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OVERVIEW: Designing the application form and application process

The application process typically revolves around a written application form.

The best-designed application forms are easy to complete and provide grantmakers with all the detail they need - but no more.

Every unnecessary question you ask imposes a burden on grant applicants and crams your own records full of unnecessary material. What's more, a poorly designed form makes assessing applications much more difficult than it needs to be.

Be guided by your assessment criteria and process when it comes to writing questions and structuring your application form.

A well designed application form, then, reflects a carefully thought out application and assessment process.

SmartyGrants Tip SmartyGrants users: SmartyGrants offers easy development of online forms. Using the right question fields gives system users capabilities for program analysis, reporting and evaluation. Learn more about building SmartyGrants forms.

When designing your application process and form, consider these questions:

  • Will the application process have one stage (one application) or two or more stages? In a two-stage process, applicants submit an initial expression of interest. Then applicants with little chance of success are advised not to proceed with a more detailed application.
  • Will the application process involve face-to-face interviews or some other component in addition to the application form?
  • What will the application form look like? Will it be a formal document calling for lots of detail, including a budget; a semi-structured form that asks applicants to address set criteria; or a set of broad, open-ended questions?
  • Can applicants apply verbally instead of in writing, via a pitch or an interview? This can be useful where literacy is an issue.
  • Will the application form be made available in languages other than English?
  • Will the application process be paper-based or online? Will this suit the intended recipients in terms of their capabilities and locations?
  • Will a help desk or other facility (e.g. technical consultants, advisers, grants program staff, program guidelines, frequently asked questions) be available to support applicants?
  • How will help be delivered? Over the phone? In information sessions? Via email? In languages other than English?
  • Will applicants be offered individual help in moving their application from concept to full proposal, or will the help desk simply provide scripted, standardised information?
  • How will you separate the task of providing help from the task of assessing applications? How will you guard against accusations that one applicant has received too much help?
  • How will the individual needs of particular target groups (e.g. Indigenous Australians, Muslim women) be taken into account in information sessions?
  • How will applications be dealt with upon receipt? Will they be acknowledged? By whom, in what form and when?
  • Will you accept multiple applications from the same organisation?
  • What's your timeline for finalising the forms?
  • Will you grant extensions to applicants who miss the deadline? For how long?
  • How will late applications be dealt with, and who decides whether they can be considered?
  • What will you do about incomplete applicants? Will you give applicants a chance to provide more information? How much time will you give them?

Related templates

SmartyGrants TipSmartyGrants users: The operational templates listed above are already loaded into all SmartyGrants accounts, ready to for you to use or adapt for your own purposes. Of course, you may prefer to build your own from scratch Learn more about form-building in SmartyGrants


Instead of just describing what you want grantseekers to provide, give them examples. For example, in the section of your application form that deals with the budget, provide a budget template, or show examples of the line items you want included. Also make available samples of successful applications that applicants can use as a starting point.

SmartyGrants TipSmartyGrants users: SmartyGrants allows you to create hyperlinks within forms, so you can link to good examples of what you want.
Learn more

Don't make assumptions about the sort of application process that will best suit your potential grantseekers - instead, obtain evidence. For example, contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of multicultural and rural grantseekers are willing and able to apply online.