The 7 Components of Every Successful Grant Application

The 7 Components of Every Successful Grant Application

Have you ever felt like every funder is asking you for completely different information? Some want you to include a “problem statement,” others tell you to explain the “statement of need,” and others ask for a “project rationale.” It’s so frustrating! But, here’s a secret. They all mean the same thing. So, while it can feel overwhelming, in reality, most funders usually ask for the same information, just in different ways.

Through our work at GrantsEdge, we’ve identified the 7 common components found in the majority of proposals. In almost every grant we’ve ever written, we’ve had to include them.

Being aware of these 7 common components can help you prepare to write a grant. Think about them when you design your project, and you’ll save yourself a ton of time when you go to write a grant.

While the titles you see below may not be the exact ones you see in your next grant application, the information is definitely something a future funder will want to read.

Component #1: Organization Overview

This section provides an opportunity for you to introduce your organization to the funder. In this section, include a summary of who you are, what you do, and why you do it. If there’s space, include topics like the history of the organization, the programs you offer, the types of people you serve, and any partners with whom you collaborate.

Even if you have a relationship with the funder, often many people are part of the decisions to fund your project, and they may have never heard of your organization. If you leave out basic information or details that would otherwise provide important context for the grant reviewer, it could impact whether your application makes it to the next round. This is true for any section of the proposal.

Never assume the funder knows who you are. You need to tell them who you are.

Component #2: Project Overview

Most grant applications want a short summary of your project. This is your opportunity to give them the name of the project and describe it to them, in as much detail as the word count will allow. Consider including:

  • The project activities;
  • How staff and volunteers will be involved; and
  • Logistics related to how often the program will run for and for how long.

Include enough detail so the funder will be able to understand the project, but only include relevant information, so as not to overwhelm them with details they don’t really need to know.

When crafting the project overview, I always think about a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” The program description section should be treated in exactly that way.

Component #3: Target Group

Who’s this project going to help? Ultimately, that’s your target group. It’s helpful, in this section, to include details about your potential participants, including their age, gender, or other relevant information that helps the funder understand whom you plan to serve.

For most grant applications, you need to be very specific about your target population. “This project will be for everyone” usually won’t suffice. Every great story has a main character who’s on a transformative journey. You root for them and you desperately want them to succeed. Your proposal needs a main character too, and it’s not you or your organization. The main characters in your story must be the individuals you plan to serve. And it’s exactly the same if you work with animals or the environment.

Component #4: Project Rationale

Obviously, every section of the proposal is important, but if I had to choose one section that was the most important, it would be this one. The Project Rationale section explains to the funder your reasons for developing and implementing your project. In this section you can include:

  • Why there is a need for this project;
  • What gap this project will address;
  • How this project will address this need; and
  • Why the community will be better because of this project.

It is not enough to just have a good idea. This section is critical because it tells the funder why they need to fund this project; that without this project, a gap will continue to exist.

Tell funders why they should care about your project and link it to their specific interests.

So, how do you demonstrate the need for your project? One way to demonstrate the need is with evidence! You can use existing census data, published research papers, or results from your own surveys and interviews.

Data may include statistics that illustrate both the current state of your community and the trends it’s experiencing (e.g. “Our city’s unemployment rate is now 15%, a 5% increase from last year.”). You may also want to include qualitative data, such as stories, to demonstrate why a program is needed (e.g. “Without the support offered by this program, I wouldn’t have been able to secure a job. I have been employed now for 6 months.”). The point is to provide context for why this program needs to be created and why its implementation is so important.

Component #5: Project Outcomes

Most projects, programs, and organizations are started for a reason – to create some type of change. Articulating that change, however, isn’t always so easy!

In the Project Outcomes section, you will describe the intended impact of the program and how you will know when you are successful. You will want to outline the effects participants will experience from their involvement in the program, including changes in knowledge or skill; changes in behaviours; or changes in values, condition, or status.

One way that has helped me to write this section is the “So What?” game. I’ll think about the change that the program could have. Asking the “So What?” question goes like this:

  • What impact will the program have?
    • Participants will learn how to garden.
      • So what?
        • If participants learn how to garden, they will have access to fresh vegetables.
          • So what?
            • If participants have access to fresh vegetables, they will eat healthier.
              • So what?

And on it goes, until I have identified the core impacts of the program. Too many times we stop at the first level of “so what,” which means we don’t communicate the true depth of impact our program will have. Try the “So What?” game. You’ll be surprised at how easy it makes identifying your program outcomes.

Component #6: Work Plan

People usually fall into one of two camps when it comes to work plans: those who absolutely love them and those who would rather get poked in the eye than prepare one. Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, work plans are an essential component of a grant application.

A work plan is usually presented in table format and includes project phases, activities, tasks, the names of the people responsible for each activity and task, and the corresponding due dates.

Why are work plans so important? Think about it this way, would you hire someone to build a house for you if their whole pitch was, “Hey, I’m going to build a house for you. It will cost you $300,000. Sign here, please.” Probably not. You’d want to know how they plan to build the house, how long they anticipate it will take to build the house, and who will be responsible for building the house. You want this information because it’s a way to determine if they actually know how to build a house and if you can trust them to build your house.

It’s exactly the same with funders. When you demonstrate you know how to implement the program, it builds trust and credibility with the funder. Remember, funders are investing in you to deliver a program with specific results. It’s up to you to prove to them you can get the job done.

Component #7: Budget

In our e-book, 10 Common Mistakes Grant Writers Make & How You Can Avoid Them, we compare creating a budget to the bowl of porridge in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You don’t want the funder to say, “Oh, this budget is too high.” You also don’t want the funder to say, “Oh, this budget is too low” (okay, who are we kidding, that’s probably not going to happen). What you want the funder to say is, “Ahhh, this budget is just right.”

When funders make an investment, they need to understand how their investment will be used. The budget should include a breakdown of the resources required to implement the project (e.g. staff time, project materials) and the specific financial amount required for each resource (e.g. $500).

Remember to include all costs associated with the project and to double check that the budget adds up. For practical tips you can use to create budgets, check out our free e-book, 10 Common Mistakes Grant Writers Make & How You Can Avoid Them.

Let’s Get Practical

Whew! That was a ton of information to digest. If you’ve made it all the way to end, congratulations! Now it’s time to get started writing your grant.