7 Tips on how to build the best grant application form

by | Mar 2, 2022

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When it comes to the grantseeker journey, experiences do really matter.

Why? A positive experience with your organisation can build affinity, improve the quality of submissions you receive and make it easier for your application review panel to make good decisions. 

A bad experience, such as a shoddy application form, can send applicants slithering away, produce incomplete and low-quality submissions and put your organisation in a bad light.

So, how can you make your grant application form the best it can possibly be? What should you consider when thinking about the applicant experience?

Read our suggestions below for best practices on creating a really good application form. 

1. Identify the information you need

The first step in creating a superb grant application form is to figure out the details you need. Every grant application has its requirements. 

Knowing what you want and spelling it out in the application form clearly ensures your applicants don’t provide irrelevant information. This way, everyone’s time is saved and your review team can focus on what matters to make their decision. 

A grant application form can have any of the following requirements:

  • The applicant’s details such as the individual or organisation’s name, identification number, contact information, mission statement, portfolio and past record.
  • Details about the applicant’s proposal such:
    • Proposed plan
    • Budget
    • Strategy
    • Plans for sustainability upon exhaustion of funds
  • Outcome reporting plans to track the success and influence of their efforts. 
  • Demographic data in line with your organisation’s inclusivity goals 

Collecting the information you need is crucial to the success of your entire grantmaking process because it:

  • Ensures that you meet requirements, whether legal or operational 
  • Indicates your applicants’ accordance with your eligibility criteria
  • Provides insight into whether the applicant has a fair grasp of their own proposal and mission  

2. Prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) 

In a world troubled by countless forms of injustice, philanthropy has taken a bold step towards a more equitable state of affairs. But even in the bid to do good, funding organisations, being run by humans, are prone to various forms of bias in the process.

Most grantmakers have value statements that address diversity, equity and inclusion, but according to this survey, only 34% of respondents report that their grantmaking organisations have clear practices that support diversity, equity and inclusion.

To ensure you create the best grant application form that truly prioritises diversity, equity and inclusion, some practices are imperative.

The first is to create an accessible, easy online form and application process. The use of paper forms for grant applications is gradually becoming a thing of the past. Besides the uncool feel, there is the risk of misplacing the hard copies or failing to provide fair access to all applicants.

To better emphasise DEI, it’s a good idea to make use of reputable grant management tools that are designed with fairness in mind. In this regard, Good Grants is fiercely leading the charge, thanks to its array of features aimed at eliminating bias with accessible software for all participants.

Some of these features that promote DEI include: 

  • Multi-lingual readiness
  • Mobile-friendly access
  • Ability to hide details that might influence decision-makers
  • Compliance with WCAG 2.1 AA Standards for web content accessibility 

Another practice to accentuate DEI when creating a grant application form is to give the applicants the option to disclose sensitive demographic data such as religion, race, health status, sexual orientation, etc.

Diversity, equity and inclusion matter even beyond the grant application form-creation stage. Learn more about how to build DEI into your grantmaking.              

3. Keep the application short and sweet 

To applicants, nothing comes across as more frustrating than a lengthy, tortuous application form. If you’re serious about your grantmaking (we trust you are), you must avoid application abandonment like the Black Plague.

So, what does it take to ensure that your applicants don’t lose interest midway as they fill out the grant application form?

Keep it short and relevant. Don’t beat around the bush.

The essence of this practice is highlighted by the findings of a study on online form abandonment, which reveals that 27% of persons who abandon online forms do so because of the form length. As if that isn’t bad enough, the study further reveals that the non-profit industry has the second-highest rate of online form abandonment at 77.9%

Yikes!

Thankfully, there are a variety of practical steps you can take to ensure that you create a good grant application form that gets straight to the point.

One such step is to identify any required questions. With a robust grant management tool, you can indicate questions that your applicants must answer. It’s a highly effective way to:

  • Guarantee that only relevant data is collected
  • Pre-empt incomplete submissions
  • Show that non-required fields can be skipped without jeopardising the success of the application 

Speaking of a grant management tool, it’s also ideal if your application software saves your applicants’ data as they go along. This way, the applicant can stop at any time during the application process and come back another time. This can be very helpful to applicants who want to take their time as they submit their application.

Another step is to utilise conditional logic and dynamic question options to personalise the application. This will ensure that each applicant only answers questions that are relevant to them.

An eligibility quiz that serves as a qualifying round can also come in handy to weed out those who don’t meet the eligibility criteria. In our books, this is a huge time saver! 

4. Make it user-friendly, accessible and secure 

First things first––make sure your application form is accessible. How will users access it? Make sure it’s easy and secure with a clear and accessible registration and log-in page.

When it comes to the form, it must be user-friendly. It’s a good idea to break up the form into different sections. Consider dividing it up into tabs or pages to keep it manageable. No one wants to see an application form that scrolls down and down and down.

As we mentioned earlier, be sure to require any fields or questions that are non-negotiable. This could be name, email and other pertinent data. 

After you’ve collected the required information (which could also be done during the registration stage), it’s time to dive into the details of the submission. 

The grant application form should contain different sections, the first of which is often the overview. This section could contain the executive summary and houses the description of the proposal. It could also make room for the statement of the purpose, expectations, past accomplishments, and how the funding will be utilised.

The next section should make space for the applicant’s information such as the identification details, and structural details if it’s an organisation. Following should be the third element that will house the proposal details such as the objectives, budget, and plans of sustainability of the project.

You might also want to request evaluation and supplementary information. These sections could provide the timeline of the expected results as well as how the impact will be measured, and annual reports, records of past accomplishments and any testimonials or support for the proposal.

5. Use different field types to collect information effectively

When creating the form, it’s crucial to keep in mind that the information provided by applicants will come in different formats and contain different characters. Thus, the form should have different field types.

The benefits of having different field types include:

  • Effective collection of information
  • Improved structure of the form
  • Better organisation of the information 
  • Ease of review
  • Enhanced user experience

 The various field types could include:

  • Single-line text for just one line of text 
  • Multi-line text for multiple lines of text
  • Email for email addresses, which helps ensure the email address is a valid one
  • Numerals for number fields
  • Telephone numbers 
  • Date fields to follow a specific format 
  • Radio buttons to provide applicants a predefined set of options
  • A checkbox to allow users to enable or disable a condition
  • A file upload field that allows applicants to select a file to upload to the server, such as a video, image or PDF

6. Provide help text and contextual information

You likely already know: many applicants will have questions as they work on their submission. To ensure that your grant application form and the entire grantseeker experience is outstanding, you need to stay ahead of the curve by anticipating your applicants’ needs and taking proactive steps to meet them.

Your applicants might be new to the process. Even if they aren’t, there might be a peculiarity that sets your application process apart from the others they’ve experienced. 

What to do?

Answer their questions even before they ask them! Stay a step ahead by providing insight, via video or website copy, into how to submit an exceptional grant application. This will certainly drive up the quality of their submissions and cut down on support questions and calls. Win-win!

To do this, you could provide help text and hint text to provide additional information. Help text is copy that is provided next to each question. Hint text is the copy that appears as you hover over a question mark icon next to the question. Both are very helpful in providing clarity and setting expectations. 

7. Consider your review panel

Grant application forms are not filled for filling’s sake. When the applicants are done filling and submitting the form, your funding organisation’s review panel then swings into action. Their scrutiny of the application will help them decide whether or not an applicant will get the grant.

To enable them to make the best decisions, they need as much relevant information as possible. Thus, you must begin with the end in mind. 

Consider going to your review panel in the beginning of the process, before you create your application form, to get their feedback on what will help them make good decisions.

In like manner, enquire from them to be sure of what they don’t need. This is also important because additional data requests could affect the application’s submission rate. You don’t want your applicants to shy away from the application because some sensitive but irrelevant information is requested.

Always get feedback from your review panel.

Good application = good results

The application form might seem like a simple step in the grant lifecycle. But it can make or break a good (or bad) submission. A good application form can calm the grantseeker, provide a positive affinity with your organisation and improve the overall quality of your submitted applications.

With these best practices, you’re sure of a grant application form that will keep good grantseekers streaming in and great decisions going forward to power positive change in your community and world.

Want to see how Good Grants can help you build a beautiful grant application form that improves your grantseeker experience? Get started today with our free 14-day trial

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