Application Design

Developing the best set of application materials based on the program goals and submission method.


Catalytic funding programs often request that all applicants provide a cover page with high level information, responses to more detailed narrative questions, and attachments such as a budget, timeline, and references. This application structure allows for easy intake and review, allowing the application to build a detailed case for support while eliminating redundant or unnecessary questions.

Thinking Questions

  • What information is needed from all applicants and what information is only needed for those that are recommended for funding?
  • What is the target audience’s preferred communication method?
  • What type of information is required to make well-informed funding recommendations? What is the best way to communicate this information?
  • Does the program staff have the capacity and funding to support applicants in completing an untraditional grant application (video, in-person pitches, etc.)?
  • What information is best as a narrative response and what is better in a different format (spreadsheet, timeline, etc.)?

Application Checklist


Create an application that is unique to the funding program streamlines the process for both applicants and reviewers. Questions tailored to align with the decisionmaking criteria help to highlight the most relevant details of a proposal and ensure that projects recommended for support align well with the program outcome goals. It is generally advisable to align the length and complexity of the application with the size and scope of the program.

While the cover page and attachment templates often can carry over from program to program, the narrative questions should be unique to the program. By having application questions clearly correlate to the decisionmaking criteria, reviewers are able to more easily provide thoughtful scores and comments that align with the program goals and strategically identify the high priority proposals with fewer questions.

Methods We Love

:heart: Creating an Opportunity Page. An online opportunity page or program prospectus provides high-level information about the funding program, such as a context-setting statement, eligibility criteria, applicant support opportunities, important dates, and where to apply. It is also helpful to include the application questions so prospects can more easily understand what is expected. It is recommended that the opportunity page is available as both a handout and also electronically so it can be easily shared when prospective applicants inquire about the funding opportunity.

:heart: Being flexible about how information is received. Different people communicate best in different ways. By allowing applications to be submitted in different formats based on the funding program and resources available to the target audience, applicants will be better able to communicate their ideas in ways that resonate with decisionmakers.

Alternative Approaches

:bulb: Using attachments to demonstrate support. A pledge form, petition form, and letters of support from community members/organizations can be used to verify that the community is in support of the project before it is approved.

:bulb: Asking applicants to show their work. You can ask prospective applicants to host a community meeting in order to prepare the application materials. This can help verify that they are able to convene stakeholders in a timely manner, which is often a key component of project implementation and difficult to demonstrate their prowess through a narrative application question.

Cautionary Tales

:warning: Accepting short applications via social media. Eligible organizations are able to be nominated for grant support on Twitter using the program’s hashtag.

:warning: Keeping questions generic. Using a common set of application questions is a great way to get the ball rolling and consider important topic areas but it is important to then customize the questions to your funding program. It may seem like it will save time to just go with the common grant application questions, but in reality, it only saves time on the front end. A lot more due diligence is required because the initial application questions don’t delve into the nuances of the program.

Templates & Downloads