you apply, you’ll need a firm grasp on what you will actually do with the grant money if you get it. Things like project timelines (when will the project start and finish?) scope (where, when, why, how), staffing requirements (will I need additional staff for this project?), etc. are all important to at least have a rough idea of at this early stage.
Now that you’ve got a project in mind, it’s time to start looking for a grant that will fit. There is a universe of grant-giving organisations out there, so where do you go to find them? You can start with several free grants registry websites such as:
- Grant Connect – centralised publication of forecast and current Australian Federal Government grants
- The Community Grants Hub – grants administration services and news, delivered on behalf of Australian Government agencies
- Business.gov.au’s Grants & Programs Finder – A handy tool to help businesses find fund
Be sure to visit your State and Local Government’s websites, as they will have similar grants information portals there (e.g., the Victorian Government Grants Finder). There are also excellent newsletters and notifications that you can sign yourself up to receive at the above websites that will keep you up to date on all the latest Government grant announcements.
The more comprehensive grants registries will be paid subscription-based services. These vary quite significantly in price range and the level of service available. It would be remiss of this author not to shamelessly plug the services of Grants Office Australia, who will not only find the grant for you, but help you apply for it, but I digress.
Every grant you find will have a guidance document attached, referred to as the ‘guidelines’. Read this document front to back. They are dense documents, but all of the information within is critical when deciding if this is the right grant for you. Some key things to look for that should be readily available within guidelines documents are:
- What is this grant funding program about?
- What outcomes does the funder want to achieve with these grants?
- (e.g., ‘The Thriving Families Australia grant is intended to support low-income families to access improved education outcomes in rural communities across NSW)
- Who is giving out the grant funding?
-Do a little digging on them. How much do they give out under this program each year? Is this a one-off program? What are their operational priorities?
- Is it a Foundation, Corporate, Local Government, etc?
- (This information will be easily accessible through their website and/or annual report)
- How much money is available under each grant award? How much is available in total? Will there be a requirement for recipients to match any funding they receive (i.e. provide a contribution to the project in cash or in-kind?)
- This is one of the most important parts. The guidelines will be very clear on what types of entities can apply for their funding. They might state that only organisations with Deductible Gift Registrant (DGR) status need apply. It might be for small to medium businesses (with a certain number of employees).
- It’s critical that you are 100% sure you are eligible to apply before starting your application. You don’t want to put in all the work to find out later that you weren’t eligible to begin with. Receiving applications from ineligible recipients is annoying for funders, too. So triple check your eligibility!
Previously Successful Applicants:
- If the program is one that comes up each year, or has several rounds of funding per year, often the funder will provide details on previously successful applicants and projects in prior rounds. Check these out! If your project looks and sounds like the ones you find here, you’re probably on the right track.
- Date and time that applications are due. Again, very important. This will give you good idea of whether or not you have enough time to put in an application. Ideally, you want at least 6 weeks to prepare a good grant application, but it all depends on the size and complexity of the grant and your project.
- TIME ZONE. Don’t get caught out submitting at 4PM on the due date, only to find that the time was listed in daylight savings time, and you’ve missed the deadline by an hour or something. This is heartbreaking when it happens (and it happens, believe me)
- This will outline the format in which the funder will receive applications. Most grant applications are submitted online through a portal, or via email these days.
- There will be clear instructions on how to do this in the guidelines. Pay attention to them. If you have questions, contact the funder
Sometimes funders will want to hear from you before you apply. If this is the case, they will state it in the guidelines. Don’t be intimidated by this; the person you will speak to talks to people with all levels of expertise with grants all day. They are likely great communicators and will be excited to hear about your project. It can also be good to establish a relationship with this person. If you’re not successful this time around, they will probably be the one to notify you and can offer you some helpful feedback about your application.