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
Improve your chance of success by following these steps for your next small bid or mega complex business case:
Starting with problems
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?
are about the doom and gloom of the current situation. Benefits
represent a better future when these problems have disappeared.
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
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.
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
problems and benefits greatly improves your chances of reader
engagement. It also lets you set the scene for the story that you want
Are there other opportunities?
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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.