Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tips For Preparing Online Grant Applications

It seems since everyone is online, everyone knows how to communicate online.  As a grant writer, researcher and consultant (, I deal with nonprofit organizations throughout the United States. Surprisingly, I find that many of them are unprepared for online applications and some even avoid them. That’s like refusing a bottle of fine wine or turning down a pot of money because you don’t like the package.

As organizations of all types downsize to control costs, the online grant process is becoming more common. Unfortunately, there is no nationwide standard for formatting an online application. Some foundations simply turn their paper application into a pdf file and expect you to print it and submit it via snail mail or in person, while others have every step painstakingly (and sometimes painfully) detailed online. Some allow unlimited text entries in the narrative section, while others barely allow enough room to enter a headline for your entire mission or program. In short, if you have created a standard or boilerplate application packet, it may not work online. Here are some hints to make the process less stressful.

Make everything “attachable”
In nearly every case, the application will ask you to attach a file when submitting online. Convert your determination letter, audited financial statements, most recent 990, and your annual report to e-files. Unless your accountant is still using a 1953 Royal typewriter, all of your financial information resides in their server or on a disc somewhere. Ask them to send you a copy. If the information is original to your computer system, I recommend saving a copy as a pdf file. Convert your determination letter to a pdf if it is in paper format.

Do a dry run
If possible (and it usually is) download the application outline and create the responses as word docs that you can cut and paste. That gives you the chance to monitor word and character count to be sure that information is not left out because there is an automatic end to the field. Some online applications will warn you when you are exceeding the limits of the text field (box), but many will not. Be as brief as you can without losing the impact of the narrative. That can be tough, since many nonprofits have board-approved language, but brevity is a virtue online. What works in a 2000-word brochure or five-page hard copy application won’t always work online. Thoughtful editing is a must.

Proofread and update your web site
Many applications will ask you for your URL. Be sure that your website looks and reads professionally, and has accurate hard data available. Be sure that links work, and the language on the web corresponds with the language in your application. Your contact information should be up-to-date, as should board lists if you provide them online. It goes without saying that if you don’t have a website it is definitely time to put one up. Your website should feature your mission statement on the home page, and a brief overview of your current programs, successes, and contact information on successive pages. A Facebook page is nice to have, but websites allow for the inclusion of more informative dialogue, and many reviewers will use the content to verify or expand upon things in your application. Your web site is also a sales tool, so be sure it is performing that function. 

Proofread the application
Most online applications do not allow you to edit a submitted application. Before hitting “submit”, proofread the application and if possible, have someone who did not enter the original information proofread it too. Some online applications do not allow you to save and return to the application later, so allow enough time for the proofreading, and be sure all of the attachments are at hand before starting.

©2012 Rebecca Lee Baisch and Cloudlancer Writing Services

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