What I’ve learned working to secure grant funding

Like many accelerator and incubator programs around the country, the Akron Global Business Accelerator writes grants to secure funding for programs, projects and activities to support the companies and entrepreneurs in our program.

Proposals have ranged from one-page requests to local foundations to several hundred page documents to secure state and federal funds.

The frequency of these requests has increased over the last few years as we have worked to grow our program and make changes to our facilities that will greatly benefit our client companies. Our team has learned a great deal as we have waded into the grant-writing space.

We have made some mistakes along the way, but we learned from them and improved our proposals in the process. Some helpful things we learned along the way include:

Seek those with experience. If you don’t have experience in grant writing, talk to someone who does. There are bound to be professionals in your network who have experience and success in this area. These discussions can help you formulate a strategy and identify others who can help. This can be a time-intensive task; you may find it cost effective to hire a grant writer or contract with one.

Connect with the goals and objectives of the grantor. Remember, your grantor has goals they wish to achieve and their allocation decisions are based on accomplishing them. Your proposal should align with their funding goals and objectives, so use language that emphasizes and assures your project is in line with their “big picture” vision.

Funders aren’t as close to your project as you are. When writing a proposal, pretend you are talking to someone about it for the first time. Funders may have hundreds of proposals to review so it is important to make your project easy to understand. Answer the questions that are asked in the request for proposal – thoroughly, yet succinctly. Also make sure you are prepared with the information you need to develop a complete proposal based upon the funder’s requirements.

Relationships matter. Not all funders want to have conversations about the proposals with the potential grantees. However, if they do, it is important to leverage those relationships in order to have the best proposal possible. Often funders have knowledge that you don’t and using their knowledge to craft a proposal can provide important insight that can lead to a better program or project. They also appreciate when you ask questions because it leads to a better application.

Have a fresh set of eyes review your proposal before you submit it. Often times weeks or even months are spent working on a proposal. When you work on something for a long time, it becomes familiar – sometimes too familiar. Having a qualified communications person or professional colleague look at the proposal can help improve the flow of the proposal and even catch typos that could be costly.

Do what you say you are going to do with the money. This sounds basic, but it is sometimes harder than it seems. Projects may change after the original proposal was submitted or it may seem tempting to use funding for unanticipated needs. Grantors want transparency and will often require reports after funding is given. If you need or want to change something on a project, talk to the funder. It goes a long way toward strengthening your relationship.

Be patient. Grant funding is not a quick fix. It takes time to write the grants, modify proposals if needed and ultimately get the funding. Waiting for a grant may take six months to a year or more. 

Anthony Margida is CEO at Akron Global Accelerator