Over and Over Again: What to Do When Grant Applications Repeat the Same Question

By Sheldon Bart

You know what I mean.  Online technology has put us all at the mercy of applications designed by people who most likely have never been confronted with anything like their own handiwork.  Can’t they see that if they’re asking first for a project summary, second for your overall objectives, and third for a needs statement, or goals or anticipated outcomes, they’re really asking the same question?  Yet they expect—and demand—three different answers.

Too bad we can’t be three different people.  But, in fact, we can be.  Allow me to show you how to turn frustration into opportunity.

First Iteration

The first time the question is asked, give a straightforward answer in your own voice and based on your own understanding of the program’s purpose, highlighting its uniqueness, and why your nonprofit wants to implement, maintain or expand it.

Second Iteration

When the question repeats a second time, look for something the executive director or program director has written giving their interpretation of what the agency is trying to achieve by getting that program funded.  If you can’t find a suitable write-up, have a brief chat with them and take notes.  They are almost sure to emphasize facets of the program that you may have overlooked. This second version is that person’s voice, their understanding, a paraphrase avoiding quotations unless you feel that’s warranted.

Third Iteration

Here’s where you can get more creative.  Much of the work of the non-profit sector has to do with moving people from one set of behaviors to another.  Look around and you’ll find that in many spheres of life, people, consciously or not, impose their own barriers to success.  (This is what our Chairman, Laurence A. Pagnoni seeks to convey in his books on fundraising which I’d encourage you to read. See here.)

You very likely have on your shelves a book addressing the problem of behavioral change, or a pertinent article in your files.  Dig it out.  A quick review if it will give you another angle or vocabulary of expressions to use in answering the same question for the third time.

These three steps will get you through the application and relieve the irritation and anxiety these instruments all too often provoke.  But it will do something else too.  It presents your program with a depth and nuance that moves a funder to resonate with your mission, vision, and values. This is one of the secrets of LAPA Fundraising’s high return on our grants program.

That’s how to make the repetition work for you.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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