My 1/11/09 Missoulian column
Applying for grants is a game individuals and organizations play to find funding to do projects or simply keep their doors open, and with the global financial meltdown, many more might well be applying for funding from many charities and agencies that might have less to pass around.
One significant change in the granting world I’ve noticed is the application process – I currently serve on a state board that reviews art and cultural organization grant applications – and that change is high-tech.
Many charities, organizations and agencies are moving away from paper applications sent in by mail and have or are going to fully online and electronic submissions of applications. These include the Montana Arts Council (and other state of Montana agencies) and numerous private foundations that operate in the state. The federal government has accepted electronic applications for hundreds of its programs for several years now through Grants.gov.
Many private and public grant making organizations have been online since near the beginnings of the Internet with Web sites, providing information about themselves and their granting priorities along with guidelines for the paper application processes.
But now many are requiring all applications to be made in electronic format, and this cuts down on paper and time. The granters aren’t trying to make life difficult for you. What they are trying to do is be efficient with their time and resources, which pays off for all of us in the long run.
If you’ve looked into applying for a grant as an individual or an organization and have been “confronted” with an online application, treat it as something to learn and another step in the application process.
One major advantage granters have online is the ability to better walk applicants through the application process. Online systems can provide instant help and instructions, and at the same time prevent out-of-bounds and invalid applications. Another advantage these new processes have is they give the granter all application materials in an electronic format, which is easier for staff and committees to store, distribute and review than thousands of pages of paper, photographic slides and prints, supporting documents and on and on.
So what follows here are some tips – from my personal and professional experience – to applying online.
The first priority when applying for any kind of funding is to be organized. That’s always been a part of the grant writing process, but now – with downloading of applications and uploading of files to do – the detailed step-by-step application processes are even more important.
For any electronic application, it’s essential to get all your materials ready off-line weeks before the deadline. That means going to the online application, reading it and looking it over and printing out the questions, or downloading the forms or the application materials and instructions.
Read over the instructions and find the deadlines and plan ahead. Many will require e-mail registration, sometimes several weeks ahead of a grant deadline. The instructions will also give you the bottom line on file formats and other electronic details that you must get right.
Then, before starting on the actual application, compile your answers in a word processor and gather all needed information. Believe me, this makes life easier when you’re trying to cut and paste everything into an online form, or when you’re trying to finish filling out a form that has to be uploaded or e-mailed. The ahead-of-time approach also gives you time to spell check and proofread.
For the actual application process, there are three basic ways to fill forms online: those that use a Web browser to enter all information on an agency’s or charity’s Web site; those that require you to download a form, fill it out and e-mail it back; and those that may require you to download special software that is used for the application process (Grants.gov is the primary example).
• Using a Web browser for the application process. For Windows, you should do fine with Internet Explorer, as most online systems are optimized for that browser. On a Mac, you might want to download Firefox and use it instead of Apple’s Safari, as Firefox handles IE-friendly pages better. Some sites may even warn you to use Internet Explorer, even though the site may appear to work fine in the latest Safari version 3. Or you can find a Windows PC to use for the application process.
• Downloading and uploading applications. Some applications will require downloading documents, filling them in and then uploading them in the correct format. Many will be in Microsoft Word – one of the default document formats of the world. Some applications will be in Acrobat PDF format, which can be filled out and saved with the free Acrobat Reader.
For some applications you may also need to upload or e-mail images, so be sure they are correct in terms of size, pixel depth as well as file format. If you don’t know what to do, find someone who does. Images that don’t “work” for the committee will sink your chances of receiving the grant.
And if you’re e-mailing forms as attachments from OS X, check the “send Windows friendly attachments” box in Apple Mail when selecting your file; that will help ensure your attachment arrives safely.
• Special software for filling applications. For Grants.gov, you may need your own PC or Mac as you might need to install the PureEdge reader for some federal grant applications. (Many applications use Acrobat Reader, but some require this additional software directly from Grants.gov).
The Mac version of PureEdge will only run in a narrow range of versions of OS X, and the Windows version will not run on Vista. So plan ahead and check Grants.gov for requirements and try out PureEdge on your PC of Mac – if you need it – ahead of time. (I’ve used the Windows version of PureEdge under Parallels and Windows on OS X, and also the Mac PureEdge version directly on OS X, so it works.)
You must use Grants.gov for all federal applications, and the site looks intimidating and complex, but everything you need to know is there. So take your time and remember to e-mail register two to three weeks ahead of time, as advised. And finish and submit your federal application a week ahead of the deadline, as Grants.gov advises their servers get busy and may be overloaded at deadline time.
This is good advice for all grant applications: Get your application in ahead of the deadline, as we all know that high-tech problems can surface anytime and you may need an extra day to work out the details of your application materials.