Right on the Money: Making Youth-Written Grant Proposals Stand Out

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Image of a winding road.

Do Something, a New York organization that awards grants to youth-led service projects, gets a lot of applications from young people wanting to start organic community gardens.

While a garden may be a good idea for most communities, in the competitive world of youth grants, it’s not enough to catch a funder’s eye. A little creative thinking and some youthful enthusiasm helped a high school group transform that good idea into a fundable one: They proposed bringing preschool children to an event at their garden, where older youth would teach the toddlers about sustainable food.

“Rather than just applying for money to grow a garden or buy crops, instead they’re spreading the message further and further,” says Amanda Ashton, who coordinates Do Something’s grant programs.

To help youth workers assist young people applying for youth-service grants, Ashton and Amanda Bernard, director of grants at Washington’s Youth Service America, a grant-making nonprofit and the organizer of Global Youth Service Day, shared five things that make grant reviewers sit up and take notice:

1.    A clear sense that youth lead the project. Youth can convey that by telling a personal story about why the project is important to them. For instance, an African girl applying for a YSA grant to bring solar-powered lanterns to her village wrote about how one of her friends was badly burned doing her homework by gas-light. You might brainstorm with youth or review a proposal, but take care not to hijack the project or write the proposal for them, Bernard says.

2.    A strong focus on the community to be served. “We don’t just want to hear there’s a major childhood obesity epidemic in the nation,” Bernard says. “We want to hear what might be contributing to childhood obesity in their community.”

3.    A creative response to a problem. A recent successful proposal to YSA described how youth would raise awareness about environmental issues at an eco-friendly cookout using solar ovens made out of cardboard boxes, plastic wrap, duct tape, newspapers and aluminum foil. Young people can get inspiration on the Do Something and YSA websites.

4.    A solid plan of action. Youth should carefully describe how they will put their project in place. “We’re wanting to see that the idea that they have is feasible and can be implemented,” Bernard says. “How are they going to prepare? How are they going to make partnerships, get donations?”

5.    A strategy for getting, and measuring, real results.  “We want to make sure that projects are really looking for measurable change and long-term problem solving,” even in a one-time project, Ashton says. For a new project idea, grant reviewers want to know what tools youth will use to measure the effect they are having on the community. If youth seek money for an existing project, they should note how many people are involved and how many people the project has already reached.


Do Something Grant Alumni
Do Something Grants FAQ
Do Something Grant Judging Criteria
Global Youth Service Day Toolkit
Youth Service America Grant Programs

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