Beating the Clock: Strategies to Conquer Grant Deadlines

May 14, 2024
min read

Grant funding is crucial for supporting NGOs and startups in driving sustainable development, economic growth, and positive social impact across Africa. From building infrastructure and delivering health services to implementing educational programs and advancing research, grants provide the financial backbone for turning visions into reality.

However, grant-seeking is highly competitive, with numerous organizations vying for limited funding opportunities. Funders receive an overwhelming number of applications, and their first screening criterion is whether the submission was received by the stated deadline. Meeting the grant application deadline is not just a formality—it's a make-or-break factor that determines whether your application will be considered or discarded.

Missing a deadline, even by a few minutes, can result in immediate disqualification, regardless of the merits of the proposed project. This blog post explores strategies and best practices to help grant seekers overcome the challenges of grant application deadlines and maximize their chances of securing funding.

What are Grant Application Deadlines?

In the simplest terms, a grant application deadline is the final date and time, set by the funder, that a grant proposal/application must be submitted to be considered for funding. These deadlines are strictly enforced. All grant opportunities have deadlines. However, there are different kinds of deadlines. We will get there soon. 

The two major purposes of setting deadlines for grant applications are: 

  • To ensure a fair and organized process for all applicants.
  • To allow funders to manage the received volume of applications and review them within a reasonable timeframe.

Categories of Grant Application Deadlines 

There are two main categories of grant application deadlines:

Rolling Deadlines

A rolling basis grant application means that you can apply at multiple stated times during the year and decisions are made several times per year. Applications are accepted until all available funds have been awarded. There is no specific due date, but applications are reviewed and funded in the order they are received.  There can be up to twelve calls for proposals or applications in a single year. A good example is the Gen F EIR opportunity for startup founders. This type of deadline is less common and the funding is either limited or restricted to a certain meagre amount.

Fixed Deadlines

This is the most common type of deadline. A fixed deadline grant has a stipulated time pegged for the end of submission. Applications are accepted for a fixed number of days, weeks, or months. Grants with this deadline have firm cutoff dates and times, such as July 1st, 2024 at 5:00 PM GMT, by which all applications must be submitted. Another thing to note is that they come with a timezone such as GMT, EST, or WAT. This category is strict, yet it offers the most funding in tens of thousands or millions of dollars. A good example is Africa Business Heroes which is only open for two to three months, each year.

The Consequences of Missing Deadlines

Ineligibility for Consideration

Most grant programs have strict policies about not accepting late applications. This is clearly shown on many grant application portals. Even being one minute past the deadline can result in automatic disqualification. Even if your proposed project for funding is a cure for cancer and the application misses the deadline by 2 hours, it will be rejected without review. 

Missed Opportunities for Funding

Grant opportunities are time-sensitive and may not be available again for another year or two, except for rolling basis deadlines. Missing a deadline means missing out on that specific funding period, which can derail program plans and stall organizational growth if the proposed project is time-bound. For example, imagine a COVID-related project missing a bi-annual funding opportunity deadline in 2021. By the time the funding opportunity is available again in 2023, the relevance and urgency of the project could be significantly diminished. This loss of timeliness can undermine the project's impact and the organization’s momentum.

Negative Impact on Future Funding Prospects  

Missing a deadline can be seen as a sign of disorganization or lack of commitment by the applicant. Some grant opportunities come from the same funders but through different sister organizations. For example, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) offers numerous grants directly or through partners, all using the same application portal. Frequently missing deadlines can damage your organization's credibility and reputation, as funders may view your team as unreliable. This perception can reduce your chances of securing future funding, as funders prefer to invest in organizations that demonstrate punctuality and professionalism.

Wasted Time and Resources

Significant time and effort go into writing a grant proposal. Some applicants spend a lot in the process. Missing a deadline renders all that work and resources spent wasted on that particular opportunity if the deadline is missed. Valuable staff hours and operational costs are essentially wasted. 

Tips and Strategies to Beat Deadlines

Double-check Application Requirements for Time Zones and Submission Methods

Before pursuing a grant opportunity, carefully review the grant guidelines to understand the submission methods and time zone requirements. 

Some opportunities are open for a limited time (such as ABH, which is open for 2-3 months) and may have specific requirements that are challenging to meet. Different funders use different time zones, so as an African grant seeker applying for a grant with an EST, GMT, or CET deadline, you need to account for the time difference to ensure your submission meets the deadline in the specified time zone. This diligence can prevent last-minute surprises and ensure your application is timely and compliant.

Create a Grant Application Calendar and Allocate Sufficient Time for Each Step

Once you decide to pursue a grant opportunity, the next step is to develop a calendar outlining all the requirements for each selected grant. If you are targeting multiple grants, create a comprehensive calendar based on your organization’s capacity. Allocate sufficient time for essential tasks such as conducting research, writing drafts, gathering supporting documents, and allowing for internal reviews and revisions. For instance, if a grant deadline is six months away, you could allocate two months for research, two months for writing and revisions, and one month for final reviews and submission. This schedule leaves you with an extra month to address any unforeseen issues or additional tasks.

Identify Required Documents and Information

Grant applications often require various supporting documents, such as audited financial statements, organizational policies, pitch decks, registration documents, annual reports, and letters of support. Make a checklist of all required documents and start gathering them early. This proactive approach will prevent last-minute scrambles and ensure you have everything ready well before the deadline. For example, if a grant requires audited financial statements for the past three years, request these from your accounting team as soon as you decide to apply.

Break Down the Application into Manageable Tasks

Grant applications can be lengthy and complex, with multiple sections and components. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, break down the application process into smaller tasks. Assign deadlines for completing each section or task, and tackle them one by one. For instance, dedicate a week to developing the project narrative, another week for the budget and financial projections, and so on. While setting timelines is easy, following them requires commitment. Ensure you have the dedication to adhere to your schedule.

Assign Responsibilities and Set Internal Deadlines

Most applicant organizations have at least one or two team members involved in the grant application process. Clearly assign responsibilities and set internal deadlines for each member's contributions. This approach ensures accountability and prevents potential bottlenecks or delays. For example, one team member could be responsible for drafting the project narrative by a specific date, while another focuses on gathering supporting documents. By distributing tasks and setting clear expectations, you can streamline the application process and increase your chances of success.

Start the Application Process Early to Manage Writer's Block and Procrastination

It’s not enough to write; your proposal must be compelling enough to captivate funders. Writer's block and procrastination can be significant obstacles in completing grant applications. Starting the process early allows you to work through these challenges without the pressure of an impending deadline. If you find yourself stuck on a particular section, stepping away and returning to it with a fresh perspective can be incredibly helpful. An early start also provides ample time for multiple revisions and improvements, ensuring your proposal is polished and persuasive.

Seek External Support Such as Grant Writing Services

For some applicants, finding the time to dedicate to the application process is challenging, while others may lack the expertise to craft compelling proposals. If you find yourself in either category, consider seeking external support from experienced grant writers or consultants, especially for complex or high-stakes grant opportunities like USAID or Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grants. These professionals can offer valuable expertise, objectivity, and a fresh perspective. Professional grant writers, like those at Grant Masters, can significantly enhance the quality of your proposal and increase your chances of securing funding.

Submit Well in Advance of the Deadline

Aim to submit your grant application well before the stated deadline. This approach gives you time to address any unforeseen technical issues or last-minute revisions. Additionally, submitting early demonstrates your organization’s efficiency and commitment to the funder. For instance, if the deadline is May 19th, set your internal submission deadline to May 12th, providing a week’s cushion to manage any last-minute challenges. This buffer ensures that your application is submitted on time and reflects your best effort.


Securing grant funding is highly competitive. Meeting application deadlines is crucial and can make or break your chances of securing vital funding for impactful projects across Africa. Missing deadlines can lead to automatic disqualification, missed opportunities, damaged credibility, and wasted resources.

To stand out and increase your chances of success, implement the strategies outlined in this post. Start early, break down tasks, foster collaboration, and seek external support when needed. These steps will help you navigate the grant application process effectively and ensure your proposals are compelling and timely.

Each successful grant application brings your organization closer to making a tangible difference. Gather your team, set your goals, and embark on the grant-seeking journey with confidence. With the right approach and mindset, you can conquer grant deadlines and turn your visionary projects into reality.

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