Grant strategies to build nonprofit capacity

KarleenQLD  Author:Dr Karleen Gwinner


#the_characters, #the_need, #back_it_up, #goal_posts, #dig_down, #how_to, #budget_value, #access_yourself

Does the thought of writing a project proposal paralyse you with fear?

Do your eyes widen, do you gasp in preparation to scream?

Well relax! This is a normal and instinctual reaction. Your brain is preparing you for a deadly combat with words. Luckily, we are here to help you overcome your fear. We have plotted a few #hashtags to help you order the information you need for a killer project proposal. Use these and soon enough, you will win your battle with words and create dynamic well-structured project proposals for grant applications.


All good stories start by introducing the characters, and so too does a well-crafted project proposal. Introduce the people of your project; your organisation, partners and beneficiaries. Who will be the key driver/s for the project? Describe other key stakeholders and what they might do in the story. Who will benefit from the project? Are there any special skills or resources needed for the project? Articulate the vision guiding your organisation’s mission. Tell the reader where the project will take place and who will take charge.


Why does it need to happen? EPIC project ideas are great but highlighting the need for your project is your next task to craft a well-written project proposal. Defining what is needed is the fundamental ingredient of your project proposal. Ask who, why, what and when questions to define and fully understand your project’s need. Be as realistic and specific as possible about the needs you are addressing. There may be many unmet needs, so focus on the main need(s) you have identified. Make sure the need aligns to the core mission and objectives of your organisation. Write down a clear statement, one to two sentences describing your need, e.g. young mums need stable and suitable housing to provide best care for their children. This helps to ensure that everybody involved in your project knows what you are trying to support, and funders understand the impact you are trying to have.


How do you know the unmet need exists and why? Did you talk with your beneficiaries, do the local statistics indicate a problem, do your partners and stakeholders have a shared understanding of a problem, does the research support your observations of the need? Demonstrate how you know the unmet need exists. Write down what you know about the need, provide some recent and relevant evidence. Talk to our Evaluation Team if you are not sure about how to identify the need.


Needs are things that can be directly tied to the project goal and objectives. The goals are necessary for the project to be successful. Defining clear goals and objectives aligned to your organisations’ core mission is a critical part of the project proposal. Goals are your high-level statements about what the project will achieve. Goals map the key elements for success, e.g. the parenting program’s goal is to provide safe, social and educational support for young parents.


Objectives describe the specific outcomes and deliverables of the project. You will have objectives for each phase of the project. Objectives dig down to the aims that support the goals. Objectives are statements about the desired outcomes e.g. reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an objective; the level of greenhouse gas emissions is an outcome. An objective is specific and measurable, and must meet time, budget, and quality constraints. 


Explain the how. What do you need to do to implement the activities to achieve the objectives, and the goals. When is it going to happen and how long will it take? Sometimes it helps to outline your key project activities into an easy to follow format (project table) and list the corresponding timetable (completion date) and the person responsible for each task. Think carefully about the time and resources needed to complete each phase successfully within the specified period. Go into detail to convince the funder you and your organisation know how to carry out the activities. A few questions to help put together the how to ask include - How will we do this project?; What are the boundaries of this project - what is outside the scope of the project?; What are the risks? -Financial, Social, Seasonal; What are the strategies for overcoming risks? - Risk Management, Back-up plan.


With the project activities mapped out you can outline the costs to undertake each activity and task of the project. What will it take (in terms of resources) to accomplish the goals of the project? Will you need more staff, and/or better trained staff? A new building? Write down a list of what you would need over what period to make the project happen. Then, next to each item, write down an estimate of what that would cost. Don’t forget to include the in-kind cost of the project such as volunteer time or shared resources from other organisations. Does the project represent good value and benefit to achieve the goals? How will the funds be managed? Describe how the costs are justified and how the project can build capacity for your organisation and in the community. Be rigorous with your budget.


With the project proposal developed ask others in your organisation to provide feedback. Is the information clear enough that someone else can implement the project if needed? Does the budget align to the tasks of the project? Once you have a well-planned project it is much easier to seek funding for a project. Make sure you assess your project against the grant selection criteria. If you need to fundamentally change your project to suit the grant provider, it is the wrong grant program for you. Leave it for another time or grant program.

Hashtag Blog image KG



KarleenQLD  Author: Dr Karleen Gwinner

More and more funders are wanting to see evaluations of the programs they fund. They want to know the funds they provide are having an impact. Effective Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) of your programs supports your ability to prove the impact, show the need and progress evidence informed programs. NGOs who actively measure impact, say that their M&E efforts improve their services and ability to demonstrate impact (Making an Impact).


In Australia, NGO agencies deliver an increasingly wide range of health and welfare services benefiting communities both here and abroad. They enhance the fabric of our society and make the world a better place. Still, it’s not uncommon for us to hear from organisations that they don’t have M&E methods in place. They don’t have data to show the impact and performance of their programs. The recent “distrusted” rating, reported in the 2018 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER, suggest Australia’s NGO sector needs to boost sector accountability and do more to measure up. MeasureUpImage BlogKG


Apart from the fact funders are increasingly seeking evidence of impact and want to get more ‘bang for their buck’, good M&E frameworks help NGOs to identify and develop evidence-based policy and practice. Only 5% of NGOs say that wanting to improve services is a primary motivation for increasing their impact measurement efforts; and yet, improved strategy and services, as well as the ability to demonstrate impact, are the main benefits they see of undertaking M&E activities.


A study of factors supporting or preventing evaluation by NGOs emphasised the need of M&E to understanding effectiveness (or possible harms) to vulnerable service users and a significant step to ensure best-practice (Bach-Mortensen, & Montgomery, 2018). An article by the authors of the review indicated the lack of financial resources was the biggest limitation to undertaking M&E, followed by the lack of technical capability. A recent Australian study found, leadership and culture to be pivotal for influencing evaluation practice in Australian NGOs (Schwarzman, Bauman, Gabbe, Rissel, Shilton, and Smith, 2018).


Enhancing the capacity to do evaluation is undeniably important for NGOs. In recent years several resources have been developed to help agencies evaluate best practice. Some recent initiatives are supporting NGO capacity to develop robust M&E include: The Australian Institute of Family Studies’ searchable database of Australian research and evaluation projects; and Inspiring Australias resource kit to help NGOs develop effective evaluation strategies for events.


We are here to help too. Strategic Grants is at the forefront of knowing how you can better account for what really matters in your work. We want to support you to build and strengthen the sectors’ capacity to do M&E, be accountable and #measureup.


J Schwarzman, A Bauman, B Gabbe, C Rissel, T Shilton, B J Smith (2018). Organizational determinants of evaluation practice in Australian prevention agencies, Health Education Research, Volume 33, Issue 3, 1 Pages 243–255,