Granting agencies usually have a list of requirements in order to apply for a grant (“eligibility requirements.”) Most also have a list of factors they judge in rating proposals (“evaluation criteria.”) Frequently they also have a list of requirements once you get the grant (“compliance requirements.”) These requirements help assure the grant maker that recipient organizations will fulfill the grantor’s goals to the fullest.
In this blog series, we are going look at some of the less obvious grant eligibility requirements. We’ll also suggest possible ways to learn about and meet certain eligibility requirements.
Truly Hidden Requirements
The most difficult hidden requirements to meet are those that never appear in the guidelines. One of our clients once received a rejection notice explaining that organizations in their first year are not likely to be funded. Sure would have been nice to know that before developing the proposal! Another client met four of six stated priorities, but was turned down in a letter saying these four were not the top two priorities. Yet the guidelines did not prioritize the priorities. (This was a federal grant, so we contacted the local US representative about the inequity. The congressman was similarly upset and did contact the funding agency, which didn’t help the client but may have improved the proposal guidelines the next round.)
Sometimes the only way to learn of these hidden priorities is to get rejected and read the feedback. But if you are able to develop a relationship with the funding organization (some like to do this; others don’t), it may help to ask if you should be aware of any other considerations beyond those publicized. Another way to determine unadvertised de facto requirements is to review lists of previous winners. Trends or commonalities among past recipients are good indicators of what’s important to the funding agency.
Examples of obvious eligibility criteria include grantee organization type (municipality, school, non-profit), geographic restrictions, and alignment with funder’s priorities. Quite often mature funding programs will list what types of efforts they will or will not fund. Less common eligibility factors may include demographics of the applicant’s board or staff, demographics of the target population, longevity of the organization (mentioned above), history of funding from the proposed or other funding sources, limits on partnering organization, any past or pending legal actions, any lobbying efforts, and more. In the space of a blog, we can advise to be alert for all such requirements. They may appear in a concise list in the guidelines, and some may be sprinkled less conspicuously throughout the document.
As for type of organization, quite often a bona fide partnership, where different organizations do indeed jointly perform proposed activities, allows any one of the entities to serve as lead fiscal agent. If you are interested in applying for a grant but are not among the organizational structures funded, you may consider leveraging a partnership with an organization that does meet the eligibility criteria, and having them serve as lead. If you need to develop such partnerships, it may be worth the time investment to do so.
Sometimes a funder has a recipient in mind but posts a public request for proposals in order to meet competitive requirements. These proposals are often worded to give the preferred recipient a strong advantage. We call them “wired” proposals. Detecting wired proposals is worthy of its own blog, and indeed will be the next in the series.
Alignment with Funder’s Goals, Mission, and Priorities
Ideally, the printed evaluation criteria in a Request for Proposals (RFP) reflect the goals and priorities of the funding organization. However, extensive proposals may have goals and priorities interspersed throughout the request for proposal In a large federal proposal recently, we reviewed the RFP for a client and listed over a dozen key areas to address, drawn from many difference sections of the guidelines (Mission, Need, Goals, Evaluation, Impact, and others). The subsequent proposal was funded, over a million dollars.
Even if a priority is not reflected explicitly in the evaluation criteria, it is important to the funding organization. Scour the guidelines for keys and hot buttons, and respond to them clearly in your proposal.
Funders often require matching support for a proposed project as a way to demonstrate the applicant’s investment and capabilities in the project. Any matching requirements are usually spelled out in the proposal guidelines. The “hidden” part may come in the form of what can be included as a match. Money is an obvious form of match. Less obvious forms include the value of space, facilities, advertising, materials and supplies, administrative costs, and volunteer support. Funding agencies differ on what they do and don’t allow as a match. For example, some agencies smile on matching funds from other institutions, while others don’t. Some US government grants disallow matches from other federal sources.
Make sure your proposed matches are acceptable, either by adhering to written guidelines where available or by direct contact with the funding organization.
We’ve already written a couple blog articles on matching funds:
The first one suggests possible sources for matching funds. The second one discusses ideas for what you can include as a match.
Stay tuned for more
In the next article of this series, we’ll talk about detecting “wired” proposals. Following that, we’ll discuss reporting, administrative, and financial requirements that might not be obvious in the guidelines, but that could hamper your ability to compete effectively for an award, or manage the award once funded.
We’d love to hear your questions. Please email or comment with any areas you’d like to see covered in our blogs.
Photo Credit: tec_estromberg