How to write successful grant applications

Last Updated: February 18, 2024By
Spotlight Series - Renee Madsen - Write Successful Grant Applications

Meet Renée Madsen from Create and Evaluate in North Queensland, a seasoned grant writing professional dedicated to helping businesses and organisations unlock their potential through successful grant applications. In this part of our Spotlight Series, we tap into Renée’s wealth of knowledge and expertise to elevate your grant writing game and make the time invested in grant writing well worth it!

With a wealth of experience as both a grant assessor and grant writer, Renée possesses a unique perspective and deep understanding of what it takes to secure funding. Her expertise lies in empowering individuals and groups to navigate the complex world of grant writing with confidence and precision. Through her training and mentoring, Renée has facilitated the acquisition of over $180,000 in grants for various ventures.

Whether you’re a small business owner, entrepreneur, or part of a nonprofit organisation, Renée is your go-to guide for crafting compelling grant proposals that stand out and secure vital funding. She is also giving readers AUD$20 off her Supercharge Your Grant Writing Online Course by entering the code OPTIMISE at checkout.

So let’s start with an introduction and then get into how you can write successful grant applications…

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m a grant writing trainer based in Townsville, North Queensland. I help businesses and community organisations build their grant writing skills because I believe the more of us writing grant applications the better. I also believe that anyone can learn to write a winning grant application, as it’s like everything else in life – you just need to know where to start and how to go about it.

With your work and expertise in grant writing, let us ask you some questions about how to do them well because so many people can waste hours prepping a grant proposal just to have them knocked back. So let’s start with the basics…

Where can small business owners find grant opportunities?

For those in Australia, a good place to start is the federal government’s Business Grant Finder – answer some questions and get a list of grants tailored to your interests:

https://business.gov.au/grants-and-programs

Your state government will have a similar website. For example, in Queensland it’s the Queensland Government Grant Finder:

https://www.grants.services.qld.gov.au

I’d also recommend checking out the website of your local council or your local chapter of Regional Development Australia to see if they offer a free grant-finding service like the ones below:

https://www.rdanwq.org.au/projects/grant-finder-rda-townsville-and-north-west-queensland/

https://grantguru.com/au/townsville 

If you’re outside Australia, your federal or state government should have similar grant-finding websites.

How do you evaluate the eligibility requirements?

The first thing you should do with every grant before you even look at the application form is open the ‘grant guidelines’ document and read the eligibility requirements.

There will often be requirements about the size and turnover of your business, the length of time you’ve been operating, where you are located, etc. These requirements aren’t negotiable, so if you don’t meet the eligibility requirements, there is no point in spending your time applying.

If you are not sure whether you meet the requirements, it’s always best to contact the funding body (the organisation giving out the grant) and ask.

And, how do you determine which grants are worth pursuing?

Instead of going after any grant opportunity that comes along, think about what your business or organisation really needs, and what your priorities are. Then look for grants that match that need. There are hundreds of grants out there, so this kind of thinking beforehand will save you time by narrowing down your grant search, and make the application a lot easier to write.

Create a ‘wishlist’ of ideas that you want to pursue and think them through in as much detail as possible. What exactly do you want to do? What’s required? What resources do you already have (cash, people, equipment) and what do you want the grant to pay for? What are the longer-term benefits of doing this project?

If you’ve done this thinking ahead of time, writing the grant application will be a breeze. You’ll be able to hit the ground running and start your grant project immediately when the money comes through, which is important if you only have a short time to complete the project.

Business owners may be unsure about what information they need to include in their grant applications. They may have questions about the required components of a grant application, such as the executive summary, introduction, statement of need, budget, and evaluation plan.

Can you explain the key components of a successful grant application?

All grant applications will be worded differently, but the questions will be based on these 4 key points:

  1. Business need.
  2. Customer support.
  3. Capacity to deliver.
  4. Change.

You will need to answer each of these questions convincingly in your application as follows.

Business need: What’s the real need for this grant project in your business? What gap are you filling in your business, or in your industry?

Customer demand: Will your customers or clients or income increase as a result of doing this grant project? Do you have evidence of this, e.g. customer requests or projected business growth/savings?

Capacity to deliver: Can you see this grant project through to completion? Do you have any previous experience doing this type of project? Do you have enough resources to get it done?

Change: What difference is this grant project going to make to your business? What are the benefits?

Business owners may struggle with preparing an accurate and effective budget for their grant applications. They may have questions about how to project costs, how to allocate funds, and how to justify their expenses in the context of their project goals and objectives.

So, do you have any advice on how to prepare a realistic and effective budget for a grant application?

My 3 top tips for preparing an effective budget for a grant application are:

  1. Check the grant guidelines to see if you’re required to attach quotes to your application. Even if you’re not required to attach quotes, get at least one quote for each item in your budget, instead of guessing the cost. Once your application is approved, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to ask for more money, so you don’t want to underestimate your costs.
  2. Don’t include ‘contingency’ or ‘extra dollars just in case’ in your budget, unless the guidelines say that you’re allowed to. Only ask for what you need. Getting quotes (see above) will help you make sure your budget is realistic.
  3. If your business is contributing any cash, time, equipment or other resources to the project, make sure you include this in your budget as an ‘in kind’ contribution.

Business owners may want to know how to write a grant proposal that stands out from other applicants. They may have questions about how to craft a persuasive narrative, how to present their business’ strengths and accomplishments, and how to align their proposal with the grantmaker’s priorities.

Can you share some effective strategies for writing a compelling grant proposal?

Get to the point quickly when writing your application answers, and stick within the word limit. This is not the time to tell a long story about the history of your business unless they ask for it. Remember the grant assessors will be reading thousands of these applications so they will appreciate you answering the questions directly and clearly!

Also, get someone who is unfamiliar with your work to read your application. If it doesn’t make sense to them, chances are it won’t make sense to the grant assessor either, so this is a useful check to do before submission.

Are there specific things that grant assessors look for? What should be included to improve the chances of receiving a grant?

Grant assessors will always be looking for some form of the 4 points mentioned above:

  1. Business need;
  2. Customer demand;
  3. Capacity to deliver; and
  4. Change.

They will also be looking for evidence to back up your statements.

If you write in your application that your revenue is going to increase by 50% as a result of this grant project, make sure you explain how you got that figure and attach the calculations.

If you write that there’s been high customer demand for a new service that you want the grant to pay for, include the number of customers who have been asking for this service.

Are there some common pitfalls to be aware of or things to be avoided?

People often don’t read the grant guidelines. The grant guidelines are a document that accompanies every grant application form. Every grant is different, so the guidelines tell you what this grant will pay for, what it won’t pay for, and what documents you need to attach to your application.

The grant guidelines are often written in wordy bureaucratic-speak and several pages long, so many people choose to skip reading them and go straight to filling in the application form. Be warned – if you do this, you may waste your time by asking for something the grant won’t pay for, or you won’t attach the right documents and your application will be discarded before it even gets assessed.

Don’t let your time and effort go to waste – read the guidelines!

Should you follow up on a grant application after submission?

Waiting to hear the outcome of your grant application is always hard! It can take months to hear back after submitting a grant, so don’t be discouraged if 4-6 months have gone by and you still haven’t heard.

If you receive a notification saying that you were unsuccessful, it’s a good idea to contact the funding body and ask for feedback so you can improve next time. They won’t always provide feedback, as some of them don’t have the resources to do so, but it’s always worth asking.

What are your 3 key pieces of advice for writing successful grant applications?

  1. Always read the grant guidelines – ALWAYS!
  2. Create a wish list.
  3. Keep your application answers concise and make sure you’ve answered the question.

So, how can a small business owner learn more about how to write compelling grant applications?

My self-paced online course, Supercharge Your Grant Writing, covers everything you need to know, with short 5-10 minute videos that you can fit into your busy day and downloadable resources.

Course participants can also ask me questions about grant writing at any time.

Optimise & Grow blog readers receive AUD$20 off by entering the code OPTIMISE at checkout:

Supercharge Your Grant Writing Online Course


Start writing compelling grant applications with Renée Madsen

You can find Renée at

Website: createandevaluate.com.au

Linkedin: reneemadsen

Successful Grant Writing Course: Supercharge Your Grant Writing

Explore more expert advice in the Optimise & Grow Spotlight Series.

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