The article ‘How funders can avoid complexity in grant applications’ first appeared in F&P (Fundraising & Philanthropy).

In the philanthropic world, the quest to maximise impact and foster positive change is ongoing. F&P members – who stand at the forefront of this quest – recognise the pivotal role that grant funding plays in their organisations’ efforts to catalyse initiatives and community-centred efforts.

And a crucial part of securing that funding is in the effectiveness and accessibility of the grant application process itself. How have you – F&P readers – found this process? Would you agree that it’s time for funders to re-evaluate and innovate the granting approach so we can fully harness the power of philanthropy? No doubt you do… and so it’s time to talk about what needs to change in the grant application process.

“Let’s remember the profound impact simplicity can have on our collective efforts.”

Julia Steele Scott, CEO, Grant Toolbox

Funders still receive a surprisingly high number of ineligible or poor quality grant applications, and this highlights the need for a shift in the grant-making paradigm — from something that is complex and opaque, to processes that are simple and transparent.

Grant-makers, making changes

Those who grant funds have a role to play in ensuring the application process is easy to understand, simple to follow and transparent, advocating for a partnership approach to grant-making that enhances mutual understanding and effectiveness.

The move towards simplification is not just about reducing paperwork – it’s about enhancing efficiency and effectiveness across the board. By adopting a more accessible application framework, funders can ensure that their support reaches the right initiatives, driving forward the collective mission of positive community impact.

Let’s look at some steps that grant makers can take to simplify the application process and improve the quality of applications they receive.

Common mistakes to avoid when creating grant applications

The journey toward simplification begins with recognising and avoiding these common grant application mistakes, shared by Julia Steele Scott, CEO of Grant Toolbox:

  1. Overly complex language: funders should ensure their application forms are written in plain language that all applicants can easily understand.
  2. Misaligned questions: questions should directly reflect the funder’s key selection criteria to streamline the assessment process.
  3. Unnecessary length: (reasonable) word limits in grant applications prevent overly lengthy responses that can detract from the essence of a proposal.
  4. Redundant information requests: funders should avoid asking for information that is easily accessible through other means, such as public databases.
  5. Irrelevant outcome questions: application forms should focus on questions that provide insights into the changes and benefits the funder aims to achieve.
  6. Excessive data collection: funders should only collect data that will be actively used for assessment and evaluation, respecting applicants’ time and resources.
  7. Disproportionate effort for grant size: the complexity of the application process should be proportional to the grant amount, balancing thoroughness with practicality.

We should aim for inclusivity and efficiency

The digital era offers unprecedented opportunities to simplify grant applications. There is great benefit in allowing applicants to apply through any device, contributing to a flexible and inclusive approach. This adaptability not only makes the process more accessible but also ensures that it meets the diverse needs of various organisations.

As well as increased inclusivity, simplifying the grant application process yields significant advantages for both grant-makers and grantees, including greater efficiency, improved data accuracy, enhanced communication and data-driven decision-making. These benefits collectively contribute to a more effective and impactful philanthropic sector.

As Julia reminds us, the power of simplicity in grant-making processes can significantly amplify our philanthropic efforts. By avoiding the common mistakes discussed above and embracing streamlined applications, we empower grant seekers to concentrate on their vital work.

“The call to simplify grant applications is more than a push for efficiency; it’s a strategic move towards empowering organisations and individuals dedicated to making a difference,” says Julia.

“As we navigate the complexities of modern philanthropy, let’s remember the profound impact simplicity can have on our collective efforts. Together, we can create a more accessible and impactful grant-making ecosystem.”