When less is more: getting your first few grant wins over the line

3 min read
20 Feb 2024

I often hear from founders and start-ups who are frustrated with the grant seeking process, and exhausted from sinking so much time and effort into applications that are never funded. 

For those tired of rejection after rejection, I’d love to help change that trajectory so you can start getting some wins under your belt. In my experience, a few practical steps will change your rate of success:

1) Apply for fewer grant opportunities

Only go for the MOST closely aligned opportunities that you feel extremely confident about. You should be clear about your eligibility and confident about your competitiveness. Pour more time into these applications to make sure they are at an A+ level of excellence across every single written response. Assessment panels aren’t short on great applications, and you really need to score top marks for every answer to get a look-in.  

2) Apply for less funding

Honestly assessing yourself and your position in the market can be hard, but if you are consistently losing out, then you may need to compete for funding at a lower price point. Your offering (inclusive of the outcomes you propose and the track record you can prove) needs to be highly competitive at the requested funding amount. 

For a theoretical example of this, imagine a grant program that offers between $50,000 - $300,000 for mental health initiatives;

  • If you are a smaller charity with a limited history of grant success, then you should apply for the minimum amount. 
  • If you are a statewide charity with a good track record, consider applying for $100,000 - $250,000.
  • If you are a national leader in this space, then apply for the maximum available. 

Now, for a moment put yourself in the shoes of an assessor. An assessor may read one $300k request from a small charity hoping to work with 15 schools in Sydney, however they have very limited wins on the board to date. The assessor may also read a $300k request from Headspace, who will match the grant dollar-for-dollar and use it to roll out a new service nationally, leveraging their existing and extensive network of 200+ school contacts. You can see that there is a dramatic difference in value for money, and that the assessor would have much higher confidence in the larger organisation’s capacity to deliver impact. 

Given that grants are a form of outsourcing, the assessment process will always prioritise applicants that can deliver the greatest impact and scale for the lowest investment. Therefore your best bet as a smaller organisation is to protect your competitiveness by lowering your funding ask. 

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. In a similar manner, one successful application worth $50k is better than 10 failed applications that “could” have got you $500k. 

3) Partner up with a more established and experienced organisation

Regardless of your own size and success, I believe your application will always be strengthened by referencing quality project partners. Some people seem to think this will detract from their own strengths or indicate that they lack capacity. However - it should only serve to strengthen your application by demonstrating that you are not duplicating services and that you will be leveraging the strengths of others (for example, you may want to reference your partner’s audience size or marketing success to date). From an assessor's perspective, it can almost be seen as a ‘two-for-one’ deal in terms of the value that’s added to the project. 

Please note that referencing project partners doesn’t mean you have to have a formal partnership agreement in place - there may be an MOU or there may have just been a handshake - either way this is enough to reference project stakeholders within your applications. 

The best approach I can recommend to those starting out, or those who’ve experienced far too many rejections, is to apply the ‘less is more’ approach to start building up your wins, your track record and your organisational capacity. That means - fewer applications but more time spent on them, and funding requests of lower amounts. Building on this, adding in a more experienced project partner should be the icing on the cake to tip you over into grant success. 

As you grow, you’ll then be better positioned to ask for higher amounts across an increasing number of grant opportunities. 

Best of luck!!


About The Author

grant writer - leslie annear 2


Leslie Annear is an independent grant writer. Since 2020, Leslie has secured more than $50.2 million of grant funds for clients, supporting a wide variety of businesses and non-profits including renewable tech companies, manufacturers, social enterprises, arts and entertainment, schools and disability care providers. This has included numerous multi-million-dollar wins.



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