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Grant Writing Tips if You're Not a Grant Writer

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As social-impact professionals, many of us work at organizations that rely on at least some amount of grant funding for programmatic and staff support. While some organizations are lucky enough to have a grant writer on staff, at other nonprofits, grant application responsibilities fall to whomever has a free moment and some writing chops.

If you find yourself in the the latter group, read on for grant-writing tips.

Prepare to dive in

The end result, those neatly typed pages you’ll one day hand over, will exist only because of the time and energy you invest in crafting an insightful and thoroughly researched proposal.

Your proposal will be a mix of facts, figures, and stories that show the impact of your work along with detailed accounts of your project’s timeline and objectives. Begin by creating an outline of the entire proposal. Getting a few things organized before you start putting your thoughts on paper will go a long way to support your process.

  • Get buy-in from coworkers. Talk with everyone who will be involved in the outcome before you begin working on content. Plan a meeting with as many stakeholders as you can gather. Even a 30-minute brainstorming session can better inform the content of your proposal. Come prepared with questions, such as: How will we measure success? Who will be responsible for organizing reports to the funder? What is the ideal timeline for use of these funds should we be awarded the grant?
  • Make sure that your work matches the interests and aims of the funders. Sometimes, in a rush to get a bunch of proposals out the door, organizations apply for grants that don’t truly align with their work and mission. Trying to bend your program to fit a foundation’s guidelines can make things harder for you in the long run. Skip these applications and keep looking. Your time can be better spent elsewhere!
  • Go over the foundation’s requirements carefully. You want to know exactly what information the foundation wants from you as you’ll likely be the one to collect and collate that information from program staff. Help them out by giving them plenty of time and a structure within which to collect and organize their part of the work. Let people know exactly what you need and when you need it—preferably a couple of months ahead of time! Send along friendly reminders to check in and offer support. You may even choose to employ a project-management tool in order to keep everyone on track.

Strengthen your summary pages

Your abstract (or summary page) is your chance to help potential funders understand your organization and programs. Here are ways that you can keep the content clear, concise, and focused:

  • Write for the outsider. Craft the proposal with the assumption that funders know nothing about your organization. Include all of the details that reviewers will need in order to understand the project you are proposing, but be mindful to not go overboard with extraneous information or jargon.
  • Be specific. You have limited space to get your message across. Challenge yourself to cut your first draft in half. This allows you to keep an eye toward brevity and clarity.
  • Speak to the problem, but focus on solutions. Make sure you include details on how you will use this funding to create a real solution. The foundation should be able to easily understand how this funding will allow your organization to get its work done.
  • Use stories. Pick one or two stories to show the impact of your work. If possible, include quotes, images, and testimonials to let the voices of those you serve illustrate your impact.

Be on the lookout for common mistakes

  • Cutting and pasting. It may save time, but cutting and pasting could cost you the grant. Make sure you are reading each question carefully and answering that specific question.
  • Changing your program to get the grant. Remember that once you get the grant, you and your coworkers will have to complete the objectives. You will have to do the interim report and funders want to see that you are making strides to accomplishing your goals. Stick with the work for which your organization has passion and expertise.
  • Incomplete applications. Make sure you have addressed all of the donor requests by thoroughly reviewing the application. Once you’ve written your first draft, share it with a colleague who will be able to find gaps.
  • Not asking for the appropriate amount. Determine what your project needs to succeed. Don’t ask for a lower number in hopes that it will be your ticket to funding. Grant-giving organizations want to see your program achieve its goals and to know that you have realistic estimates of your financial objectives.
  • Getting rid of data you may need. Funders need data and statistics to back up the narrative. They want numbers—participants, geographic locations served, and detailed budgets. Try to get in the habit of keeping track of things you may need for future grants.

Strengthen your skills

Luckily, there are plenty of useful resources out there to support your grant writing efforts. Idealist Careers offers insight into grant writing successes. Be on the lookout for books, podcasts, and courses to grow your expertise in grant writing. Here are a few things to get you started:

Each time you prepare a proposal you’re strengthening your skills. Hopefully, all your hard work will lead you to get the grant that’s right for you!

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About the Author | For nearly two decades, Jeannette Eaton has been working for nonprofits and helping people identify their strengths. She has experience as an advocate for women and girls in crisis, a volunteer coordinator for adult literacy, and a family literacy instructor.

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