Simplifying Your Grant Process
The journey to winning a grant can be undeniably tedious, from finding grant(s) that are a good fit for your organization to writing the proposal and to managing the fund when you are awarded – it can all be draining!
Just last week, the African mobility startup, Moove, raised $30 million in a funding round – despite the recent downsizing in tech companies, from global giants like Twitter and Amazon to local players like Jumia.
I had to pause and wonder why.
While this was equity-funding, the secret to Moove's successful raise of $181.8 million in total this year is important if you are seeking grant funding for your organisation. This is the truth: the same funding that several startups and NGOs are looking for is what funders are running after some organisations to give them. It is thus unsurprising that African start-ups received as much as $2.7 billion in funding within the first 9 months of 2022 alone.
Nonetheless, with all the "money" flying around, how can your organisation get a piece of the pie? Quite simple; design a project that funders will fall head over heels in love with! When you have a project or concept that is literally "the dream come true" for people and organisations that provide funds to your kind of startup or NGO, they would definitely put in their money. That is why it is not just sufficient to think up an idea for your next project, you must design the project in a way that will align with the deep desires of a pool of funders. In fact, the success of a grant application largely depends on the project design.
Here's what you must remember: just as honey attracts ants, a project that meets the deep desires of a funder will definitely attract funding. How can your organisation do this? I want to share that secret with you in this article – especially as it relates to grant funding.
Project design is the process of fleshing out your project idea. It is that stage in the project's life-cycle where you define the project goals, activities and processes, resources, timeline, and outcomes. It is also the stage when you refine the logical pathway for your project to reach its target outcomes. In designing your project, you must be brutally honest about what works and what does not; and weed out any weak links. For instance, your activities must perfectly line up with the resources you need, and both must clearly lead up to your end goals. It is also at the project design stage that you identify what the project's risks are and consider mitigating strategies. Basically, project designing is tailoring your project to meet certain specifications – which in this case is the specifications of funders.
To design a project that will grab the attention of funders, here are five hacks you need to know:
As simple as this sounds, it is a direct bridge to gaining access to grant funding for your startup or NGO. Another way to describe this is: design your project to meet a need that is urgent and in demand. Such causes could be around globally recognized issues like the UN's Sustainable Development Goals – reducing poverty and inequalities, tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, or ending hunger. Another way to identify causes that everyone wants to solve is by taking notes of where finance is moving to in your region. For instance, the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) earlier this year announced that it will be pumping funds into Africa's food systems and agriculture to strengthen food security in lieu of the Russian-Ukraine war. This already meant that cashflow would be coming into the agri/food sector. Thus, to attract grant funding that is likely to come from this source, you would need to position your organisation by creating project(s) to tackle food insecurity.
Moove did this with their latest funding round. According to news reports, the funding round was arranged to "support Moove's plan to build the largest Electric Vehicle (EV) ride-hailing fleet in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region". This would allegedly reduce over 5,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, helping the oil-rich region to attain carbon neutrality and meet their climate targets. This was an incredibly smart move given that it came around the COP 27 Climate Summit in Egypt; where the politics and economics surrounding climate change would motivate the wealthy but "guilty" rich middle east countries like UAE to invest in climate innovations.
Funders are in love with projects that have far-reaching impact, directly and indirectly. For example, if your project is targeting multiple locations/countries, will benefit a large number of people, and will achieve multiple key outcomes like reducing poverty and unemployment while promoting gender equality and mitigating climate change at the same time, you will not only attract the attention of funders, but you will also have a wide pool of grant funding applications/proposals you can enter for. As such, when designing your project, think deeply about how you can amplify the impact of your project. Even if it is a project to support low-income women in a given community, see how you can integrate climate solutions like providing solar inverters for electricity or encouraging organic, climate smart farming.
Also, pay attention to the scale: ensure that the project will be able to progressively reach large numbers of people over a given period. Designing with an accessible technology, e.g. a USSD service for women farmers to be updated on farming techniques or smart metres to help women optimise electricity usage, is often a great way to ensure scalability. Grant funders usually prioritise grant applications that clearly outline a pathway to scale.
Keep in mind that the project does not have to be an entirely new idea – except you have one already. You can get inspiration from what people have already done in other places that have worked, and then figure out how it could be implemented within your organisation's reach given the context and peculiarities.
As a startup or NGO, you should ensure that your project reaches the unreached, or the historically excluded. In other words, the pool of your beneficiaries should be as inclusive as possible. Women, young people, children, people with disabilities, people from low-income communities, immigrants, internally-displaced persons (IDPs), and people affected by conflicts generally are often in this category of previously excluded. Designing your project to cater for these classes of people will definitely increase your chances of accessing grant funding, as several funders are looking out for projects that include one or more of these groups. For instance, only providing for 50% female beneficiaries will make you eligible for a wider pool of grant funding you can apply for.
For every dollar and other resources invested in your project, there should be an optimal return on the investment. For an NGO, this will be measured based on the impact and reach of the project, while for a startup, the financial returns will be very key. Let's say a funder has $50,000 to give for poverty alleviation. Between a project that can realistically impact 5,000 people across 1 year with a clear pathway to scale, and another that can impact 200 people with a proportional pathway to scale, which is a funder likely to choose? The first, of course! We all want maximum value for our money. And so does every funder.
That is why you must pay attention to your project activities and budget. Aggressively cut out every part that is not necessary. Learn more about budgeting for grant proposals that win the hearts of funders here.
To build trust with funders and get them to believe that your project will achieve its set outcomes and impact, there must be a strong logical foundation that shows how the activities and resources invested in the project will result in those outcomes within a given timeline. This is extremely crucial to getting grant funding for your project. Another name for this is your theory of change, and/or logic model. To test your project's logical foundation, you would need to properly understand the problem or cause you want to tackle, and determine an evidence-based solution that tackles the problem at definite levels and in a definite duration.
For instance, if it is a lack of access to electricity among women in a rural community, you can then ask: what caused this problem? Based on research, this could be the community's distance from the national grid and lack of resources to establish a connection. To understand the impact of the project, consider what difference it will make by solving the problem. For instance, it could enable the women to earn increased incomes (direct impact) and help the women's school-aged children to perform better at school (indirect impact).
Then you could determine which is most cost effective: establishing the connection to the national electricity grid, or a solar inverter off-grid solution. Based on your analysis, you could then design activities and understand the resources you would need within specific timelines. When your project has a strong logical pathway to impact, funders will definitely be attracted.
Your NGO or startup will have a higher chance of winning grant funding – and other funding – when you have a project that is tailored to meet the deep desires of funders. That is why you must pay attention to your project design. Ensure that it meets an urgent need, has far-reaching impact, is inclusive, maximises resources and has a strong logical foundation. That is the ultimate hack to get funders to fall in love with your project and be after you!