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Preparation is Everything - Grant Proposal Writing for Start-up CSOs

My colleagues and I just completed a training engagement at the Young African Leadership Initiative-Regional Leadership Centre (YALI-RLC) in Accra, Ghana. It was an awesome experience facilitating various sessions including grant proposal writing to a very motivated and inspired class of young West African civic leaders. A key challenge we identified was the inadequate skill and knowledge about the subject. It was also interesting to note that many of the participants had just founded a CSO or were working in CSOs that were at their nascent stages. This dynamic cohort, the ninth civic leadership group, inspired this blog piece.

So, let us get into the art and science of grant proposal writing…

When starting civil society organisations (CSOs), it is overlooked that in order to receive funding from those willing to contribute such as foundations, government agencies and companies they must write a grant proposal, which is a process in itself.

Proposal writing requires an individual to know the who, what, when, why and where of applying for a grant. In other words, it is a major undertaking and requires various steps in order to receive funding.

This is an introduction for the start-up CSO or individual interested in learning the steps required in writing an effective grant proposal. It will cover three key sub topics, (1) What is a grant? (2) What is a grant proposal? (3) What are the grant proposal requirements?

What is a grant?

A grant is an award of financial assistance, gift or support from a government agency, private foundation, company or other entity to an individual or organisation. This award of financial assistance does not have to be repaid but must be used for the sole purpose of the grant requirements.[1]

Typically, most grants are not awarded to individuals, however, there are limited amounts of grant opportunities that individuals may be able to apply for and receive. For example, funding is available for individuals seeking assistance to attend university, researchers and creative writers; artists and filmmakers often receive grants also. Other opportunities for individuals to receive a grant are for personal assistance because of a disability or to start a business.

Funding opportunities from International NGOs, donor agencies and foundations are generally accessible to CSOs. These types of opportunities are given to CSOs to support programmes that benefit the public. Such grants usually fall in the category of but are not limited to, education, health services, governance and elections, community development and women’s empowerment.

To receive a grant, an individual or organisation must submit a request, which is called a grant proposal.

What is a grant proposal?

A grant proposal is a request in the form of a written document that describes a programme or project for which an individual or organisation is seeking funding to support. The grant proposal is essentially the business plan for the proposed project. It provides answers to the fundamental questions of any programme or project; who, what, when, where and how. Generally speaking most grant proposals require the same or similar information. In some cases the donor agency will provide some basic guidelines on the type of information that is required, but for the most part, their requirements have been standardized.

What are the grant proposal requirements?

Information required in a grant proposal typically includes:

Organisation Background: This includes information about the organisation such as the mission statement; what the organisation does- programmes or services; people that benefit from the organisations programmes or services; and the track record of the organisation as determined by its past performance.

Problem Statement or Statement of the Need: This information is a compelling argument of why a project is necessary, substantiated with facts, studies and statistics that clearly identify and outline the need or problem based on creditable sources and references.

Goal and Specific Objectives: This section describes what your organisation expects to accomplish and the measurable outcomes you expect to achieve. A well-defined goal and objectives represent results and become the criteria to measure the success of a project.

Programme/ Project Narrative: This narrative describes the framework required for the completion or plan of operation, which includes activities, methodology and key resources or requirements (human resource, materials and any additional resources) needed to implement the project.

Timeline: This section provides an estimated duration of the project. The timeline can be in various versions but it should highlight the start, milestone and completion times of project activities.

Monitoring and Evaluation Plan: This segment provides a description of how to determine whether the goal and objectives have been met. The plan provides a mechanism to track and assess the project activities to ensure that the objectives have been achieved.

Sustainability Plan: The sustainability plan provides a description and a plan to continue operation beyond the grant timeline as well as propose the utilisation of other resources used to support the project or programme. It is the responsibility of the organisation to provide a plan of how future funds will be obtained and what other funds have been allocated for this purpose.

Budget: This segment provides a detailed financial plan. It is usually presented in a table format listing the income and expenses for a set period of time. A description also known as notes or narrative describes each of the line items specified in the budget.

Appendices: The appendices or attachments are recommended for most grant proposals and may include tax-exempt status verification; list of governing board members; financial statements and letters of support.

Writing a grant is a challenging but rewarding process that begins with an idea that morphs and evolves to completion. From my experience the most important step is to determine whether there is an actual need for the solution you are proposing. Knowing and understanding the potential needs of those you seek to serve is the sound foundation upon which every winning proposal is built. Preparation is everything!

*The Author, Charles Kojo Vandyck is WACSI’s Head, Capacity Development Unit

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