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Posted by Scott Goldberg on Tue, Aug 29, 2017 @ 12:48 PM

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Competition for funding is almost always fierce, and at the end of the day, it can be difficult to know why one not-for-profit’s grant application is selected over another’s. We recently received an inside look at the grant-making process, and the experience provided some additional insights into the type of information and requests that make a grant application appealing to grant-makers.

We assisted a group to distribute city funds to projects that promote recycling and helped assess the budgets in the grant proposals. Of the proposals reviewed, the following elements stood out.

Request for a Unique Program

Grants can be used to help support a program or initiative, and if that’s the case, the grant-maker will want to know key details about the program. A concept for a project or program doesn’t have to be original in and of itself for a grant proposal to stand out. Maybe it taps into an audience that has normally not engaged with a not-for-profit’s activity or mission. Perhaps it’s the way the concept is executed that makes it unique. For example, in reviewing the recycling program applications, we noticed one that would engage Fortune 1000 businesses to recycle their computers for other families to use. Computer recycling drives aren’t new, but the targeted audience—a defined group of for-profit businesses—made this application unique.

Details Are Well-Researched

Grant makers want the facts about how the grant funding will be allocated if it’s distributed to your organization. Your grant proposal should include the core costs as well as any ancillary costs that may be incurred as part of the execution. If you have categories of costs, be as specific as possible. Transportation costs should reflect the mode of transportation (public transit system, purchasing a vehicle, rentals, etc.), mileage to be covered and, if using an organization’s vehicle, an allowance for wear and tear on that vehicle. If round numbers are used for expenses, details should be provided that clarify how that amount was determined.

Organizations should also evaluate whether they’re asking for funds to help cover the salary of the staff needed to run the program. It is recommended that applicants do some market research to determine how many additional resources may be needed as well as the going rate of the needed resources and whether staff will be full-time or part time. A grant application would stand out to a tax professional, for example, if a grant is being requested to cover payroll taxes and fringe benefits for an employee only slotted to work 20 hours per week.

Have a Funding Plan B

Even the best-laid plans for a program cannot cover unexpected expenses that may arise. Organizations that are using other funding sources to offset the costs of a program may have a stronger case for receiving a grant. It’s safer to assume you’ll be over budget than under budget, and grant-makers will want to see that a program can continue if the projections listed in the proposal underestimate expenses. A breakdown of how the grant would fit into the larger budget can help grant-makers understand where their support is going. One of the grant applications that stood out for the recycle program illustrated the organization’s total revenue streams with a separate column for how the specific grant’s funds would factor into those revenue streams.

Be Prepared

Grant funding can be a great way to fund a new program or project, but it takes time and research to locate the right sources of funding for your organization. Many grants serve a particular purpose, and finding the right alignment between a grant’s mission and your project will be a critical part of receiving support.

For more information on how to help your grant application stand out, please contact us.


Scott-Goldberg.jpgScott Goldberg is the Not-for-Profit Practice Leader for the New York office of CBIZ & MHM. He can be reached at 212.790.5713 or



Tags: Non-profits, Not-for-Profits, Scott Goldberg, funding, grant application

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