EXPOSED: Grant Expert Secretly Reveals Why Most Grant Applications Fail To Obtain Funding
Learn the 8 common grant mistakes…. and how to avoid making them!
So you’ve heard there are grants available for your project? Sounds great, ha?
If you’re like most people, you’re probably already visualsing the stuff you could do with this money.
However, just before you “jump for joy” and tell everyone about it, I need share with you something that will leave you shaken and stirred…
“You’re NOT going to get a cent of that grant money”.
In fact, the only thing that awaits you is confusion, frustration, rejection and despair.
Surprised? Most people are... especially after they've done the hard work and submitted the application...
The unfortunate reality is that in any competitive funding program, only a minority of applicants get funded (the vast majority of applicants get a politely written rejection letter)… you know, the one that says you were “good” … but compared-to-others not “good enough”.
Yeah, I know it's something you don’t want to hear… but it’s also something you must hear. There is NO "conspiracy" and … the government is not out “to get you”. There are simply more projects than there is funding available (often the ratio is 10 to 1!).
Below is a critically acclaimed article by Ross Turetsky (Managing Director of Grant Solutions) which has been featured and quoted in a number of prominent publications. The practical information contained will help you avoid common grant mistakes and rise above the competition.
So sit back, relax and get ready to discover what most people will never know about government grants.
1. Not assessing eligibility before applying
The idea of getting “free money” is very appealing to most businesses… especially when these grants are specifically designed to support the activities the businesses are already undertaking. Much like buying a lottery ticket and hoping for the best, businesses sometimes adopt the attitude of “you need to be in it to win it” rather than carefully assessing the eligibility requirements.
This is a problem because, in many cases, businesses are ineligible for grants they’re applying for. Yes, their “activities as a whole” may be eligible but their specific project may not be. Applications that fail to meet eligibility requirements do not even get assessed as they’re screened and rejected at the first instance.
Before spending time preparing a grant submission, the applicant needs to be 100% certain of their eligibility for the grant. While grants are typically awarded on merit (compared to other applicants) eligibility is a hurdle and must be met regardless of other applicants.
2. Not fully assessing the amount of work involved
Businesses generally underestimate the amount of work involved in putting together a grant application. They also do not fully appreciate that doing 'business as usual' activities is very different from selling a project in a 30+ page grant application (with 10+ attachments). Or maybe they’re aware of the application but feel overwhelmed, thus procrastinating until they’re very close to the submission deadline. In fact, Grant Solutions experiences a significant increase in grant enquiries less than 1 month prior to the submission deadline (especially 2 weeks before)!
This is a problem because it creates unnecessary stress and uncertainty for the business. In addition, often businesses invest time and energy into starting the application process (contacting the funding source for information, answering a few application questions), only to realise how much effort is really involved – causing them to abandon the project or to submit what they have (even though it may be incomplete, full of grammatical mistakes and poorly presented). Simply stated there is a world of difference between an application finished a few days early and one is "hot off the printer".
Businesses MUST assess the amount of work the grant application is likely to require. This estimate should be realistic and take into account any dependencies and lag time involved in obtaining various documents from 3rd parties (Audited financial records, etc).
This level of upfront analysis allows businesses to make "Go / No Go" decisions before investing their limited resources into the grant application. For example, if you estimate that an application requires 100 hours of effort, don’t start the process unless you’re willing to allocate that time. To even imagine that 100 hours of work could be condensed into five 20 hour days is just unrealistic. In short… estimate… and don’t start things you’re unlikely to finish.
3. Not assessing the amount of competition involved
Businesses often assume that just because they’re eligible, they are almost "guaranteed" funding.
Unfortunately this is NOT so as the reality is quite different because there are always more projects than there is funding available. This becomes an even bigger issue when government actively promotes the funding program. No longer is a case of putting together "a couple of bullet points" right before you head for the pub… as you’re competing with other applicants (sometimes numbering in the thousands).
The worst category to apply for funding is small business start-ups… especially if the program does not require matching funding. These types of programs typically attract applicants who have "lots of ideas" and spare time but no money.
Business should find out how many people previously applied, how many were successful and also the overall quality of the submissions. This information is freely available from the funding source (even if you do have to mention the Freedom of Information Act a number of times to any "reluctant" public sector employee). This information is crucial in determining the likelihood of the application being successful … and whether or not it’s worthwhile to apply.
4. Not making grant applications a priority
Most businesses do not have a grant strategy in place – applying for grants only as an afterthought rather than seeing them as an important part of their funding strategy. This means that when a company does decide to apply, the application is rushed and delegated to someone who is “available” rather than to the most qualified person.
Businesses treat grants as a gamble… and that’s exactly how applications are submitted… “give it a go, but don’t spend too much time on it” as there are other “real” things that need to be done.
For example…the CEO may hear about a possible grant and ask a manager to see if the company is eligible… after all, it would be silly not to take advantage of these incentives. The manager however, is likely to have other 'business as usual' priorities, which are clearly mapped out in their "performance plan" and directly related to their "bonus structure". What is not clearly mapped out and related to the bonus … is the grant! The manager therefore needs to make a decision between focusing on the grant (or the company) or 'business as usual' activities (for their bonus)... a hard choice to make really!
Is it therefore surprising that the manager is likely to place more priority on the 'business as usual' activities than on the grant application. After all, "grants are hard to get" and there will be no negative consequences if the application is unsuccessful. However, if they don’t do their 'business as usual' activities, they are likely to miss out on a bonus and may even be seen as "under-performing". Without priority grant applications tend to be left to the last minute and submitted with minimal regard… more so to "tick a box" rather than to have a real shot at getting the money.
Grants applications should be done by dedicated individuals who (ideally) have some “skin in the game” and in an ideal situation, grant submitters should only be paid a bonus if the grant is successful…. In order to align incentives.
5. Not using the application forms provided
Government departments often require grant applicants to use “locked down” word documents in order to collect only the information required and to minimise the variation across applications. Unfortunately, some of these “locked down” versions have unintended bugs (errors that should have been fixed but haven’t!... makes you wonder ha?). These bugs are extremely frustrating as they make it difficult to enter the required information. They also prevent use of the spell checker and other commonly used tools. This has caused many applicants to abandon the “locked down” forms and simply "attach word documents" containing their responses.
This is a problem because government departments have created these forms for a reason - to make them look exactly the same and reduce bias. It also ensures that only the required information is collected.
Applications not in this format are typically regarded with suspicion for at least 2 reasons (both of which reduce the chances of the application being successful):
- They don't follow instructions as outlined in the information guide (a big "no, no")
- Their format stands out from other applications, making them harder to compare.
Applicants should allocate additional time to ensure they can transfer the information as required. Yes, it is frustrating … but so is not getting the money.
6. Not fully understanding funding objectives
Businesses short on time don’t adequately plan their grant applications, "leaping" straight into the selection criteria without fully understanding what the government is trying to achieve through the grant program. These "leaps" are typically made by the same managers (discussed in mistake 7) who are evaluated on “progress made” rather than on the “success” of the application. These managers are "already busy" and "don’t have the time" to speak with the funding source (...time that could be used for writing the grant criteria). After all, just typing "stuff" into the application form "seems far more productive" than being stuck on hold for 20+ minutes while you wait to talk to a government employee regarding the applications.
This is a problem because not fully understanding the selection criteria increases the chances of not fully addressing it. Remember that grants are judged on their merit relative to other applicants. If other applicants go above and beyond what is required, you will miss out on getting the grant even if you did a good job.
Applicants need to use every opportunity to increase their chances of success (including speaking with a customer representatives at the funding sources to get a better idea of what is required for the application). Remember that not everything can be included in the information guide so talking to people who run the program (or even assess the application) will greatly increase your chances of being successful.
7. Not being assertive
When applicants do talk to customer representatives (after waiting 20 minutes on-hold), they often come across as very unorganised and not sure of themselves. For example, if they don’t fully understand the information presented, they are afraid to ask a follow up question (simply moving) on the next question...or even ending the call in order to avoid “looking stupid”.
This is a problem because it’s hard to know the competency level of the person speaking to you on the phone. For example, you could be speaking to customer services representative who "lives and breathes" the grant… or (more likely) to someone who has 10 sheets of paper (1 paper per each grant) in front of them... each with 10 questions they can answer. This is particularly an issue with AusIndustry hotline because they offer 100+ different grant programs and the staff there simply can’t know all of them by heart.
So if you don’t understand the answer, keep on asking even if it requires to be transferred to a more knowledgeable staff members (which what you want in the first place). At Grant Solutions we regularly go up 2+ levels of management just to get the information our clients need.
Applicants should be confident and assertive when talking with grant representatives. If something is not clear, ask them to repeat themselves or request another explanation. There is nothing wrong with asking people to repeat themselves. It’s not like they’re doing you a favour… it’s their job. Remember that you don’t get if you don’t ask.
8. Missing the first round, of a multi-round grant program
When a new grant programs become available, businesses are often reluctant to apply for the 1st round. Some feel that there is not enough guidance from the funding source (there isn’t --it’s their first time as well!). Others are unsure of their chance of success. There are also those that try to put in application but “life gets in the way” and they defer their application to subsequent round.
Missing out on the 1st funding round is a problem for the following reasons:
- Generally more funding is allocated for round 1… especially in 3-4 year programs. In fact, most of the money is allocated during the 1st year even if the funding is provided for 3-4 years.
- At any time the grant funding might be withdrawn for political or economic reasons. In the past, funding rounds were cancelled because of changes to government (federal, state, or local council). So unless the round is formally opened, and project funds are committed against it… there is simply no guarantee that the funding will still be available when you want to apply for it.
- Other businesses are less likely to apply (and more likely to differ to subsequent rounds)… so there is a higher chance of being selected.
To increase your chances of being successful, you need to apply as early as you can. Remember that applying in the 1st round typically does not exclude you from applying in subsequent rounds… so there is nothing to loose and much to gain.
Thank you for taking to read the information... hopefully you got something out of it. If you would like to get results rather than excuses on your next grant application please Contact Us for a free consultation regarding your project.