May 29, 2023 | Financial Acceleration

How do you fill out a grant application?

Q. Dear Zenagos,
Someone told me that I might be able to qualify for certain state grants. The applications are long and complicated. How do I fill this out?
–Cassie

Nothing in life is truly “free” – not even free grants. While grants do not need to be repaid, finding and applying for them can take up a great deal of your irreplaceable time and energy. Every grant is a little bit different, but there are some features that are common to all applications.

Read the Instructions
If you take the time to read carefully, you will find clear instructions in the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for the grant. You should take information in this document seriously and literally. If there is a deadline for application, you must apply prior to the deadline, or your application will not be considered. If you do not meet the eligibility criteria, then you should not expect to win the grant. There are many situations in life in which you can “wing it” without reading the instructions, but a casual approach doesn’t work with grant applications.

Align Your Mission
The grant paperwork will specify the goal of the grant. Think about the mission of your organization. Grants are a terrific source of funding when the goal of the grant aligns with the mission of your organization. If you can meet the goals of the grant by using some of the resources that you already have, and by going in the direction you already intended to go, you will experience strategic alignment. Grants work less well when you need to make a significant change to your organization or its direction in order to meet the goals of the grant.

Gather the Information You Need
The information you need in order to secure funding is similar, whether you are seeking a grant, a business loan, an equity investment, or an alternative investment such as crowdfunding. The vocabulary used and method of presentation may differ, but in each case, the funder(s) will want to know how you intend to use the money and what outcomes they can expect from their funding effort. In order to gather this information for your grant application, you will need to make a clear operations plan that answers fundamental questions about what you will do, when you will do it, and how you will do it. In most cases, you will need to make a detailed financial forecast for the period covered by the grant, so you can answer these questions.

Consider Getting Some Help
If you want to increase the chances of winning a grant, it is wise to work with someone who has experience writing grant applications. It is important that you participate actively enough that you know every part of the application and can answer detailed questions. Even if you hire a grant writer, you will need to provide the inputs and review the drafts, so you are familiar with every answer.

If you are interested in federal grants, a great place to start is Grants.gov, a government website that provides a wide range of information, including Workspace, which is a standard way to apply for federal grants. You can get a free mentor from SCORE. Make sure to say that you want to work with someone who understands grant applications. Other options include applying to an accelerator program, joining a structured program like Zenagos’ Innovation Trek program, or paying a business coach who specializes in grant funding.

Regardless of the path you choose, be ready to experience some bumps along the way. Grants are competitive. Just as with sales, you should expect some disappointment as part of the process – you may need to apply for several grants before you win one. As you work your way through the process, try to keep your mission front and center, so you don’t allow any single opportunity to take you off your critical path.

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