business case

The difference between a $10,000 funding submission and $1,000,000 business case

It doesn’t matter if you are asking for a little or a lot. The approach successful business case and submission writers use is very similar. They all need to convince the sponsor why they should support your project and not someone else’s.

Improve your chance of success by following these steps for your next small bid or mega complex business case:  

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 Starting with problems

It doesn’t matter if it is a peak hour traffic jam. It doesn’t matter if it is lack of clean water. It doesn’t matter if it is worn out uniforms for the under 10’s soccer team. Always start by defining the problem from your sponsors perspective first.

Identify the problems of your sponsor first

Who is approving and or funding your project? What is their motive and identify any pains they are facing. Don’t start with your problems. Even the problems of those that you are trying with your project don’t come first.

If there is an international program to alleviate poverty, ‘poverty’ becomes the focus (your sponsors problem). In a submission, your problem might be lack of funding to provide clean water. The people you are trying to help have a problem because clean water is three hours away. Aligning your problems with your sponsors might look something like this:

‘Water poverty impacts millions of people worldwide. It is estimated that 2.1 billion people have no access to clean water (World Health Organisation). Women and children are often those forced to spend up to three hours each day collecting water (WaterAid ). In turn they miss school and their chance for work. This creates a cycle of water poverty that is very difficult for them to break out of without the help of others.’

Be specific, factual and concise about the problems your sponsor, beneficiaries and you face. Use facts from a reliable source and reference them. If you define and align your problems you will not need disclose any lack of resources, time or commitment to achieve the outcome you desire. 

If you can’t strongly align your problem with your sponsors, then don’t continue. A more deserving project should be put forward or left to someone else. Sponsors and funding bodies receive hundreds of applications. No amount of spin in your application will convince them to support your project if you can’t align your problems. 

Talk to the right people

The organisations that receive upwards of $1,000,000 in grant money talk to the right people. Sometimes they start talking years before the project is finally funded. Talking to people helps shape an application. It allows more people to promote and support your project. Talking about projects early gets others on board well in advance and helps address any objections along the way.

Talking about your project is one of the surest ways to increase your chances of success

Engage potential funders, partners, government agencies, supporters, beneficiaries and anyone who could potentially derail your project. Others will start looking for funding avenues for you or at least promote it to others. As the number of supporters grow, so will your opportunity for letters of support and co-contributions.

Engaging key people deals with any objections or raises issues that might not have already been addressed. This is good because work hasn’t started yet. Being open to criticism and constructive feedback is easier also easier to receive earlier in project development stages.

Engaging early reduces the risk of opposition down the track. It identifies barriers early. It ultimately helps your sponsor know that you have considered the views of all relevant interest groups.

What are the benefits?

Problems are about the doom and gloom of the current situation. Benefits represent a better future when these problems have disappeared.

‘Clean, safe and accessible water alleviates sickness, death and poverty. Accessible water allows children to stay in school instead of spending morning and afternoon collecting water. Education improves job prospects. Mothers with six hours extra time each day can pursue paid work. Clean and accessible water helps educate girls and breaks the poverty cycle…’

It is important to resist talking about what you intend on doing at this stage. The importance of identifying the problems and benefits is to set the scene for your reader. Good submissions are no different to good stories. Submissions should follow the same script of a classic fairy tale or big screen blockbusters.

Stories regularly involve a villain (represented by problems). The villain makes life difficult for everyone around them. Everyone wants the villain gone. A hero rises from the crowd (your organisation). The hero shows that there is hope for a better future (benefits). There will be struggles, doubts and challenges (reviewing options). Gradually support grows for the hero (heroes are always good at engaging others in their quest). Good concurs evil (your solution). They all live happily ever after (your sponsor wants to throw more resources your way).

Good submissions should read like a novel

Defining problems and benefits greatly improves your chances of reader engagement. It also lets you set the scene for the story that you want to tell.

Are there other opportunities?

It’s unlikely that anyone writing a business case doesn’t start have a solution before they begin their submission. I urge you to resist laying out your plans until after you have explored all your other options.

If you describe what you want to do too early, problems will be poorly defined, benefits probably missed and questions raised about your engagement methods. Identifying the solution too early naturally leads to the reader questioning your assumptions and what sits behind your reasoning.

Despite following the same script, your proposal is not a fairy tale. One of your objectives must be to preempt any questions your reader might have about your project. This step helps demonstrate that you have researched your topic and understand what you are talking about. Looking at the options available to you further demonstrates you have looked at the project from all angles.

A sure way to kill your chance of success is to ignore other options

Starting with the do-nothing option gives you a second option. If we do nothing then the problem still exists and we will not be able to experience the benefits that we’ve identified. From here offer three or four more plausible alternatives. Your job is to convince the reader that other options are too expensive, unacceptable, unpractical, not addressing the problem enough or failing to achieve the benefits.

Reviewing options builds credibility with your reader. It raises the pros and cons of each option and answer their questions and doubts. All before you offer your preferred solution.

If someone assesses 10 or a hundred good applications, they start eliminating poorly prepared applications. If you can demonstrate that you have thought through all their concerns before they first read about the solution you are in a much stronger position.

At this point, your reader should be agreeing that you share the same problems. They must believe that the benefits are achievable. You have demonstrated strong support for change and all the credible options were considered.

Show them the solution

With objections largely answered, a preferred solution can now be laid out on the table. Unanswered objections are to be presented in a risk management plan with proposed mitigations. A project plan and budget will demonstrate that you know what’s involved in making it happen. Costs are reasonable and quotes obtained on material expenses. Past experience, governing arrangements and the team you put on the job will all help convince your sponsor that this project is worthy of support and will be delivered on time.

Should I then be asking for $1,000,000 instead of $10,000? 

If asking for $10,000 involves the same steps as asking for $1,000,000 shouldn’t you ask for the larger amount?

If you get excited at how much the cupcake sales made last weekend, then there is a good chance that you are not ready for a $1,000,000 grant, yet. Knowing how much to ask for will be very specific to your situation, the work you have already put into the project and the priority at the time of your sponsor.

The question of how much to ask for is complicated to answer in generic terms. To keep it simple, asking for less than 50% of the project costs in cash is a safe asking point for bigger sized projects. That means between your organisation and your supporters you’ll need to come up with the remaining 50 %. Some of that can be in-kind but there is generally an expectation that you’ll also contribute cash of some value.

Want more?

If you enjoyed reading this article, are sick of selling cupcakes and want to hear more about business case developments, then leave comment, like or share this post. Got a question? send me a message or post in the comments section below.

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