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How to Nail A Grant Opportunity for Interactive Development

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So you’re interested in an interactive project, but how do you pay for it? Thankfully there are always grants available in the non-profit sector to help update or expand offerings, or to help digitize. Now that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. There’s always a lot more need than there is money. So to be competitive you’re going to need to know what you’re doing to make sure you end up on the grantee list. Thankfully, I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the non-profit sector, as both an employee and board member, and I’ve got some insights to share, as both a granter and grant winner.

Understand the Granter

To succeed at a grant application you need to understand why it really exists. People don’t just give their money away willy-nilly, the granter has some strong beliefs and desires behind why they’re paying out. There’s some passionate goal and philosophy there. The better you can understand that the better you’ll be at speaking to them towards those goals. Take the time to look into the grant agency and decision-makers if you can. A broader understanding of them will always help. Read about past successful grants, mission and vision statements, biographies of key persons, and the history of the organization. These are valuable things to understand to make sure you’re on the same level and can identify and address what they really care about.

Understand the Grant

The next step is to understand the grant. It seems pretty obvious, but it’ll surprise you how things can get missed. I recommend having a few people read it a couple times before you brainstorm your approach for it. Missing out on some key details can throw a wrench in otherwise well formulated plans. When you’ve come up with your plan for your application re-read the grant, especially the application scoring/rating system (if any) and the application process, so you make sure you didn’t miss something.

You should be able to pick out the important repeated terms or keywords that you’ll want to directly address. Identify the key metrics and audiences you can and should use in your application. Whatever your idea is, you need to write it in the lens of what the granter is thinking. Remember that this might not fit your preconceptions, try to double check through their other documents (see above). They might say “diversity” but do they mean gender, neurotype, economic, racial, immigrant, or something else? Maybe they mean any of the options, maybe they focus on just one. They might demand all of them are addressed, they might consider any single one enough of a focus for a single project.

Try to figure out what they’re thinking, if you can. Also know that you can always ask. If you need clarifications, ask them. They may have a FAQ put together for the grant, so check for that first, but otherwise you may see something that they didn’t. Showing your thoughtful consideration of the grant and its goals can be a great start to a granter-grantee relationship.

There are two ways organizations approach grants. One – they have a specific need and they go searching for grants and sponsorship to make it happen, and Two – they search through grants to find what they could apply for to see what they could do with potential funding. Both are very valid strategies, but they definitely influence an organization. Ideally there’s more than one person thinking about grants, this could mean any combo of staff, management or board, but more than one person really helps. If the two can take different but complementary approaches to finding opportunities it can really help an organization. Seeing your goals, applicability, and opportunities from more than one perspective will undoubtedly help.

Find Good Fits

Know that not every grant is going to be worth going for. Grant applications can take a lot of effort, there are going to be ones that aren’t worth the hassle. Like they say “picking your fights is half the battle”. If a grant sounds like a stretch, then make sure you’re only devoting time and energy that you don’t need for something else. It’s pretty rare for a grant to not have lots of applicants so the stretch candidates are often pretty easily dismissed. This doesn’t mean that unlikely or perspective-shifting applicants are always rejected, but it’s a big risk, so you need to be smart about the time and energy you can spent.

Some goals could have multiple potential grants apply to it. With games it could be a matter of simple update grants, it could be about digitization, about diversity, accessibility, specific topic highlighting (like environmentalism), or even just corporate goodwill and brand association. It can be hard to know what the right choice is to apply to. You could apply to multiple grants, but do know that you’ll need to turn one down, or negotiate a split award if you get multiple grants for the same project, unless you manage to scale it so you aren’t getting paid twice for the same work. Just because it’s charity, doesn’t mean it can’t be fraud, you can’t charge twice for the same thing. Its a complicated (and unlikely) situation, but communication would be key.

Understand the Medium

If you’re writing a grant to fund a digital interactive project like a game, you need to have some understanding of how games work, are created, and what their reasonable potentials are. For a lot of organizations this isn’t internally available information, though the rapid increase in gaming’s popularity has made at least the end user possibilities a little better understood. However, building games is different than playing them, so try not to confuse the two. You may be able to come up with lots of great ideas about how the game could be designed, and those are powerful and useful ideas for sure, but they may not be as practical or cost-effective as you might think. For this reason, I highly recommend working with a developer to clarify ideas and possibilities. Doing this early in the process can save a lot of hassle and backpedalling, and can help you succeed at both winning grants, and fulfilling them. You can approach developers to get some consultation at this point, Massive Corporation is happy to help and offers free, no obligation consultations (within reason) to help you understand and win these opportunities.

By working with a developer early on you can more quickly identify a reasonable scale of project, understand features to avoid or include, and help define the idea better. Working with a developer can make grant writing a lot easier and add credibility to your application, you’ve vetted the concept through a level of technical review already. A good design team can also help bring out great ideas and possibilities, helping you see more possibilities and create better grant applications and projects. You can also check out our How People Connect with Games – 12 Player Motivations article for some added context.

The other big advantage of working with a developer during the grant development is that you can get a better sense of reasonable costs. It’s very difficult for people outside development to understand the difficulty, timelines, and expertise involved in making a digital interactive project. Working with an experienced developer can really help define these costs. Game development, and other digital interactive production, can be costly, you’re talking about needing a team of high tech professionals working for months. Design decisions can make a huge difference in the difficulty of a project, and this can multiply or divide the costs. An upfront consultancy, even if paid, can end up saving a lot on a project by getting things right from the start and making the smart decisions about features, claims and production. Of course, if you are going for a grant and can’t guarantee being paid out, be careful about spending money upfront you can’t afford to risk on a chance of a payout.

Focus

Lastly it’s important that when writing a grant you don’t overpromise. You need to stay focused on the core mission of the grant, keep your goals within scale to the funding available, and to your organization’s needs and mission. Something called “feature creep” is a constant threat in the game industry. It essentially is the constant pressure and desire to include more. That approach though is dangerous, adding a feature always sounds great, but the work it adds, not just in a linear fashion, but in the complexity of interactions between other systems can create exponentially more work. This is something that if taken too far will kill a project’s viability.

This is also true with any grant, digital project or not. A granter is going to measure promises against capacity and expertise. Pushing too far can make you seem unrealistic and risky. So you need to find a balanced approach, delivering on the key needs and vision of the granter and grant program, being the best option, but not spreading yourself too thin, not under-costing things (in money or effort), or being unrealistic. The easiest way to handle this balance is to really stay focused on the key points of the grant. You might add some twists and additions to it based on your own pre-existing strengths and opportunities, but don’t stray too far or spread to wide – focus and excel.

The Bottom Line

Grants are a tremendous opportunity to get into the digital space, but are a real battle to win. Help is out there, but there’s always so much more demand than supply. Knowing how to approach grants is a big asset for an organization. Writing grant applications needs a totality of knowledge, strategic vision and a lot of promotional hype. A team effort can make a huge difference. As we said above, Massive Corporation is happy to help. We’re game designers, educational professionals, and we’ve had a lot of experience with non-profit grants. We can help with a free no-obligation consultation for your digital projects and grant applications. Seeing great educational materials come to life is a passion for us, so drop us an email (info @ this url) and let us know how we can help!