Many funders advertise their deadlines well in advance; some are the same year on year. Yet, funders tell us that without fail in the week leading up to the deadline, they receive an avalanche of applications and frantic calls at the eleventh hour.

Preparing and submitting at the last minute leaves you vulnerable to the possibility that all your efforts could go to waste when something unforeseen happens. It could be illness, or computer problems, or a project leader stuck in a remote location, unable to send you vital info.

Keeping a rolling 12-month list of grant deadlines will allow you to effectively forward-plan your application strategy. Writing a submission is only 20 percent of the process; you should spend much more of your time on things like researching the funding criteria, discussing your project with the funders, and collecting all the information and data you need to substantiate your proposal.

With all that preparation done, writing your application should be quite straightforward.

Remember: the way you present yourself to funders through the application process is a reflection on how you operate as an organisation. You are asking funders to entrust you with substantial amounts of money and the funder needs to be confident that the financial support they offer you will be responsibly managed.

If the funder’s experience of you as an organisation is a last-minute frantic call, a day before the deadline, they are unlikely to associate you with a high level of professionalism.

Leave a good impression

Funders also tell us that early applications can have an advantage, as the assessors have a better opportunity to study the submission and potentially follow up with any queries before they get inundated.

A number of funders clearly state within their criteria that they like applicants to submit proposals early, and (like any criterion or funder request) this should be respected by applicants. In some cases, funders will only accept a certain number of applications – so it’s “first in, best dressed”. Don’t leave it to chance!

Prepare to be unprepared

Occasionally there are new funding rounds announced with a short timeframe to lodge the application. This often happens with government funding near the end of the financial year and before Christmas. If you have forward planned, put all your project information together and are ahead with your other, expected submissions, you will be able to quickly respond to these opportunities, as you will have created space within your schedule to accommodate the unexpected.

Forward planning is not just about what is coming up; it is really about planning for the unforeseen, the surprises, the unknowns. So start to create your forward plan today. Once you get ahead with your applications, you will be under less pressure while also communicating very positive messages to potential funders: that you are a professional organisation with a long-term vision and the capacity to deliver on your ideas.