Project Development: It’s more than spending grant money

Project development may be the most misunderstood element of grant writing, but it is by far the most important

Project development may be the most misunderstood element of grant writing, but it is by far the most important. The bottom line is that agencies do not receive grant funding, their projects do.

You may be able to show a great need, supported by reams of detailed statistical data and plenty of anecdotal information, but if you cannot tell the funder specifically and clearly how you plan to use their money to solve your problem, you probably will not be funded.

Thinking in terms of developing a complete project rather than just figuring out how to spend grant money may be a new way of approaching grants for some people. But it’s just this sort of process that will improve your chances of getting funded. Just as importantly, it will help ensure that the project is a success, which should be your main goal when applying for a grant.

In general, funders are looking for projects that address a real need in the community, have measurable outcomes to determine the effectiveness of the project, can be replicated by other communities with similar problems, and are sustainable after the funding ends. Without that, you probably don’t have a fundable project.

That may sound like a tall order when what you really need is just to buy some new equipment you don’t have, but you should be able to fully develop that need into a real project with enough detail that the funder will feel compelled to award you the funds.

It really isn’t enough to have a single goal in mind when you apply for a grant. You need to know how you will reach that goal. To quote football coach Tom Landry, “Setting the goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.” And that’s project development.

So, how does that translate to a grant application? It’s all about creating a project that includes clearly defined:

  •  Goals (long-range accomplishments – could be a single goal or several)
  •  Objectives (intended impacts – these are measurable)
  •  Activities (the actions taken or work performed)

For a football coach, the goal is winning the game. The objective is scoring points. The activities are the plays that will lead to scoring points.

Think of project development as a pyramid with the goals at the top. The objectives support the goals and the activities support the objectives at the bottom.

Sounds easy. But the reality is you will have to do a lot of thinking and planning to determine how to best relate your goals, objectives and activities in your grant application. This doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to have enough detail to clearly show what you are going to do, how you are going to do it, and what you expect to happen because of it. Also, remember that this needs to be realistic and attainable. Don’t overreach when you set your goals, objectives and activities to impress the funder if you have no way of succeeding. 

One of the benefits of getting all of this outlined in your application is that, once you get funded, you will already have your project ready to go!

About the author

Linda Gilbertson is a Grant Professional with more than 15 years of experience writing and managing grants for both non-profit and government agencies. She has 12 years of law enforcement-related experience in grant writing, grant management, crime analysis, and research. She has been responsible for the acquisition of millions of dollars in federal, state and local grants during her career. Linda is also an award-winning journalist and has worked extensively with non-profit organizations in public relations and community education.

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