Simply put, applications for grants are your formal request for the grantor’s funds. While all applications for grants ask for money or perhaps in-kind donations, they are also a sort of quasi-business plan.
Normally, grant applications will be downloaded from the grantor’s website, although very occasionally you will have to request them by surface mail. Some grant applications have to be filled out on line, and submitted as pdf documents. If the grant you are applying for has this restriction, be sure that you print or save both the document you are submitting and a blank copy of the grant application so that you can go back and reference it later. This is particularly true of government grants. As extra insurance, it never hurts to print the grant just before you send the file, just in case something gets lost in the ether.
Before even beginning the application process, review the organization’s RFP (Request for Proposal). Be absolutely sure that your program or need closely mirrors the grantor’s parameters. It is far better to look for a grant that fits your program, rather than trying to make the program fit the grant.
Note the qualifying documents you will need. Many if not all, grant applications will at the very least require a copy of your IRS 1023 approval letter confirming your 501(c)(3) status, a copy of your most recent 990 filing, and the most current audited financials.
Grant applications are usually arranged somewhat like a business plan. There will be a summary, a program description, a program budget, possibly a list of the people directly involved in running the program (with a list of their educational background and experience), and a contingency plan for sustaining the program if the grant does not provide the full funding needed to complete it. You may also have to provide evidence that you have a broad-based fundraising program in place and a list of your largest donors and the amounts they have donated.
Government grant applications are by far the most detailed and longest grants to assemble. Unless you have done them before, this is one place you might want to hire a professional grant writer for your first grant. Very large foundations also have highly detailed grant requirements, and since there is a lot of competition for high dollar grants, it pays to have your grant application as perfect as possible before submitting it.
Proofreading, including all tables, financial calculations and image placement is crucial. If you are employing a grant writer, you can save time and money by assembling the details carefully. Your program budget should be as detailed as necessary, taking into account everything directly related to the program. Unless the grant specifically says it will allow operating costs that would be a normal part of your day-to-day activities, you can’t include them in your request for funds. Get current biographical information on every one that will be involved with the grant, especially the program officer in charge of the program. If you need demographic information, have it ready for the grant writer.
Last, but certainly not least, when submitting the grant application, it must be received by the deadline. Some grantors will allow a postmark date, but most will not, and if it is late, it goes right in the garbage.