6 most common failings in NGO funding applications

NGOs applying for funding are often baffled when their applications fail, sometimes repeatedly.

Now it needs to be stated upfront that sometimes, it has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of their applications. Governments and other grant funding bodies have their own policy and operational priorities and may view one organisation or group as the best fit to deliver those priorities.

That’s not to say they approve applications irrespective of compliance with criteria – but if there are two applications of equal merit they may choose the one they feel provides the best match with their strategic objectives.

Nonetheless, viable organisations which meet program criteria and have a lot to offer frequently miss out on funding as a result of poor applications.

It may seem unfair that in addition to providing professional and responsive services you are also required to understand the principles of selling.

The reality is that grant funding is a highly competitive process. There are limited resources available for seemingly limitless needs.

Every application needs to promote an organisation’s strengths, successes and any positive points of difference between it and other applications.

From WordWeaver’s experience there are 6 grant application shortcomings which consistently rule organisations out of funding contention:

1. Using generic information for every application

Sadly, some organisations submit the same background information every time they apply for funding. Clearly, to be successful each application must target the unique objectives of a grants program. There is no point submitting an application which strongly highlights your organisation’s domestic violence service achievements in regional areas if the program is targeting inner city homelessness.

2. Believing your organisation’s reputation means it will be funded

Some organisations are so mindful of the valuable contribution they are making in their region, they assume everyone else shares that awareness.

A small number even feel they should not have to justify their application at all – their good works and reputation speak for themselves.

Sometimes the view from a small fishbowl can be magnified and distorted – your organisation’s bias may have blinded it to the successful work that others in your area and beyond have also been doing. You must always assume that grants committees know absolutely nothing about you and the value of your work. It is up to you to ‘paint a picture’ for them.

3. Assuming a tick paints a picture

To maximise your chances of success it is not enough to simply tick off selection criteria -‘Yes, we have policies and procedures which will ensure compliance with funding requirements’.

Value add by for example, attaching your policy manual’s table of contents to the application; explain how all new starters are familiarised with the manual’s contents at their induction; highlight that policies are periodically reviewed and updated to ensure their currency and that new ones are added when required.

4. Assuming that the goodwill of management committees will result in good grants administration

Many community / NFP organisations are formed as a result of unmet local need or because the founders wanted to address a particular social / cultural issue. They are established by dedicated and hard working people who were committed to making a positive difference. However, those same people do not always have the necessary skills and experience to manage an incorporated entity or funding accountability requirements, which as we know, have become ever more complex over time.

These days, the provision of many services has been devolved to the NGO sector and the value of grants is significantly higher than in the past. Funding bodies need to know the organisation is being managed by people who have the necessary skills and experience to effectively monitor expenditure and service provision. Details of management committee credentials should be provided with an application – this information is often included in the organisation’s annual report, which should be supplied with your application.

5. Failing to demonstrate value for money in their application

As we’ve acknowledged, there are limited funds available for unlimited demand. Always take the opportunity in your application to promote the ways in which your organisation will maximise the use of the funds you seek. It may be that you can:

  • make use of existing office space from which to offer the program/project
  • provide rent free outreach through an existing partnership with another provider
  • utilise volunteer workers to undertake intake / mailout duties
  • share pro bono professional services already offered to your organisation with this new program
  • provide potential clients with a holistic service through access to your organisation’s existing programs

6. Submitting budgets which are focused more on the organisation’s financial viability needs than on service provision to clients

This is one of the most common failings in grant applications and goes to the heart of the value for money focus of funding bodies. Some applications are blatant in their bid for funds to cover the operational costs of their organisation, others try to disguise the intent under generic headings such as Office Overheads.

All funders understand that a proportion of their money will go to costs shared across the applicant’s programs – cleaning, insurance, utilities etc. But when a management or service fee represents a significant proportion of the amount being sought, alarm bells automatically ring.

Remember, grant funds are intended for the provision of services / products which will benefit community members, not to ensure the economic viability of an organisation.

We hope this information has given you food for thought when you next sit down to complete a funding application.

Of course, if the task appears too daunting or you simply don’t have the time to prepare a professional application WordWeaver Consultancy is always here to support you.

We have an enviable track record in writing and editing successful grant applications, enhanced by Catherine Weaver’s 8 years’ experience as manager of a state government department’s multiple grants programs.