Here’s what you can do to write a winning grant proposal

Blog 4 July 2023

Funding goes a long way in turning ideas into compelling stories, yet for many storytellers, writing a winning grant proposal can be challenging. Two grant makers, Samantha Nengomasha and Victor Mark-Onyegbu, joined the ANF Academy to unpack the ins and outs of grant writing for storytellers and artists.

Nengomasha leads the Hivos Resource of Open Minds (ROOM) project, which offers grants to hubs, individuals, academics, and researchers. She has worked with creatives across Africa and the Middle East. Mark-Onyegbu leads the Africa No Filter grants portfolio.

They said this is what storytellers, artists and organizations can do to give their grant application a chance at being considered by funders.

1. Make yourself appealing to funders

For a lot of storytellers, applying for a grant often starts with responding to a grant callout. However, this is not the first step in applying for funding, according to Nengomasha. The first step is getting ready to apply for funding, and this step does not need to be a response to a funding opportunity. It is the work that storytellers and organizations can do daily, to show that funding them would be a valuable investment for donors. To get ready, define the characteristics of your entity. This includes your mission and vision, and what you are going to do to achieve your vision.

2. Brand yourself

A brand image tells funders and your audiences who you are. “This is what lets funders know what makes you distinct from other submissions, and organizations that are working towards the same goals as you,” said Nengomasha. Branding is not just about having a logo. It’s about creating a point of view and amplifying it in various ways so that whoever encounters your work gets its essence. It shows off the value, skills, knowledge and resources that you have. “Branding yourself is about communications and being out there by engaging audiences. The first time a potential funder sees your name should not be in the grant submission,” she added. Branding positions you within your space. It helps you identify and reach audiences. Being clear about how to reach them, and how they will be part of the project you’re applying for funding for will “give funders assurances that you can reach a particular goal,” she added.

3. Define your goals

What are your goals and how do they fit into a potential funder’s mission and visions? Nengomasha said while goals can be broad, they need to be clearly defined. “You can have goals that feed into different progressive projects that already exist, like Global Goals, but you need to also have objectives that show how you are going to accomplish your goals.” Goals need to be specific and measurable, while objectives are the targets set to meet your goal. “Targets are the actionable and much smaller steps required to accomplish your objectives,” she explained. They must be immediate and tangible and show the expected impact of your activities.

3. Engage stakeholders:

To determine who your stakeholders are, ask yourself these questions: who are you doing it for, and how can: Who are you doing it for, who can do it with you, where are they placed, how are they influenced and how are they involved? Nengomasha the answers will give you a 360° view of who you will be engaging with. It also allows you to identify their concerns and identify if any of their work fits into your goals and objectives.

4. Applying for an advertised funding opportunity

Grant applications are typically sourced through open calls that have stipulated application guidelines and a template provided by the grant maker. “You have to follow this structure and format in your application,” said Mark-Onyegbu. Not abiding by application guidelines like the word count, document format etc is as good as taking yourself from the competition because grant applications are reviewed by an individual or a small team. “It can put reviewers off, for example, if a font is too difficult to read,” he said.

5. Applying for an unadvertised funding opportunity

Some funders, like Ford Foundation, also offer grants on an ongoing basis, without necessarily advertising for a specific opportunity. In this case, a grant application may not have stipulated guidelines. Your application should have the following key elements. An executive summary to identify a problem statement and what will be done to address the problem, the narrative justification for your proposal with your mission, vision and objectives, and your experience and track record in delivering the project you are looking for funding for. “Be clear and use bullet points so it’s easy for the reviewer to engage with your proposal.

6. Have a checklist

Are you done writing your grant applications? Compare it against this checklist before submitting: ensure you have followed the guidelines strictly, except where proposals are unsolicited; if possible, provide your answers in bullet points; remember that decisions are not only made on quality but on the clarity of your application as well; grant access permissions for hyperlinked documents; and avoid long preambles, definitions, concepts, lectures, etc- except where required.