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Grant Strategy

Identifying Your Target Population

By Susannah Mayhall

June 2012

The decision to submit a grant application frequently stems from a combination of an organization's needs, broader goals, and the opening of a suitable grant program.  However, once pen hits paper, these broader ideas must be fully examined and expressed in terms of specific goals that can be carried out and evaluated for success.  One critical element of almost any grant program that can sometimes prove to be a sticking point is the identification of the proposed project's targeted population—in other words, who will benefit from the grant project.  Your target population will likely be initially determined by your organization's current patients, students, community members, or other groups currently served, and by the parameters set out in the grant guidance. However, it is important to dig deeper and iron out specific details related to the target recipients of the project's services. By treating this facet of the application as an opportunity to demonstrate your project's readiness and anticipated effectiveness, you can strengthen your proposal's competitiveness and gain a favorable review from the granting agency.  While developing specific details about your project's implementation can be difficult in the beginning stages of conception, it is well worth the extra effort.


The easiest way to start identifying your target population is to take a look at the people you are currently serving.  What are their characteristics?  Do they fall within a certain age range?  Do they live in specific areas?  What common traits do they have?  Mapping out your current constituency will give you an idea of the parameters you will likely be working within during the grant project. 


After gaining a thorough understanding of your current service recipients, examine the small print of the grant program.  Does the grant require you to impact a particular demographic?  Is the grantor agency looking for projects that serve certain populations, e.g. frail elderly living in rural areas, tribal youth, or inner-city minority children?  If so, it is in your best interest to tailor your proposal to match the agency's interests.  While you don't want to stray too far from your current service population, the best fit grant programs for your organization will line up with that population to some degree, and will help you to hone in on your target population for the project.


After you've gotten a clear picture of who you will be serving, including any relevant identifying characteristics such as age, social or ethnic group, economic standing, location, etc., start to think about the needs of that population.  What current obstacles does your target population face?  What needs do they have?  How will your project address those needs or mitigate barriers?  At this point in the process, it might be useful to reach out to your targeted population through surveys, questionnaires, or even informal conversations, in order to gain a clearer perspective of how your project can best meet their needs.  Not only will this information prove useful as you develop your grant proposal, it will also demonstrate to the grantor that your project has been well-researched and thoughtfully developed. 


Identifying a target population can be one of the more challenging aspects of proposal development, and it might seem tempting when you're drowning amid budgets, narratives, resumes, letters, and other components to simply list your entire region or service population as the target population.  However, by really thinking about who you want to serve, you can greatly strengthen your proposal and give yourself a better understanding of what you are trying to accomplish with your project, and that knowledge will come in handy in myriad ways as you develop your grant proposal and, hopefully, implement your project with grant funding.