Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Writing Successful Grants: Tips from United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

By Roserria Roberts, Senior Manager United Way Community Impact

We’re currently in the middle of the grant application process for 2013-14 Fiscal Year funding. This blog post provides tips for organizations that are working on their applications now and for organizations that might apply in future funding cycles.

The United Way grant application process is slightly different than traditional grant applications due to the strong ties we build with communities and the target population we serve. We call this the “Community Impact Model.” The process starts with an assessment of our community’s needs and research on the methods and programs that have had the greatest success in combating similar issues, followed by a competitive grant process that funds the most effective projects.  The review and rating is inclusive of non-profits, businesses and community members.  

Here are a few suggestions to help you in building a successful proposal. First, think about the grant application as having three main parts.

Part 1: Provide Your Evidence Review

If you want funding, we need evidence-based information for why your project is needed. A few examples of justification could be: statistics, regional indicators, qualitative or quantitative analysis and/or community data. Supply information on what your community is facing and what you want to address. Furnish details on why the matter is time sensitive, and how the population will continue to be compromised until the matter is addressed.

For insight on what it is we are looking for, carefully read through pages two to nine of the 2013 United Way Community Grant RFP to make sure your project aligns with one or more of the Impact Areas, Funding Priorities and Objectives. And describe how it does so.

Part 2: What Your Project Does

Write your application as though the reviewers are unfamiliar with your work and you are advising them on what your organization does and how it builds a strong community.

When writing about your project, you want people to be inspired. What is your vision? What do you want things to look like when your work is done? Keep in mind this application is for a one-year grant. Don’t get over zealous. Your application should only detail what can be accomplished in one year. Define your strategy for achieving your goals, your objectives (what are the mid-year benchmarks or specific accomplishments you will reach) and when you will accomplish those objectives.

Think about the critical components that make your project unique. Whether that means location, partners, collective approach, activities, etc., make sure they are all included. While you're thinking through this information, keep in mind what you'll need to give the readers in order for them to have a comprehensive view of your work and the activities you'll achieve.

Part 3:  Why Is Your Project Special?

This is where everything is pulled together. Here are a few of the types of questions reviewers may ask. Keep in mind how your answers will appeal to the reader's logical side.
  • What gives your group credibility?
  • Have you had many successes? If so, when?
  • Have you been effective with other projects aligned around this area? 
  • Do you have evidence that past projects were effective?
  • Does your budget make sense and will you have sufficient funds to cover your work?
  • What makes your group unique?
  • What sets your project apart from other agencies in this area?
  • How has the community benefited? 
  • How has the community been involved?
  • How have you empowered participants from prior projects? 
  • What type of sustainability or follow-up will you provide?

Part 4: The Review

Each of the three Impact Areas (Education, Financial Stability and Health and Well-Being) will have 20–30 volunteer reviewers. These reviewers may include people from all four counties, a sprinkling of United Way staff, seasoned United Way volunteers (Vision Council Members), committed stakeholders and content experts. Reviewers are provided with detailed instructions before they start reading, but keep in mind that many may not be familiar with your organization or the population you serve.

Read up on the United Way review process. We have provided several tools that will instruct you on the outcomes we seek. One of the most useful is the reviewer rubric. This is the tool by which your application will be scored. It provides you with information on the elements we are looking for. Learn as much before you start writing and be knowledgeable about how your application will be scored.

Through the quality of your application, convince your readers to support your request for funding. You want your readers to advocate for your project and say, "Out of all the proposals I’ve read, this one presents one of the most compelling cases for United Way dollars and assistance!"

Beyond writing the grant...

1. How realistic is your group about your fundraising plans?

Your budget tells grantmakers how realistic you are about your ability to raise money. Grant reviewers need to feel confident that if your overall project budget is larger than the dollar amount that you are requesting from United Way, you will be able to raise the difference and have a successful project.

Example: If your budget for this year is twice as much as last year and you don’t have a solid fundraising plan to match up with your budget, your overall proposal is not going to look very strong to the reviewers.

Example: If you are a new, grassroots organization that hopes to raise $300,000 in the first year and your fundraising plan is heavily weighed on government dollars, your plan will not come across as realistic.

You need to be as accurate as possible when projecting unsecured dollars or you won’t get funded.

2. How financially stable is your group? 

We want to know:
    What percent of your budget do you anticipate raising from individuals?
    How much of your budget is already committed (or at least has been received in the past) and how much is pending?
    What are the different funding sources you have?

United Way is conscious of the many sizes of agencies and organizations we fund. If you are an emerging or mid-size organization, make sure you are taking the appropriate steps towards becoming more financially stable and that you are working towards diversifying your funding sources. 

3. How well does your budget match your specific plans?

United Way wants to be certain that your income and expenses are reasonable and consistent with the work you described in your narrative. Make sure you answer each budget line item because line items with no narratives will cause points to be taken away.

Example: If you are launching a project that involves low-income parents, be sure to have expenses such as food, childcare and travel included in the budget.

Make sure that your expenses reflect the services you provide in the proposal narrative.

We wish you the best of luck on your application for funding and look forward to reading more about your proposed project!

Special thanks to MRG Foundation whose Resources for Applicants blog inspired this post.

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