Grants and Grant Writing

Once you understand the funder’s interest and have reviewed grantee criteria to confirm your eligibility, you will have the basic information to begin drafting an application.

In preparation for drafting, you should also research previous grants made by the body you are applying to: how much do they usually give to organizations or projects similar to yours? When deciding how much to ask for, consider the body’s track record. It is understandable that newer organizations might feel wary about managing large budgets, along with donor conditions and reporting requirements, however asking for a larger amount is a good practice, since donors often give less than the amount requested. Generally speaking, US$ 100,000 is not considered a large request, for example, and it is important to get over feeling uncomfortable when asking for money.

Understanding the components of a grant application

There are several key components necessary to complete a successful and well-written grant application. In essence, you should explain your mission and objectives, and the activities you will undertake to achieve them.

The problem

It is essential to include the problem you are trying to solve, and to present your project as a solution. You can explain why your project is necessary and what the context is for your work. Show an understanding of refugee issues and the scale of the problem. Use data and examples to illustrate your points and tie the problem to your work.

At times, you may also be asked to discuss your target population. This is just another way of asking about the problem you are working to solve.

The theory of change

This section usually includes one or more long-term goals, like “empowering refugees with the tools to rebuild their lives with dignity,” along with specific, short-term goals. The short-term goals should be measurable targets or indicators of success within the project implementation period, like “helping 200 refugees through the refugee status determination process.” To come up with the numbers for your goals, you will need research the level of need in your location, and think about what would be feasible based on the resources available to you.

A project of project goal(s) and specific objectives

Usually includes one or more long-term goals like “empowering refugees with the tools to rebuild their lives with dignity” and specific short-term objectives that are measurable targets/indicators of success within the project implementation period, like “helping 200 refugees through the refugee status determination process”. How do you draft these numbers? You’ll need to have done your research on the need in your location, and consider what would be feasible based on number of staff and resources.

Intended impact or what you want to achieve

This section requires elaborating on your long-term goal and objectives. Don’t just state what you will do; instead state the impact of your work. For example, instead of saying “We will provide legal aid to refugees,” state that “We will provide 200 refugees with individualized legal assistance to navigate the RSD process, helping them through a complex legal process to obtain legal status, the first step to access all other rights such as right to work, education and protection from injustice.”

In communicating policy advocacy successes, communicate the long-term implications of your achievements. You may wish to go beyond the goals and objectives of the grant to explain the indirect effects.
It also helps to share a client story to illustrate how legal aid makes an impact on one’s life beyond legal status. Use a story to add a human face to your work and engage the reader.

Past work and accomplishments

Potential funders want to know that you can do what you say you will in your application, so it is helpful to list successes relevant to the proposed project. When your organization is young, you might want to speak about your relevant work in refugee legal aid as an individual, and the steps you have taken to set up the project in the country.

For example, you could say, “We have spent the past year engaging the refugee community in the city and building working relationships with other refugee-serving organizations such as x, y and z. This has aided our planning to establish Country X’s first refugee legal aid organization, and we have provided refugee legal aid to 12 refugees in our first x months.” Note that when you are calculating the number of people assisted by your efforts, it is standard practice to include dependents.

Potential challenges to your work

Occasionally, an application might ask about potential risks or challenges that may jeopardize your work. Here, they want to see whether you have considered the operational risks and taken precautions. For a refugee legal aid organization, you will want to consider the risks of being a human rights advocate in the country, the political climate and how it may affect your work, and challenges to fiscal health or sustainability

Needs

State your concrete budget requests here. You should always research previous grants made by the funder you are applying to, especially to find out how much they usually give to organizations or projects similar to yours. Asking for a large amount of money is a good idea, since donors often give less than the requested amount.

Include a table of costs and explanations. Keep it concise: two pages, including a defense of each line item, is sufficient.

Tips for drawing up a budget:

  • It is acceptable to ask for the higher end of the range of grants a donor gives.
  • Explain all costs. It might be useful to point out that salaries represent a key part of your work, because you are a direct service provider. Point out that refugees can’t generally afford even reduced legal fees.
  • Office and infrastructure requests are directly linked to service provision. These could be justified by pointing out that confidentiality requires privacy, which has implications for office space.
  • Sample budget items for small legal aid start-ups (specify numbers):
    • Salaries
      • Senior lawyers
      • Junior lawyers
      • Administrative, communications or fundraising staff
    • Professional fees
      • Interpreters
      • Psychologists
      • Accountant
    • Operations fees
      • Rent
      • Utilities
      • Supplies
      • Furniture and equipment
      • Travel

Previous annual expenditure

Including information about how much your organization spent the previous year gives a potential funder an idea of how much it costs to fund your work overall, and puts your grant ask into context.

Monitoring and evaluation process

A monitoring and evaluation process details how you are going to track progress during the funding period. For refugee legal aid providers, this often includes case files and statistics by gender and type of case. What indicators would help measure success or failure? How are they collected? It can be as simple as stating that as part of your project management cycle you have an ongoing monitoring mechanism with critical benchmarks at which you review your goals and reorient or celebrate strategies.

Essentially, donors look for whether you reach a lot of people, undertake quality work, and have successful case outcomes. Showcase those indicators you use which reflect impact and measure the success of your mission, such as regular client satisfaction surveys and focus groups, percentage of cases with ‘successful’ outcome – by compliance with the Nairobi Code, by type of case or by positive RSD rate among clients assisted compared to national positive RSD rate, without legal aid, if statistics are available (taking note of first and second instance figures).

Financial compliance is less applicable here, as this is more an institutional or operational goal. Monitoring and evaluation are traditionally thought of as related to progress towards programmatic goals.

Basic organization information and organization history

This includes information such as when you were founded, significant organizational changes and growth, and previous work, particularly if this is very different from your current project. Depending on the request template (or lack thereof) issued by the donor, it may be a good idea to attach your Annual Report to the submission, in order to fill in details less related to the specific request, such as organizational structure.

General advice:

  • Client stories are helpful in moving potential funders beyond simple calculations and reasoning. They can speak to people’s feelings, sense of injustice and compel readers more than statistics.

Exercise 1: Grant writing assessment (approx. 45 minutes)

Now that you have reviewed the basic components of grant-writing, read one of Asylum Access’s first grant applications submitted to Echoing Green in 2007.

Assess:

  • Can you identify where the writer discusses each of these components mentioned?
  • Within each of these components, can you identify what tools she uses to build understanding (statistics, data, examples, etc.)?
  • Where is this effective and why?

Once you have done this, you can review the annotated version of the application to see how your notes compare with ours.

Consider how you might employ similar tools to present your own work. (Note that this is an application for a fellowship awarded to an individual, rather than an organization. If you plan to use this application as a template, make sure to adjust your language according to the needs of your application.)

A similar format can also be applied to Letters of Interests (LOIs) and Concept Notes, which should contain the same basic outline as grants. For LOIs, you might want to include an additional letter addressing the program officer directly, briefly stating where you have common interests and introducing your request. Here is a sample letter Asylum Access submitted in 2012.

Exercise 2: Grant writing assessment (approx. 45 minutes)

Now that you have seen one of Asylum Access’ earliest (and therefore least polished) applications, take a look at this general proposal submitted to the Blaustein Philanthropic Group in 2013. Compare the two and consider how Asylum Access has improved the way it discusses its work.

In particular, consider the following items:

  • The discussion of the fisherman parable in both applications
    • In the 2013 application, you’ll see that Asylum Access fine-tuned its storytelling so that this parable is more concretely analogous to its work with refugees.
  • How Asylum Access presents its work in brief
    • In the 2013 application, this is done succinctly in the first paragraph whereas the language was less tight in the 2007 application.
  • How Asylum Access discusses impact in 2007 and in 2013
    • In the 2013 application, Asylum Access includes a client story, adding a human face to its work and illustrating how refugee legal aid impacts individual lives.
  • How Asylum Access is able to bridge the end of one section to the beginning of the next section in the 2013 application
    • This is possible in part because the Blaustein proposal is a general one and Asylum Access was able to choose how to structure the application.
  • How each activity listed in pages 2 and 3 of the 2013 application detail both what Asylum Access does and what results this would achieve.