From the Ontario Outreach Newsletter, used with permission.
Is your application ready to be submitted?
Before submitting your application answer the following questions to ensure your application is ready for critical review.
Does my proposal meet the program’s objectives?
Funding programs have clearly defined objectives, along with specific conditions and restrictions on the use of the funds. These can include eligible and ineligible expenditures and activities, the intended audience, geographic reach, etc. These define the scope of the outreach that the funding agency will support. Given that you have experience in outreach you may be tempted to think “this funding program is perfect to support my outreach.” An application written from this perspective is an exercise in trying to fit the proverbial round peg into the square hole. In other words, trying to make a funding program meet your need for money.
There are numerous risks with this approach. You may overlook a requirement that you normally don’t undertake. For example, if the funding agency wants to support outreach to rural communities but you are committed to engaging inner-city youth you will find yourself out of sync with an important program objective, and evaluation criteria. Applying for funding is not like writing an exam: miss a question and your GPA slips a little. Not addressing a program objective can result in a failing grade. Keep in mind that funders want to be confident that their program goals will be achieved if they fund your project.
Instead, be objective and determine what elements of a program you can achieve, and those that are beyond your organization’s mandate or capacity. You may decide that the program is not right for you, or collaboration with a project partner may help you meet all requirements. This leads to the next question.
Does my project partner add value to my proposal?
A partner is an organization that contributes to the value of a project by providing a service, or resource that you don’t have. More importantly, a partner may be able to fulfill a program requirement that you are unable to achieve on your own. In the example above, if outreach is to take place in rural communities, then rural school boards, First Nations Friendship Centres and youth organizations are excellent partners as they can coordinate and support the delivery of outreach in their community.
Funding programs will require proof that you have partners on-board. But letters of support can either elevate or diminish the merit of your application. A well written letter demonstrates that a partner will work to ensure the success of your project. It will specify their contribution, such as developing an itinerary for students and visiting researchers to meet, providing chaperones for excursions, reserving school or community centre facilities or the promotion of your project. If it is possible to calculate the in-kind value of their contribution this amount can be included in the project’s budget. Each partner letter should reflect their unique contribution and demonstrate that if the project is approved their resources are ready to be put into action. By comparison, a fill-in-the-blank letter of endorsement has less merit.
Have I provided all the required information in the proper format?
Each funding program has its unique application procedures, format and evaluation criteria. To be sure that you don’t leave anything out prepare a checklist of all the required elements of the application. The checklist should highlight the necessary signatures and remind you to include all required attachments such as budgets, supporting letters and audited financial statements. It’s even worth checking-off that the application has been assembled in the proper format: what font is to be used, how many copies are to be submitted, are they to be bound or unbound? Forgetting to provide all required information can also result in a failing grade.
Many granting programs also have an on-line application that serves as a synopsis of key information about you – the applicant – your proposed activities, budget, partners, the intended audience, etc. . Each section is usually a few hundred words in length. This serves as a high-level summary of your proposal, and helps the program staff anticipate the greater detail to be found in your business case. Be sure that both parts convey the same message.
As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The application is your only opportunity to put your best foot forward. Be sure to include all relevant information that helps reviewers understand the breadth of your expertise as it pertains to the program’s objectives. As some applications have page limits you will have to strike a balance between being thorough and being wordy. Even without limits don’t induce reader-fatigue by including too much information, or hiding key information in repetitive or redundant text.
A complete and well-structured application helps reviewers accurately assess your proposal against the program’s evaluation criteria.
Did I ask for help?
Do not hesitate to contact the program’s staff. In fact, a call at the start of the process can save you a lot of time and clear up questions you may have. If the program hosts a webinar or teleconference orientation session don’t pass up this opportunity. As well as gaining insight into the program, you get a chance to hear what’s on other applicant’s minds by the questions they ask. Keep in mind that once your proposal is submitted funders will not likely call you if they have questions. Outreach funding is a competitive process and you can be sure that others are not shy to take advantage of any help.
Have I been objective in my critique?
Since you know the details of your proposal inside and out have someone else review your proposal: someone who knows the program but is not familiar with the intricacies of your project. Ask him or her to be blunt in their assessment. Objective criticism in the weeks before a submission deadline will give you time to address shortcomings. Once your application leaves your office shortcomings will work against you.
If you can answer yes to these questions you will likely say yes to the final question. If it was your money, would you fund your project?
Planning for the funding decision.
If your proposal is rejected request an explanation of where you fell short. Be aware that your application, and subsequent discussions with program staff, will be on file for future reference, so if you intend to re-apply be sure to address the issues identified in your application.
When you are approved for funding quickly establish a working relationship with the program’s staff. Be sure you understand all of the terms of the funding agreement from the outset, such as reporting deadlines. A constructive rapport is key if problems arise. Funding agreements usually allow for adjustments in program deliverables, timing and spending if you disclose problems in a forthcoming and timely manner.
It is important that your project proceeds as approved, and that it comes to a successful conclusion so that when it’s time to re-apply for funding you have a proven record of success.