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Why write an evidence-based grant?

3 min read

While many may not want to hear it, justification is what evidence-based grant writing is all about. First you justify your project need, then you justify your solution and finally you justify why your organisation is best placed to undertake the solution.

Caitriona Fay from the Ian Potter Foundation sees evidence-based grant writing as one of the cornerstones of good philanthropy. “Those applicants that can actually demonstrate the need for their programs will be prioritised above those that can’t or don’t,” Fay says.

The questions of evidence

The questions are, how much evidence, what type and how to use it?

“Like many things in our industry, it depends,” says Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of R E Ross Trust Sylvia Admans. “We fund grants from a few hundred dollars through to hundreds of thousands of dollars, so we try to be sensible and match requests to risk and need.”

In other words, a funding application for a trial would necessarily require less and different data than an application for a program of ten years’ duration.

Statistical evidence

When asked about the type of data to be included, Admans says that demographic information is important for major funding proposals because it shows who and where the beneficiaries are, which is especially important if the activity is place-based. Quantitative data enables funders to make simple assessments such as cost per person.

Spencer, who’s been writing grants for eleven years and now works primarily in strategy, says his rule of thumb is 85 per cent hard and 15 per cent soft data. He says “Quantitative evidence can generate focus on the real cause of a problem and drive effective solutions.”

Qualitative evidence

“A story that wins the assessor’s heart can secure their support with great evidence,” says Spencer. The key is to use the head to convey need and illustrate solutions, and the heart to tell the story to persuade and engage the funder.

As the Senior Program Manager at the Ian Potter Foundation Fay succinctly sums up “A grant application only filled with data is as poor as an application that’s making broad statements without any consideration to evidence.”

Localised information

Over the past few years, in a post global financial crisis and bearishly-driven financial market, data referencing has also become more important. Fay says it’s about painting a clear picture of a community. What the Ian Potter Foundation mostly sees is data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, but they’re also keen to see more local material.

Try to think specifically who your project involves and what area it involves. For example, if you are applying for a grant for an educational school-based project there might be data held within the school or by The Department of Education. This data is often more current, and can enable you to show trends and need to make a more convincing case.

Positive change

Admans is keen to see less negative data in applications. “What you want to do is achieve change,” she says, “not trade in misery.”

For example, ‘We’re aiming for a five per cent increase in participation in play groups’, rather than – or perhaps alongside – ’90 per cent of kids in Tobiakyo are vulnerable, at risk, disadvantaged, and come from low income families.’


Attribution and current references within grants are a basic requirement; they add credibility to your claims and tell the assessor that your application is detailed and well-researched.

“It bodes well for the funders’ perception of your ability to do a good job with their funding,” Spencer confirms.

The consensus is that ‘current’ data should be less than five years old.

Outcomes vs. activities

A recent and significant shift in grants in recent times is an increased focus on outcomes rather than activities. Fay believes this is indicative of a broader sector shift. All of us – funders, charities, non-government organisatons and third sector personnel – are being asked to be more accountable, impactful and transparent. Admans says that organisations should see themselves as linked rather than mutually exclusive as activities are what contribute to the outcomes.

At the heart of it, most organisations really would like to know whether or not the services they are delivering are having impact or meeting a need. The problem is that the shift toward more evidence-based operations can be difficult for under-resourced and small organisations.

Spencer is adamant that the focus on outcomes is the next logical step in industry evolution. “If you can’t measure what you’re doing then you should ‘down tools’ until you figure it out. After all, you might be making the situation worse.”

So is evidence-based grant writing here to stay?

“Ask this question to someone in the business world and they’ll respond with bewilderment,” says Spencer. “What other type of application is there?”

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