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GRANTEGY: Don’t Leave Your Grants to Chance Series

Part III: Grant Optimized Project Design

Obtaining grant funding has become increasingly difficult as funding dollars are not stretching as far as they once did, and competition for limited grant funds is tougher than ever. The people and organizations we’re working with and talking to tell us that their grant approval rate and amounts funded have decreased over the past 1.5 years. So, how do we ensure that we are providing funders with projects worthy of funding? Four words: Grant Optimized Project Design.

What is Project Design?

According to Atlassian (2024), project design is the process of planning a project’s objectives, structure, tasks, and deliverables and deciding on the definition of done. Executing the process must be done before implementation to achieve the overall objective – whether it’s project success internally or externally through grant funding. When you’re referencing nonprofits, nonprofit programs or project design is the basis for impactful social change. You are creating a roadmap for your organization’s initiatives, ensuring they effectively address community needs and fulfill the mission.

Key Elements of Optimized Project Design

In our past blog posts, we discussed the feasibility study as well as the framework as the foundation. You must factor in – who, what, where, why, when, and how. And then sometimes we add “who cares” because you want to really understand why your organization is doing what they do and ensure it makes a difference. There are five critical and necessary elements that make up an optimized project design as follows:

Needs Assessment – The first and one of the most essential parts of your project and/or program design. You have to know how to effectively create a project design to provide solutions to the needs of the community.

Goal Setting –  Define your project’s SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). 

S – Specific:

  • Clearly define what you want to accomplish, leaving no room for ambiguity.

M – Measurable:

  • Establish a way to track your progress and know when you’ve reached your goal.

A – Achievable:

  • Set goals that are realistic and within your reach

R – Relevant:

  • Ensure your goals align with your overall objectives and values.

T – Time-Bound:

  • Set a clear deadline for when you want to achieve your goal.

Activity Planning – After you’ve developed your SMART Goals, it is time to put them into action! You will work on how to implement your project activities, including timelines, resources, and staffing as it relates to your SMART Goals. Then, create activities with milestones that directly align with your SMART Goals and community preferences.

Budgeting—To conduct a project or program effectively, you must understand the cost of running it. A well-defined budget provides clarity and transparency about a project or organization’s financial needs and objectives. When seeking grants, transparency in budgeting demonstrates accountability and professionalism and fosters trust with grantmakers.

Evaluation Planning – Evaluation should not be an afterthought. Develop a framework for planning, implementing, and measuring your project’s outcomes during the design stage.

Why Is Grant Optimized Project Design Important?

Five reasons why optimized project design is important and critical to the success of any well-designed grant program:

  • Provides ample time to think about how your grant program’s objective aligns with your organization’s vision and mission and allows you to make any required changes.
  • Serves as an action plan for the implementation team to successfully follow the process without being worried about their next steps.
  • Removes ambiguity for both internal and external stakeholders and prevents issues caused by miscommunication.
  • The documents, guidelines, and strategies developed during program design act as a go-to kit for the team involved in implementing the grant program. They provide clear expectations around what is required and who is responsible.
  • Act as a point of reference when designing other grant programs in the future, offers a chance to reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and develop a better program. (Omnistar, 2022)

The Project Design is where you get the nitty-gritty details down on paper for future use in grant applications. This is a strategic planning process that you do not want to overlook. Providing specific goals and activities allows you to stay focused on what the funder is interested in. The content has to be quantifiable and measurable according to the funder’s guidelines and criteria to make a significant impact in the decision-making process. Make sure your story is relevant to all parties involved and it will showcase the strength of your proposal. Adhering to deadlines will allow your organization to be more strategic and efficient when it comes to applying for grants that meet your funding needs.

Key to Note

  • You want to design your project/program with long-term sustainability in mind. Consider funding sources, volunteer engagement, and potential partnerships to ensure continued operation.
  • Equity and Inclusion: Ensure your program design is inclusive and accessible to all intended beneficiaries. Be mindful of cultural differences and potential barriers to participation.
  • Make sure you engage stakeholders in the project planning process
  • Be open to adapting your program based on evaluation results and changing community needs. Embrace innovation and explore new strategies to continuously improve impact.
  • No one size fits all. Your project design will be unique, so be sure to tailor your approach to fit the specific needs of your project and ensure it has a clear direction, plan, and strategy for success.

Grant optimization is a strategic approach that will help you maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of your grant-seeking efforts to better equip your organization for grant success. It is important to align grant-seeking with organizational goals and priorities so it’s clear to all stakeholders, including potential grantmakers. This approach provides additional opportunities to continuously evaluate and refine the grant development processes. Optimizing your project design efforts is another step in the process of maximizing grant funding potential.

Stay tuned for our next part of the Series, Relationships!


Atlassian (2024). A Guide to Project Design in Project Management. Retrieved from,align%20teams%20on%20project%20objectives.

Omnistar (2022, January 05). How to Design a Grant Program. Retrieved from