Lessons Learned: Best Practices for Applying to an Open Grant Challenge

Wednesday November 4, 2020

The Opportunity Challenge—the WES Mariam Assefa Fund and Tarsadia Foundation’s first ever open-call grant challenge—resulted in 400+ submissions from organizations offering a diverse range of solutions and innovations that support the success of immigrants and refugees in the United States.

In September, after an exhilarating five-month application and selection process, we were thrilled to announce 12 awardee organizations. Since then, the team that reviewed the grant proposals has reflected on what we learned and captured it in a video to help organizations sharpen their applications when responding to open calls for funding proposals.

We would have liked to provide each applicant with personalized feedback but knew that this level of attention wasn’t possible given our small team and large applicant pool. Most of our team have a background in the non-profit world, so we know firsthand the time and effort that goes into applying for a grant.

Here are some quick takeaways:

Take Advantage of Available Resources: Take the time to read the resources provided by the funder, such as FAQ documents, eligibility and selection criteria, and process details. You might also look into whom the funder supports outside of this specific initiative. What other organizations has it funded? Has the funder released announcements sharing its rationale for selecting them? What values and goals are important to the funder, and do they align with your organization’s values and goals? Dedicating a bit of time to get to know the funder and the specific initiative to which you’re applying sets you up to write a more compelling application.

State the Obvious: It’s safe to assume that each reviewer is reading many applications in quick succession. Connect the dots for reviewers as to how your work directly relates to the mission of the challenge. Using the same or similar language the funder uses in your application can be helpful for a reviewer to see that your application is relevant.

Context Is Key: Many organizations describe their work in similar ways, so it is important to differentiate yourself from others in the space. Do you use a different model? Do you have unique experience? Are you complementing the work of others? The inclusion of this landscape analysis, even if just in a couple of sentences, helped our reviewers to understand a given organization’s unique value proposition.

Review Your Work: Take a final look at your application to make sure it’s complete. This may sound simple, but if documents are requested, check that you’ve uploaded the correct files. The Opportunity Challenge application requested the tax form 990, but many applicants uploaded a 501(c)(3) designation letter instead. If you cannot upload the requested documents for any reason, leave a note in the application to inform the team of the issue.

These are just a few of the best practices we discussed. Watch the video below for more tips and information on submitting a quality application to an open grant challenge!

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