Writing a grant application can be a lot of work. In the video below, our own Jo Stewart speaks with digital marketing strategist, business development and communications consultant and performing artist Donna Gross on how to beat the overwhelm and write a successful grant application.
Read on for some grants that you can apply for now, as well as the full transcription of the conversation, or watch the video of their conversation.
- Getting Started and tackling Grant Writing Overwhelm
- Grant Writing Planning Strategies
- Getting Organised before you begin Grant Writing
- Double Check Eligibility before Beginning your Grant Application
- What to do when you don’t understand a criteria or question in the Grant Application?
- Sustainability - What it means in a Grant Writing Context
- Don't Be Afraid to Ask!
- Grant Writing Language
- Keep it Simple and Concise in your Grant Writing
- Grant Application Insurance Questions
- Budget Questions in your Grant Application
- An Honest Budget is a Good Budget
- How do we find out what Grants are available?
- Effective googling to find Grants that you can apply for
- Hot Tip for Writing Grant Applications
Grants Available Now
Please note: Eligibility for some grant funding is based on location. We have included local grants below and advice for finding available grants in all areas in the interview.
Sole Trader Support Fund
Support for sole traders who have been affected by COVID- 19. This program closes on December 30 or when funds have been exhausted
The Small Business Digital Adaptation Program
The Small Business Digital Adaptation Program will allow eligible businesses to trial and then receive access to digital products, tools and training they can use to build digital capability in their day-to-day operations.
Businesses can start using a new product, like point-of-sale payment, or restore access to a lapsed product under this program. Upgrades to existing digital tools, like adding a shop to a current website, are also included.
Registrations will remain open until funds are exhausted or
until 11.59pm on 28 February 2021, whichever is earlier.
Future Grant Applications
Darebin Community Grants Program
Grants to not-for-profit (NFP) groups and organisations who will implement projects which address the needs and issues within their community and engage all Darebin residents especially those who experience or at risk of discrimination and/or exclusion.
The next 2021/2022 funding round will open in Febraury/March 2021
Applications for 2020 closed in September and have not been announced for 2021.
Getting Started and tackling Grant Writing Overwhelm
Jo Stewart: Hey. It's Jo here from Thrive Northside. Today, I'm going to be talking to a digital marketing strategist, performing artist, community worker, and just awesome all-around person, Donna Gross (or Donna Sparks, her performer name). I'm going to ask her a few questions that I've had, and I know that you guys have all had—about approaching grant writing.
I'm going to start out with a question I think we've all been faced with. Donna, what do you do when you look at that intimidating form and you're just like, “I don't know how to do this. I've never written a grant before. Or even if I have, I still don't feel like I'm qualified.”
Where to begin?
How to get over that feeling?
Donna: I don't know if that feeling will ever go away. But there are definitely some things that you can do to just get right on with it and not let the feeling get in the way. The things that I would do when you're first looking at a grant and feeling that sense of overwhelm, maybe we can call it, is firstly, read the eligibility criteria and then read it again and then read it again.
Instead of having in your mind, “My idea is amazing and it totally fits,” have in your mind, “What is the eligibility criteria saying, and does it really fit?
Because the thing is if it doesn't and you spend all of this time writing a grant, then already you've wasted all of that time. You really want to start with the eligibility criteria and be really honest because as much as we want it to fit, it might not fit. That just needs to be an okay-step-away-now moment.
Grant Writing Planning Strategies
Donna: If you're sure that you fit with the eligibility criteria, the next thing to read would be the guidelines and the assessment criteria. None of this is part of the form you're filling in yet. That's later. This is the first bit. Understand the guidelines, make sure that you still think that your project and your business and your business model, because sometimes they'll only fund people that are maybe a not-for-profit or an incorporated association. You need to make sure that you're across all of that. Look at the guidelines and then look at the assessment criteria because what that's telling you is “when you answer the questions, this is how we're going to judge you. This is how we're going to assess it.”
You want to make sure that even if the questions don't specifically ask you exactly what the assessment criteria is referring to, that when you're answering the questions, you're covering that stuff. Because without it, you're leaving them guessing.
Does that answer match our assessment criteria?
Where would it fit?
What's going on?
We want to make it as easy as possible.
Getting Organised before you begin Grant Writing
Donna: Once you've read over all of that and feel really familiar, I would even recommend writing notes.
If you've got little sticky things you use or whatever, color code stuff around: this is around my business operations, this is around my project.
Get a bit of a map of what it is that they're looking for and what it is that they need, and then have a look at the questions on the form and start to grapple with that.
Double Check Eligibility before Beginning your Grant Application
Donna: The first thing is to get a deep understanding of what they're looking for. If there are words you don't understand or if you read through it and you're not sure anymore, you're like, “I don't know if my business fits with this. I don't know if this project idea fits with this,” then that's when you just pick up the phone.
You ask them and you have a chat and say, “Look, I'm thinking about this.” They're not going to tell you whether your grant will be successful or not. But they will tell you and help you work out whether you fit with the guidelines and the eligibility criteria and whether or not it's worth your while applying.
Jo: The flip side of that is if you do fit with all those criteria, then you can feel 100% confident that you are entitled to ask for that grant and to keep that in your own mind as you're filling things out. I find, as well, it might seem a little bit redundant and obvious, but sometimes I'll just rephrase the things they say in a sentence so that it's really clear that you are addressing that thing that they're asking for because you basically answered that sentence.
What to do when you don’t understand a criteria or question in the Grant Application?
Jo: That leads me into the next question that I've often had which is, what if you just read something, like one of the assessment criteria or one of the questions about your business, and it either just doesn't make sense to you or you don't know if it fits with you or it just doesn't seem to apply?
Who do you ask about that stuff?
Do you just try and wing it?
Donna: It depends on what type of question you're talking about. If it's to do with accounting or turnover or something financial, then you might need to speak to someone who understands numbers more than you do. Not really sure exactly what you're referring to in that question.
Jo: For me, it's been some bit of government administrative jargon that I wasn’t familiar with. I've Googled to see if I can find out what it means via the internet. I've probably not always taken the best approach and I've usually gone for the wing-it approach, and just write what I think might be the answer.
Donna: One of the questions that comes up regularly for me when I'm helping people with grants is if there's a question about the business model—and often, small businesses don't know what their business model is, they're just running a business— “What do I say to that? How do I explain that?”
That's when you would Google different business models. You could think about:
“Do I have any employees?
How many employees do I have?
Am I a company, or am I a sole trader?
What's your legal setup for your business?”
Sustainability - What it means in a Grant Writing Context
Donna: Another question that people often ask is—depending on the grant—they sometimes ask questions around sustainability. They're talking either about the sustainability of the business or the sustainability of the project, or the thing that you're trying to get the grant for. People often read that as meaning environmental sustainability, and it's often not what they're talking about at all. They're talking about the sustainability of the project or of the business beyond the life of the grant.
Some places will fund something that is just for that thing. But a lot of places are looking to fund something that will have a life beyond the funding period and question, “How would that be sustainable? If you don't have this grant money coming in each year, how does that continue—that project, that business, that whatever?” That's one that I think is a bit of a curly one sometimes.
A lot of people wing it on that one. You don't want to be winging any of your answers to any of the questions. You want to be really solid in your answer because—and I don't like using the word “should” but in this situation—you should know your business, your business model, and your service offering and projects well enough to be able to articulate them within different contexts.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask
Donna: If there are some questions that have words that you don't understand, then we need to get an understanding of those words to be able to articulate those answers. It might be a matter of ringing up. People are really hesitant to ring up because they think, “I don't want them to think I don't know what I'm doing. I don't want them to think that I'm just throwing something in.” But actually, if you flip that, the people who ring up are the people whose names that they already know that when the grant comes in there, it's familiar. You've also had a chance to talk to them about your project. If something's maybe not written so well, it might already be in their brain because you've talked to them about it.
You're actually helping everyone by asking a question.
I would say, don't be shy in ringing up at all. I know with large federal government tenders—big, big federal government money—I used to ring up all of the time. What would often happen is their answer to my question would become an addendum to the tender, and then everyone would receive that response. You're actually helping everyone by asking a question.
Grant Writing Language
Jo: That's a good question. That leads me to my next question. Back in the day, when I used to apply for arts grants, I used to use my art school language and to try and sound really intellectual and try and make my project sound more impressive. Recently, when I've been applying for more business grants, I've actually just tried to be as clear and as simple as I can be with my language.
What is your advice around the language that you use? Is this the place to be a little bit quirky and funny sometimes and show your personality, or to just be straight down the line—try me as clear as you can, or try and put in some of that language to try and make your project sound impressive?
Donna: I would say if you're going for grant money, you should be going for money for something that is impressive, and you shouldn't need to try and make it sound impressive. We should be asking people to support us and give us money when we absolutely believe in the thing that we're doing, and that will come through in our language.
The other thing is like with any marketing, know your audience. I'm making this up completely, but if the funder is someone who is a famous comedian, then sure be funny, be a bit quirky, whatever. If the funder is some eccentric retired donor, great. But also what are the guidelines? What are they looking for?
Honestly, whether you use super fancy language or not, what it comes down to is have you articulated how you meet the assessment criteria well enough for them to understand the project and be able to make that call. The other thing in all of that is grappling with the characters, the character count, and the word count.
Keep it Simple and Concise in your Grant Writing
Donna: Generally speaking, clear, and concise is best. I would say, even for an arts grant—unless the question is asking about the creative concepts behind a project—go wild!
But other than that, the assessors are looking through a stack of grants, so if the language is too much or too intellectual or too whatever, it's not easy for them. It's not at all. They're like, “What was that all about?”
Whereas if the question answers the assessment criteria, “here's how we do it, done,” they're like, “Okay, great.” It's made it through to the next level.
You want to keep it simple and concise. I would say, be articulate. I don't think you need a lot of intellectual language in saying that if the grant is, say, in the community space, if you're working in the community space, you will naturally know what the language that that sector uses. It will come through.
Just be authentic and believe in your project and articulate it the best you can.
If you're trying to use language that fits, then that will also show. If someone's trying to get funding for a community project but they've never worked in the community sector and they're trying to use all these buzzwords, it will be really obvious that that's what they're doing. Just be authentic and believe in your project and articulate it the best you can.
Grant Application Insurance Questions
Jo: Great advice. I have read a few applications that have asked about insurance. I've just been lucky because I'm a yoga teacher so I already have insurance for the other work that I do. But I know a lot of small business owners might have public liability insurance for their shop and contents insurance.
What if you don't have anything and you don't really have money to get insurance until you get the grant money? What do you say in that question? What if you don't have insurance and it's one of the things that you might need for the grant?
Should you just go ahead and do it, or can you write in, “I'll apply for this policy when I get my grant money”?
Donna: It depends on how the question is worded, and it depends on what type of insurance you'll need. Is it a professional indemnity? Is it a public liability? Is it content? What is it? Is it product insurance? That kind of thing. My first question would be if you're running a business, why don't you have insurance? I think if they ask for an attachment of the policy, then you're going to take out an insurance policy before you apply, especially if that's one of their eligibility, you must have insurance to apply for this grant. If they ask for a policy number, same thing, you can't apply without it. If it's a mandatory question, it requires a response. If it's a bit looser than that, then you could articulate the reason why you don't currently have that type of insurance and what type of insurance you would need for that particular project or service.
Maybe make a note that that's been included in the budget or something like that. I'm not familiar with exactly what question you're referring to but as a general approach, I would say that’s it.
Budget Questions in your Grant Application
Jo: No, I think that pretty much covers it. It's been a question on every grant I've applied for. I'm often applying as a yoga teacher and I just need professional indemnity insurance for my job. The insurance question leads into the next question that I have which is about budget. Is it better to be really lean with your budgeting and appeal at your really good value with your grant application or to put in a little bit of buffer? Because you don't always know how much things are going to cost. You don't necessarily want to be out of pocket if you're doing this project because you've received the grant for it rather than it being a passion project that you want to do anyway.
To put it another way, if you're applying for this grant because your business is really hurting financially right now and you need the grant to cover everything that you want to do.
The other part of this is quoting for your own time because I feel like we're really good at getting quotes from other people. Sometimes as small business owners, we find it a bit of a challenge to allocate what we do with our own time on an hourly basis. That was a long-winded question. To summarise it, should we put buffering into our quoting when it comes to budgeting? What's the best approach for quoting for our own time?
Donna: Every single grant is different in what they are willing to fund. The first thing is to understand what's available. Some grants will not fund overheads, for example. Other grants will. You need to be really clear on what you're eligible to apply for in the budget. I would say if you are doing a project or applying for money, you should absolutely know what that is going to cost. I would say you want to do an honest budget. If you've got a marketing spend, you should know what that is. With this kind of thing, I would say, there's not really room for blowouts. If your designer quotes you to do a job and that's it and you've got a quote for doing this, then that's it, that's what you do. I think it's really hard to build a buffer with any kind of honesty. But in saying that, maybe the way the grant is written, there's leeway. There are also restrictions on how much is available. If there's $10,000 available but building buffering means it makes it $11,000, then that doesn't work.
An Honest Budget is a Good Budget
Donna: I would say an honest budget is a good budget. They’re real. I know that’s one of the grants I worked on recently, there’s a lot of interstate travel involved and because of COVID, that's a huge unknown. What they did is they priced everything currently, then they put a 15% buffer on and they put that figure—well I shouldn't say they, we, together—put that figure into the budget with a budgetary note explaining that we'd added a 15% buffer for the unknowns given the climate that we're in and that if any of that line I should spend came in under, then we would refund the grant money to that effect. You can do budget notes around that stuff for the unknowns. That's okay.
In terms of your own time, again, it depends on the grant. Some grants don't cover wages. Some grants do cover wages. Some grants want to see an in-kind contribution that is X percentage of the total budget. Sometimes the easiest way to allocate that in-kind contribution is your own time or someone else's. You should definitely be factoring that in, whether it's a very clear line item or whether, again, depending on the budget, there might be a project management fee, there might be a production fee, there might be whatever. In a budget note, you can explain what that includes.
If you're the project manager, then you wouldn't say, “Paying myself wouldn't be the line item.” The project manager would be the line item or project management or something like that. You could have that appearing both as an expense and as an in-kind contribution. If those figures don't match, say the in-kind contribution comes to $1000 but the budget line item comes to $5000, then the gap you're therefore asking for, for that line item of project management is $4000. You can play it like that as well.
Jo: Cool, great suggestion. Thank you. What I did around this question as well was just wrote myself a quote the same way I'd write it out for a client, and just included that with the grant even though I was the person applying.
I just imagined that I was a different client and I was quoting for them on all of the hours that I would be putting in. That just helped me wrap my brain around, “It's all my time but I'm not used to articulating it that way.”
Donna: I think not all grants expect you to attach quotes. Where they do, great, that's excellent. Where they don't, maybe going through an activity like that is helpful to help you work it out. If you're a small business owner, then chances are, you're the marketing person, and you're the project manager, and you're the head of operations, and you're potentially the bookkeeper, and you're the designer. You're all of these things. Whether or not you decide to separate that out in the budget or not, it’s up to you. Sometimes it's a good idea because what if something came up and suddenly, you weren't available to do the design or whatever?
Then at least it's clear that you're like, “All right, I think that'll take about 10 hours, and that equals X amount.” You've got that in the budget. If you decide you can't do it, you can pay someone else. You know exactly what that spend is and you've itemized it bit by bit by bit by bit.
How do we find out what Grants are available?
Jo: Great suggestion. My final question is how do we even know what grants are available right now? Where to start? Is there a helpful website that puts them all together? Or are there some other websites that we can go to? I've got in my notes that I'm going to be sharing with this, Arts Victoria, Business Victoria, and Darebin Council have all recently opened up for tenders and grants or some of them have just finished. But that was a bit of Googling. If you're just getting started, how to find these grants?
Donna: That's not something that I can answer because I haven't done the research on it for that particular area. Generally, if people would engage me as a grant writer, then the first thing that I would do is say, “Let's research what's available,” and go through a pretty extensive process—create a massive matrix, look through a bunch of different things, et cetera. If you're starting out and looking at grants and you're in Darebin, then I think the suggestions you've made are good, and also Google is your friend.
How to use google effectively to find Grants you can apply for
Donna: One of the things that people may be struggling with Google is they don't actually know how to do Google searches properly or effectively. Maybe I'll just throw in a couple of tips about that, given that I can't necessarily add to what you've already talked about in finding grants.
If you are looking for a business grant then probably a keyword is going to be business or small business. You can either search that with the word separate or you can put a + in between, which means anything that has small and business in it will come up. If you put quotation marks around small business, then it will search by phrase, so to be looking for small business. If you do + grants, then you might get a different result than if you just wrote “small business grant.” You want to play around with using the + sign between your words and using quotation marks around phrases if you're looking for key phrases. Another little trick is to look for “funded by” or “thanks to” kind of words because what that will tell is where other people have found money, then you can see if there's any more available. That's another way you can have a peek.
Jo: I would also search for 'business resilience' right now and maybe even 'small business COVID' because there seems to be a little bit of extra funding available for small businesses that are suffering due to COVID.
Donna: Yeah. I think also if you look at what's coming out of the government—what are they talking about when they hear all the press releases, “We're going to support small businesses.” What are the words they're using, then start to search for those words. I know there's a whole bunch of stuff around outdoors eating, for example, at different cafes now. So tapping into that. But really there are people who are doing the work for you. Like what you said, Jo, there's Business Victoria, there’s Darebin Council listing a bunch of stuff. You can start there. Possibly even pop into some business networking type Facebook groups and see what people are talking about there as well or ask the question.
Hot Tip for Writing Grant Applications
Jo: That's awesome. Thank you so much for your time and your expertise, Donna. I'm going to add one last little thing that I have learnt the hard way more than once. If you're filling out a grant application, write your stuff separately in an email or in a Word doc and then paste it into the online form. Because it's very heartbreaking when you're three quarters away through that online form and it crashes and you lose all of the stuff that you just brainstormed in there. Have you got a final tip for people?
Donna: Yeah. Just adding to that, that is definitely a very good tip. The other tip I would say is that sometimes, when you cut and paste from a Word document into a grant, the character count is going to be different which is a nightmare because you've done all of this work to get it right and you paste it in and suddenly you're over. Some of the things to look out for in that is line breaks, and how they're counted, formatting. In Word, there's a whole bunch of formatting in the background that might accidentally add characters so you want to clear your formatting before you cut and paste. Also, some grants are getting cleverer now. If you're trying to minimize words and you decide to replace every “and” with an ampersand (&), Word will count that as one character. A lot of the grant portals will still count as three. That's something that's going to potentially trip you up on the character count as well. They're just some other things to look out for when you do the cut and paste which you should absolutely do but double-check character counting.
Jo: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Wishing you good luck with all of your future and grant applications and everyone that you're helping out. Sending out our best wishes as well for everyone who's in that process of applying for grants right now. It can be a bit of a slog but it's absolutely worth it when you get the money to make your dreams a reality or help you out of that tough situation right now.