Grant Writing Tips

Writing grants is not just about writing well. Some parts of the process are intuitive but others are a little trickier, so here are a few tips:

1)      The Foundation:

Pay attention to the grant source. Does your plan match up with the mission or intent of the grant foundation? If not, you should look into other sources. You are not making the most of your time by writing generic grants for all audiences. A discerning eye will cut down on your time investment while making it more valuable.

The reason behind this advice, and the advice that follows, is because of where your proposal is going. Someone, a real person who is probably short on time, is going to have to read this and you want to make that process as painless as possible. Everyone wants to think that their proposal is engaging, and it may be, but your audience likely has to read a lot of these. The first time through, though, they will be skimming for vital details, which should be very easy to find in your proposal.

2)      The Frame:

Be direct. Be confident. Be assertive. Be positive. The language you use will give the grant proposal a tone that delivers its own message. For example: “utilize” is not superior to “use,” despite the extra syllables. Hemingway, in a snarky argument with Faulkner, said that big emotions don’t come from big words. You want your audience to be listening to the substance of your grant proposal and not wading through your prose or, worse, having to get a dictionary.

You would not be pursuing this money if you did not believe in the need or the cause, so focus on those elements. You can touch on the potential problems, but only to demonstrate that you have thought about them and have a plan. Do not fall into the trap of dwelling on the negative.

The reader will also be looking for your expertise. Know your field and demonstrate that knowledge by referencing industry leaders and statistics, etc. Be brief but detailed. This is not a teaser on a novel dust jacket. Leaving your audience with questions will not entice them to investigate further.

List the expenses you want the grant to cover and do not round to a neat row of zeros. Show that you have thoroughly researched your needs. Graphs, charts and simple spreadsheets are a great way to present your information and lower the investment needed by your audience to extract details. The way you arrange your data can also reflect the level of organization you will employ when using the awarded funds. A timeline is a brilliant device to use.

3)      The Form:

Organize your grant proposal logically. Follow any specifications provided by the grant maker first, but then form it to be easy to ingest. Important elements to include are:

  • Summary: Who are you? What do you need? Why do you need it? How will you use it? This summary should sell your organization and provide an overview of the information that will be detailed in the remainder of your grant proposal.
  • Project Description: Explain what you are planning to do with this money and how it fulfills a need. Be clear about your goals and keep them in mind as you write. You need to do more than supposition, so reinforce your proposal with past successes of your program or a similar program. How will you achieve your goals, and how will you measure your success?
  • Budget: The grant maker will want to know what they will get for their money. Remember to be clear, thorough and brief. Do not bog yourself down with adjectives in an attempt to impress. This would be a good place for those charts mentioned prior.
  • Appendix: It does not hurt to put a few case studies at the end of your grant proposal. If you have something worth bragging about, but did not find a good place for it in the actual body of the grant, put it at the end. Make sure to reference appendices in the summary or cover letter.

Forward thinking is always good. What you do now is important; what you can do with the money is important, but you also need to know the next step down the road. The future of your organization or program, even after the grant is exhausted, should be touched on. This tells the grant maker that you are serious about your mission.

4)      The Fun:

All of this could be somewhat dry, but it does not have to be, nor should it be. While you are being sparse with your text, add in some images or graphics that drive your point home. Avoid clipart by using pictures of your staff or community members you serve. Make it personal.

5)      The Finale:

EDIT! We cannot stress this enough. Read through the proposal a few times. Have someone else read it (you would be surprised at how many times you can read your own typos without seeing them). A spelling error makes you look sloppy. If you need to pick up a grammar guide, there are short ones that detail common mistakes.

Look for continuity. Each section should flow naturally into the next in a way that you would describe your proposal if you were talking with someone. Sometimes this is not possible to accomplish if the grant maker requests that you put the cart before the horse, but do what you can.

Finally, check if you have answered all of the basic questions: who, what, why, when, where, and how? Look back through this article and find the question marks. Are those questions answered?

Of course, these tips are not comprehensive. Research, write with passion and keep things simple. Always remember that your grant proposal should not be about the money. Your grant proposal is about your program or project and who it helps.