Do you have a key project your organisation is trying to get up and going but you’re just not getting traction with government departments or other funders? It can be incredibly frustrating to put a whole lot of effort into a project proposal, only to see it flounder when it gets to the decision makers. It’s possible you are making some inadvertent project funding mistakes. You may not be delighted when you read them, but these are definitely some common mistakes project proponents make and our top tips for addressing them – we want you to be successful in securing your project funding.
Mistake #1 – Assuming the reader knows what you know
When developing a business case or grant application, it is vital you provide a thorough explanation of the context and the detail of your project. You should assume that the person who reads your proposal knows absolutely nothing about your project. Even if you’ve talked extensively with them about it, you still need to spell it out as their decision making generally must be made based on the information presented to them, not on what they know through their prior interactions with you.
Mistake #2 – Your writing is not up to standard
It doesn’t matter how fabulous your project is, if your writing is not equally wonderful, you probably won’t get funded. If the person who writes project proposals and grant applications at your organisation does not have a really strong writing background, you may unconsciously be churning out substandard applications.
What does a ‘really strong writing background’ mean? It’s more than being able to pull together a business letter and maybe write up some internal business documents. Your writer needs to be able to professionally craft the real story of your project, they need to be super comfortable with proposal writing and understand how to structure the proposal to logically present your case in a compelling manner.
Mistake #3 – Being unaware of your target audience’s concerns
If you don’t understand what your target audience is most interested in knowing about, it’s hard to address their concerns. Make sure you ask them (if you can access them) what they really need to be addressed. And if you can’t ask them, put yourself in their shoes and visualise what issues might they most want addressed.
Mistake #4 – Imagining your target audience is completely risk-averse
This is tied to Mistake #3. An assumption we’ve seen a lot of not-for-profits make is assuming that government agencies are totally risk-averse (this is a little bit true, but most are ok with risk in the right context).
So what sometimes happens is in grant applications where the applicant is asked to address the project risks is that some applicants do is write something like “This project has no risks”, or they list a couple of very high-level risks (usually “We don’t get grant funding” and “Our presenter is unwell and can’t run the activity). If you do this, massive alarm bells will be ringing for the funder. The funder knows that all projects have risks, what they want to know about are your mitigation strategies to minimise the chances that something is going to go bad.
So have a huge brainstorm and ask “What could go wrong?” and then “How do we manage this?”. The chances are you already have a lot of strategies in place to manage these potential risk. You need to do some reflective thinking about what the risks are as you may have already dealt with them so they aren’t front of mind. But guaranteed, your project has lots of risks, it’s just question of how you manage them.
Mistake #5 – Poor presentation
When you’re busy and rushing to meet a deadline, it can be easy to let your standards around presentation drop. But you absolutely must make any proposal or application top notch. Documents should be filled in exactly as requested and you should ensure formatting of documents is ultra-professional and consistent.
The person assessing your application probably has a huge stack of applications to wade through. Of course, they will be fair and apply a consistent approach to evaluation but why not make their life as easy as possible – make sure everything is in the correct order, check any scanned documents are crisp and use a consistent style. Make them sigh with relief when they open your application, not groan at the thought of interpreting a hot mess.
Mistake #6 – Being vague about the dollars
You must, must, must be incredibly clear about what your budget is and what portion of funding you are seeking. Do not try and be tricky with the numbers, if the funder senses that something is funny you are going to break their trust. Ask someone who doesn’t know the details of the project to look at the budget and see if what you are proposing makes sense to them (this is actually a good strategy for your entire proposal).
Mistake #7 – Not asking for enough money
Don’t feel like you have to undervalue what you are proposing. Most funders have a pretty good idea about the real cost of services. If you are not asking for enough to get the job done properly, you are unlikely to get commitment from the funder as they will be nervous your project will fall over.
Worried you are making any of these project funding mistakes?
If you think you might have been inadvertently falling into one of these traps, what can you do? You can consider:
- Talk to your funders and/or investors about what you could have done to improve previous applications;
- Talk to your funders and/or investors about what they need to see in your next application;
- Source some training to strengthen your skills;
- Outsource to someone who’s a specialist in grant applications and business proposal development; and
- Ask a strong writer to ruthlessly review your work.