5 Tips For Clear, Helpful Application Guidelines

Fundraisers most often respond to application guidelines that solicit information funders need for decision-making. Unfortunately, the quality of the guidelines does vary.

“Grantmakers want to receive fundable grant proposals that respond to their requirements. Nonprofits want to develop responsive proposals that win grant awards,” said Barbara Floersch, executive director of The Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. “Clear, helpful application guidelines are a critical tool for achieving what both groups want.”

Grant application guidelines reflect the culture and approach of the grantmaker that develops them. The priorities, requirements, need for detail, and formats differ. “Applicants expect that,” said Floersch. “Grantseekers aren’t asking for uniformity, they’re requesting a more meticulous approach to requests for information.” There are at least five ways to fix the communication problem:

Define Terms: The terminology used within our organizations can become so engrained in the vocabulary that the person writing the guidelines can fail to recognize how unclear it is to others. When writing application guidelines, scour the document for terms that could possibly confuse the reader and then define those words.

Support Instructions with Examples: Even the clearest instructions can be enhanced by thoughtful examples. If the reader doesn’t quite understand the instructions, examples are a good supplement to promote clarity.

Publish FAQs: Collect the questions you most frequently receive concerning application guidelines and publish thorough answers on your website.

Assess Trouble Spots: When grantseekers consistently fail to address a certain requirement adequately, it’s likely that there’s a trouble spot in the application guidelines. Assess the weakest points in the grant proposals you receive and beef up your guidelines accordingly.

Listen to Applicants: Consider inviting applicants to participate in a focus group to explore your application guidelines, to help determine where they are strongest and where more clarity is needed.

It’s always helpful when funders are able to answer an applicant’s questions, but the high volume of calls and emails often make a one-on-one response impossible. “With consistent effort to clarity what you want from grantseekers, you’re bound to get more responsive proposals,” said Floersch. © Copyright 2016. The Grantsmanship Center