Winning Your Next Grant Application With Numbers…

So there is a new grant coming out and you think your non-profit has a great chance at winning.

I want to let you in on a little secret. For years, my team and I wrote grants for non-profits. We got them so much money. Considering it was not the primary focus of our business (we were management consultants primarily, not grant writers and a small team of 3 at the time), we still secured tens of millions for our clients, in just over a decade. So how did we do this?

The secret? Numbers. Now, some of you will respond and refute this claim by arguing the importance of storytelling. Yes, storytelling is without a doubt important. We could not have secured these grants without a good story. However, may I argue that the starting point of any good story is a number? Here’s why I think so:

a. Numbers can create the story. One of the first projects we secured funding for was for a newcomer/immigrant services group. The application was to create a leadership program for Latin American Women. The number in question? The annual earnings of a Latin American Woman. In Canada, at the time, a Latin American Woman earned less than half of what a white male earned with the same education. This number served as the basis for needing a leadership program. Clearly, the difference was systemic and these women needed a leg up to help overcome the system. The grant funder later told us that this statistic was etched in the mind of the grant committee as they evaluated this grant and this fact was the driving force in winning that grant.

b. Numbers clarify both the problem and the solution. For another client that was creating a part-time employment program for Seniors communicating both scale and scope helped to secure their grant. In their case, the average Senior household was earning about $8,000 LESS than the poverty line in that region. This statistic was particularly true for females over the age of 65 where over half of the females of that age cohort made at least $8000 less than the poverty line for a single adult household at the time. Their proposed solution? A part-time employment program where participants would make on average $7500–10,000 a year — helping to close the poverty gap.

c. Numbers demonstrate scope and scale of the issue. Another project we worked on was creating an employment training program for individuals with autism. The scope of the problem was that up to 90% of individuals with autism were unemployed. The scale was much harder to identify. There was no statistic about how many autistic individuals existed in the client’s service region. Using some pretty simple modelling, we were able to extrapolate data that demonstrated tens of thousands of individuals that were potentially impacted by autism in that area, and thus likely unemployed. These neurodivergent individuals just needed a chance and this agency was able to win the grant and help these clients through an employment training program that worked with them and focused on giving them the support they needed.

Numbers in all of these cases were the reason the grants were successful. There are countless other examples that I can cite over the last decade where citing the right numbers are what helped to secure the funding for a particular client.

So, if numbers are not your thing, how do you get started with them? How do you know what numbers to use that will make the difference?

The way I solve this dilemma is to always start every grant with the numbers. I developed a bit of a formula that I used that helped my clients and our team to get to the “right number”. My formula was:

a. What is the Issue? This is usually something the client could solve pretty easily. Let’s say it was Youth Unemployment. So there were lots of youth unemployed.

b. What is the Underlying Issue: So there are lots of youth unemployed. So What? That might sound cold-hearted, but what difference or impact is your program going to make unless you know WHY those youth are unemployed? Is it a discrepancy between labor market needs and the training (or lack of) that they received in school? Is it mental health issues and the unemployed need some type of mental health wrap-around support coupled with some on-the-job training? Is it a lack of soft skills? A lack of the right networks? The list can go on forever. There is an action or intervention required to help these people. You have to identify the right one.

c. What stats do we know: Sometimes it is a national statistic. Sometimes it is a study. There is always something that you can relate to your problem. Perhaps we know that in a similar region, individuals who received networking training as part of their employment training had 25% better labor market outcomes (made-up). Well, we can easily use that to quantify the difference this will mean in our own market. Perhaps we know that no one offers that particular type of training. This would be a great opportunity to experiment with this in your region. What you are doing is different and solves a real-world problem.

d. Treat a grant like an Investment: If you see a grant application like looking for an investor, the language you use, the way you approach the grant application will change. Rather than looking for money, you are looking for a partner to invest in your program. You are going to generate a return for that money. You are going to achieve some type of result. You are going to report on those results in a standard way. You would never expect to get investment dollars and not report to your investor how that money was being spent. Look at a grant the same way. You are handling that investment project for the client. They invested in YOU, your TEAM, and your reputation/past work to achieve social change. Provide them with the metrics they need upfront about what you hope to achieve and how you will do it. Remember markets can change along the way. You are not guaranteeing anything; you are just stating your assumptions.

I love this topic and could go on forever, but I will end on this note. Do not let fear of the numbers stop you from delivering a strong grant proposal that creates a memorable statistic, quantifies a problem, or demonstrates how serious a situation is. I truly encourage you to use numbers effectively in your proposal writing and I guarantee it will help you be more successful at securing your grant investments.

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