The ONE Thing That Must Be in Your Grant Application

“If I’d asked the public what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.”  –Henry Ford*

It’s human nature to think about our wants, but as Henry Ford poignantly notes, our wants are often just more of the same. In life—and in grant applications—it’s more important to focus on the needs. By doing this, we end up addressing the root problem.  

Every successful grant application includes a strongly defined needs statement. When your grant application is tied to a well-demonstrated need, you’ll discover much more responsive funders.

So, where do you begin? Here’s a step-by-step guide to quantify and qualify the needs of your grant request.

Define the Need

Begin by providing context for your need. Typically, this is accomplished with numbers—whether it is demographics or test scores or recent research statistics. These numbers may come from third-party sources, or you may have uncovered them by conducting your own needs assessment. Either way, those numbers must help you tell a compelling story. Weave the numbers into a narrative to engage your reader as you explain how and why you discovered the existence of this need. The narrative offers the opportunity to share not just the quantitative needs, but also the qualitative needs. Remember to address the human interest aspect of the need, as this tactic strengthens a reader’s stake in your application.

Offer Supporting Evidence

After sharing data that applies to your specific need, broaden your scope to include additional research or evidence to support your needs statement. This may include research on a larger scale such as a state or national report. Essentially, you want to envision the need from 30,000 feet rather than immediately above your school campus. This provides a regional or national context for your need.

Identify Root Causes of the Problem

Once you’ve made the case for your need, do your best to identify the root causes. How and why does this problem exist? If your need is improved kindergarten readiness, a root cause might be the lack of early childhood literacy programs in your area. Or, perhaps it is caused by a lack of preschool books at the local library. It’s likely that there are several contributing factors and it is acceptable to include all of them, provided that you can link them to your identified need—but do not grasp at straws.

Align to Your Goals

By now, your reader should have a strong understanding of the need and how it came to be. Your next step is to explain how solving this problem aligns to the goals of your school, district, or organization. Let’s go back to the kindergarten readiness example. You want to solve this problem so that your kindergarten students come into school primed and ready to begin their K-12 education adventure. You are qualified to solve this problem because you understand the base of knowledge expected for an incoming kindergarten student, and you have an awareness of the successful strategies necessary to accomplish this goal.

Share your Vision

Every needs statement must conclude with a peek into the future: the vision. Tell your reader what the landscape will look like once you’ve carried out your project. Be as specific and realistic as possible. If you are requesting $5,000, do not claim that you will entirely obliterate childhood illiteracy in your city; ensure that your vision is in line with the scope and potential of the requested grant. Nobody wants to squash a requester who dreams big, but most funders want to work with people who are realistic about their ability to make an impact.


These simple steps will help you create a compelling, merited needs statement that will set the tone for the remainder of your application—and help you get what you need.

Stay tuned next month for solutions-focused grant writing.

*Sidenote: There is debate over whether Henry Ford really uttered these words. His great-grandson attributed it to him in 2006, but there is plenty of skeptism about the origin of the quote. If you’re curious, check out the full story here: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/07/28/ford-faster-horse/

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