Tips for Successful Grant Writing
The process of applying for a grant can seem overwhelming. You likely have many questions you need answers to before beginning the application process. This article provides an overview of what a grant is, how to find grants for farming, the entire grant application process, and how to complete it successfully.
What is a Grant?
A grant is a financial award given by an institution, or grantor, to an individual or company to complete a shared goal. It is a plan, not an idea. A grant is a conveyance of funds with strings attached from the funding source. The grantor has a specific problem they are looking to solve with the help of funding. To be awarded the grant, your application should satisfy the grantor’s problem.
How to Search for Grants
You can find grants for agriculture in many different places; you just have to be willing to put in the legwork to search for them. A few viable ways to find grants for your farm business are to stay informed with your state Department of Agriculture, maintain a connection with local industry organizations, sign-up for industry stakeholders’ e-newsletters, and follow their social media accounts. You can also look on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website (Grants and Loans | USDA) or research state and county economic development websites for other local grant opportunities.
Where to Find Grants
Here is a list of websites you can use to find grants for agriculture in the Mid-Atlantic:
- Delaware Department of Agriculture
- Value-added Producer Grant Program
- Pennsylvania Farm Bill
- Maryland Rural Economic Development
- Maryland Foundations
How to Find the Right Grant and Determine Eligibility
When you first find a grant to apply for, check to see if you are eligible. You need to identify if your goals match the institution’s goals. There are two different types of grants that you can apply for: a federal grant or a private grant.
- A federal grant will typically have a larger amount of funds available and will cover a larger geographical area. Questions to ask before applying for a federal grant include can you meet the match, how many applications will be funded, how much money is being offered, and do you need to change to meet the guidelines.
- A private grant is from a specific institution and has different rules to be answered before you start an application. Some questions to ask before starting an application with a private grant include identifying the geographic region, the range of grants, and the type of project needed.
More questions to ask, regardless of the type of grant, include does the funding agency share your goals, are you interested in the same populations, has the agency funded similar projects to yours, and when will the award be made.
FOLLOW THE GRANT GUIDELINES
The most crucial part of applying for a grant is to make sure you follow the grantor’s rules. If you not, your application might not even get reviewed.
- The first step is get the full scope of the grant’s guidelines.
- The second step is to read the guidelines thoroughly, multiple times.
- The final step is to follow all of the guidelines.
When following the guidelines, make sure to respond to all of the sections and cover each topic in the order they are presented. The format should also match the application with corresponding headlines. It is crucial to your success that you re-read the guidelines while you are completing the application.
POSSIBLE TECHNICAL ISSUES
Before starting the application, take note of possible issues that could arise with submitting the application. For example, if there is a conflict of interest between your business and the institution the grant is coming from, this could potentially be an eligibility issue. If there are conflicts of interest, contact someone from the institution to determine if it would make you ineligible for the grant. Other possible problems could include the due date, page limit, margin requirement, spacing and numbering, type requirement, and letters of commitment. If these issues occur with your application, it may not get reviewed.
SAM AND DUNS NUMBERS
- A System for Awards Management (SAM) number is used when purchasing or selling with a federal organization. It is a unique identifying number that is specific to your organization and registered with the government.
- A Duns number (from Dun & Bradstreet) is a credit profile for your business. It is needed to show your business’s credit history and to evaluate your company.
These numbers will be required for a federal grant and may be needed for a private grant. You may need a printed copy of these numbers to prove you are in good standing. Make sure you establish what you need so you have enough time to gather the correct information - registering to receive these numbers can take three to 14 business days. Here is a link to a tutorial on How to Get a DUNS Number and Register with SAM | NRCS (usda.gov)
Qualities of Effective Grant Writing
To be an effective grant writer, you need to tell your story. Be concise and detail-orientated so it is clear to the grantor why you need their funds. Your writing needs to be creative, organized and engaging to appeal to the funding source. The review committee will look at numerous applications. Keeping things clear and articulating a well-thought-out plan will help to build confidence with the selection committee. To prepare for the application, create an outline for your plan. It will include one or two goals with several objectives relating to those goals. Be realistic about how many goals can be achieved with the amount of money you could be awarded. Each objective should include the steps of how you will achieve and measure the success of the goal.
When writing a grant, your language and style of writing should always be professional and specific. When starting the application, write directly to the funding source, but never in first person. Also, avoid acronyms, jargon and language that is biased. Be clear, persuasive and use current, established data from a reputable source to boost credibility. You are writing on behalf of your business, not yourself. For example, make sure to avoid using “I” when writing because the application is being written from your company, not yourself. Instead of saying, “I will use these funds to increase sustainable practices” you would say, “These funds will increase the use of sustainable practices.”
PARTS OF A GRANT
The title is a very important part of the grant. It should convey what the project is about in a clear and concise way, but still be engaging. The title should also use language that can be understood by people who may not be in your specific industry.
This is similar to an executive summary in a business plan. This should be of the highest quality and be able to stand alone without the rest of the application and still be understood by the reader. It will explain the solution to the problem you are facing, without referring to the proposal. It should be clearly written, one page, and single spaced, unless otherwise indicated. All of the key elements should be covered in the same order as the application. The abstract is very important to the overall application because it is the first source of information regarding your proposal.
The Problem Statement
The problem statement will answer the question or problem the grantor has proposed. This part of the application establishes the framework for the project’s goals, objectives, methods, and evaluation. Provide a thorough explanation of your need for funding and answer anticipated questions the reader may have. It is also important to incorporate proposal guidelines into your statement. Data can also be used to add credibility to your solution. Make sure the data is the most up to date and relevant to your topic.
The objectives are a crucial part of the application. They are going to establish how you will achieve your goals with the funds that the grantor may award you. Objectives should include who is going to do what, when they will do it, and how it will be measured. They will also discuss your desired results of the project. These objectives should be action oriented and will typically begin with a verb. They need to be arranged in order of priority.
Developing Your Budget
There are two portions of every budget: the numeric part and the narrative. The numeric aspect of the budget is broken down into specific categories that establish your expenses and what supports them. The narrative portion reports on the numeric portion and details the costs of the expense and why you are requesting the funds. It should establish the benefits you would get from receiving the grant. Be realistic on your numbers - do not inflate numbers to try to impress the grantor. In this portion, ensure that the math is correct and the numbers you have submitted make sense with your business.
Cost Share or Match
Each grant will be either a match grant or a cost share grant, or a combination of the two.
- A match grant is raising a certain amount of funds and the grant will be a percentage of that. An example of this is $100,000 raised and a 50% match would be $50,000 given.
- A cost share grant is where you already have the budget funds, but the grantor covers the rest. An example of this is a 50% cost share of the total project cost where the funder puts up $100,000 which is half of the total $200,000 cost of the project.
There are two types of letters that could be needed in your grant application: a letter of support or a letter of commitment. Both should be submitted on official letterhead.
- A letter of support comes from someone who supports your idea and your ability to complete it. This shows the grantor that other people also believe in your proposal and that you have done research on it with other people.
- A letter of commitment will come from someone that is willing and committed to working on the project with you. This letter will detail what they will contribute and if the project receives funding, when they will contribute.
EDITING YOUR GRANT
Once you have completed your first draft, set it aside for a day to give yourself time to recuperate. Then, comeback and read through it again to revise it. If possible, have someone else review it and take notes on where you could improve. When editing, make sure you have not written in first person or used jargon.
What to Do Before Submitting a Grant Proposal
To make sure your application is submitted successfully, it is important to know where it needs to be sent and the due date. Make sure you know if it needs to be postmarked or received by the due date provided. It is also important to have the make sure you have the correct address for mailing. Some institutions will not accept an application that is late or addressed incorrectly.
GRANT PROPOSAL REVIEW
Evaluation criteria will measure:
- Overall application
- Project purpose
- Potential impact and industry support
- Expected measurable outcomes
- Work plan
- Budget and narrative
- Funding priority
When completing your application, think like a reviewer. Focus on making sure that your proposal matches what the grantor is looking for.
Reasons Why Grant Proposals Fail
There are many reasons proposals may not be accepted. If they are not submitted on time, if the guidelines are not followed, if they do not meet priorities, or if the application is not complete, the proposal will most likely be denied. To avoid this, make sure you follow the guidelines, deadlines and formatting exactly as the grantor lists them.
Applying for a grant can seem like a daunting task, but with careful preparation and attention to detail, you can be sure that you put your best foot forward. You can also register to receive our webinar replay to learn more tips for successful grant writing presented by Ginger Myers, Former Director of the Maryland Rural Enterprise Development Center and the Extension Marketing Specialist of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland Extension and Keith Wills, the Learning Solution Specialist at Horizon Farm Credit.