Navigating the Grant Application Minefield: Common Mistakes SMEs Make and How to Avoid Them

May 4, 2023
min read

Much like traversing a dense jungle, grant applications can be challenging and complex for SMEs seeking funding to fuel their growth. Despite the importance of funding, many applications are rejected due to avoidable mistakes, leaving SMEs stranded in their quest for support. In this blog post, we'll uncover the most common pitfalls SMEs face in grant applications and share valuable tips to help them successfully navigate the process.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Applying for Misfit Grants:

Grants aren't a one-size-fits-all solution. It's vital for organizations to ensure their projects align with a grant's objectives and focus areas before applying. Tailor your application to the grant's priorities, demonstrating how the project will fulfill the grant's goals. Be sure to provide evidence of how the project aligns with your organization's mission.

Lack of Understanding of the RFP:

According to a 2021 report by Guidestar, 29% of organizations reported that a “lack of understanding of the grant requirements was a top challenge in the grant application process”. To overcome this, SMEs must thoroughly understand the grant's requirements, allowing them to develop a clear project plan that aligns with the grant's objectives.

Incomplete Applications:

Leaving questions or sections blank in an application can significantly harm your chances of securing funding. Read the application guidelines thoroughly and ensure all required information and documents are included. If a document isn't applicable, explain why rather than omit it.

Failure to Highlight Impact:

GrantStation reported in 2019 that 48% of funders cited "failure to clearly articulate the project's potential impact" as a top reason for rejecting grant applications. SMEs should focus on showcasing the project's potential impact, demonstrating a clear understanding of the grant's goals.

Lack of Clarity in Applications:

Ambiguity in a grant application can frustrate reviewers. Clearly and concisely articulate the project's objectives, strategies, and expected outcomes. Avoid using jargon and acronyms that may be unfamiliar to the reviewer, and provide evidence of the project's impact.

Insufficient Evidence of Organizational Capacity:

2015 data by Foundation Center showed that 39% of funders cited "insufficient evidence of the applicant's organizational capacity" as a top reason for rejecting grant applications. SMEs should provide information on their team's skills, experience, and track record, helping funders assess their ability to deliver on the project's objectives.

Inflated or Unrealistic Budgets:

An inflated or poorly justified budget can undermine an SME's grant application. Account for all expenses, including staffing, supplies, and equipment, and provide a justification for each item. If the project will continue beyond the grant period, offer a plan for its sustainability.

Poor Writing and Communication Skills:

A 2016 survey by the Association of Fundraising Professionals revealed that 76% of funders cited "poor writing and communication skills" as a top reason for rejecting grant applications. To impress funders and increase your chances of securing funding, ensure your application is well-written, concise, and error-free.

Submitting Generic Proposals:

Avoid submitting a one-size-fits-all proposal. Customize the proposal to the grant's requirements and objectives, and demonstrate how your organization's experience and expertise will contribute to the project's success. Highlight your organization's unique approach and how it sets you apart from other applicants.


Grant applications can be daunting, but by sidestepping common mistakes, organizations can improve their chances of success. To secure funding, SMEs must develop a clear project plan, emphasize the potential impact of their project, provide evidence of their organizational capacity, and ensure their application

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