Best practice for writing grants guidelines
Fine-tuning your grants guidelines to ensure they are accessible and user-friendly will make life easier for both grantseekers and you, the grantmaker.
What's the problem?
As they search for program details, closing dates, eligibility criteria and funding priorities, grantseekers can feel as though they're climbing mountains, jumping through hoops and tackling an endless series of obstacles.
Accessibility has two components: the availability of information and the ease of use.
Grantseekers can have great difficulty finding information in the first place, and when they find it, it can be difficult to understand.
Why bother addressing it?
If your grants guidelines are accessible and user-friendly you will have fewer telephone and email enquiries to respond to, and you will have fewer misguided or ineligible applications to deal with.
The more accessible your information is, the better the applications you will receive, and the better the programs you will be able to fund.
How do we fix it?
The world's best guidelines are useless if a grantseeker doesn't know they exist or cannot get hold of them.
- Advertise the availability of the guidelines.
- They should be available at least two months before applications close; three to four months is better.
- As soon as your guidelines become available:
- issue a media release
- advise everyone on your mailing list
- advise Our Community for listing in the EasyGrants newsletter
- advertise wherever relevant grantseekers are most likely to see it.
- Basic information that should be included in any advertisement or media release: an outline of the program; information about who can apply; and contact details (including a phone number, an email address and a web address).
- Double-check all of your communication materials to ensure that the telephone number works and the web address is correct.
- Ensure that the relevant information can in fact be found on that web page.
- Ensure that whoever might answer the telephone number provided knows about the grants program and how to handle an inquiry.
- If your organisation doesn't already have a website, set one up. It will help reduce your workload. The more information people can access online, the less you will be called on to provide one-to-one.
- There should be a link from the home page to the grant page that is clear and easy to find. And the grant page should always appear in the results if someone enters the word "grants" into the search engine on your page.
- Your web addresses should not change from one year to the next (although the content should be updated).
- Never assume that people enter your site from the front page and navigate through to the grants page. They might go straight to the guidelines from a Google search, or they might have kept a link they used in previous years.
- When a program has closed, say so on the website.
- It is also best practice to give an indication of the program's current status, even if that status is still unclear.
- Equity of access is important, so ensure you have hard copies available for people who are not web savvy or who have limited internet access.
Ease of use
- Use plain English. The program might be the result of a policy document, but that does't mean it has to read like one.
- The guidelines should never be longer than about 12 pages.
- Have someone from outside your organisation read your guidelines. Anyone on the street should be able to pick them up and clearly understand the grants program, including who can apply and what the outcomes of their project should be.
- Ensure your guidelines include the most important information: the closing date and the contact details. Both these items should be in big, bold writing that is very easy to find - ideally on the first page.
- An applicant should not have any doubts about their eligibility, so spell it out.
- You can describe the sorts of groups that can apply, or the sorts of groups that cannot apply, or both.
- Specify whether recipients are required to have deductible gift recipient status, be income-tax exempt, be incorporated, have insurance, etc.
- It is a good idea to include some examples of previously funded projects, or a list of priorities.
- You should also provide information about the maximum and minimum levels of available funding, the average amount provided and the total available pool.
- Alternatively, you can list the previous year's recipients and how much money they received. This also helps you meet best-practice accountability standards.