There's a lot of technique required when writing grants. While mastering the craft comes with practice, these expert tips can set you up for success.
Grant writing should really be an Olympic event. Not just because it’s highly competitive— but because practice, practice (and more practice…) is the only way to become the best. And while nonprofit marketing to boost donations is useful for any organization, grants are a vital part of building a stable funding source for your charity or nonprofit.
Foundations can receive thousands of grant applications at any given time. It’s up to them to sort through equally deserving causes and decide who gets the money. It doesn’t always matter how many people you fed or lives you saved, it’s about how you package that as an investment opportunity.
Learning the art of grant writing takes time. Thankfully, people that have put in some years of practice have a thing or two they can share that might help set you on the path to success. Here are the top 13 tips to keep in mind when writing a grant report— written by a former grant writer, for current grant writers.
13 Helpful Tips To Guide You As You Write a Grant Report
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1. Collect Supporting Information Before Writing
Beginning your grant proposal is often the most daunting part. A great way to keep you focused and get the creative juices flowing is by collecting all supplementary information and reports before you put pen to paper. What this information looks like will vary depending on your organization, but things like annual reports, previous grants, and budget reports are great places to start for anyone.
2. Have a Style Guide Handy
Spelling and grammar errors are another easy way to have your proposal devalued. Precision is always valued and sometimes mandated in the instance of grants. Relying entirely on spellcheck doesn’t save you from all mistakes and it certainly doesn’t ensure you’re in accordance with AP style (or MLA, or Chicago…).
Keeping a copy of an updated style guide on hand is a great solution as well as free web plugin tools like Grammarly. Always employ a second set of eyes to skim the piece for mistakes and read sections out loud to ensure clarity.
3. Make a Case For The Implications of The Grant
To set your grant proposal apart from the rest aim to highlight how you’ll use the resources in a nuanced way. Don’t only share what you’ve done in the past. Instead, make a case for the implications of the grant on a micro, regional, national, even global level!
4. Involve Your Staff
As the one writing the grant you may not be closest to the pulse of action within your organization. For that, you need to be a boots-on-the-ground staff member. To give your proposal a more well-rounded perspective, collect testimony and information from program staff across all levels.
If your organization has multiple programs, be sure to always reach out to supervisors for each grant you write and make sure you get the most up to date numbers. For example, in the case of a nonprofit who deals in foster care, you’ll want the number of kids placed to date, cost per placement, training costs, so on and so forth.
5. Always Follow Specifications
It’s not uncommon for each grant to come along with specific requirements for the proposals. Whether it’s word counts, page counts, attachment limits, you must always adhere to them. Don’t include something extra because you think it’ll help you stand out. Most of the time it’s an easy way to discount you from the running for not following instructions.
Additionally, it often comes with the connotation that you think you’re bigger than the rules and not entirely respectful of the review committee’s time.
If you have more information then you can fit and you don’t know what to cut, simply prioritize them based on relevancy and impact. Then cut what falls at the bottom of the list.
6. Request Score Sheets
This is a simple tip but you may be surprised how few people take advantage! In a case where the worst-case scenario is a) they say “no” or b) they say we don’t have one, what’s the risk? The reward, in this case, is akin to receiving the answer key before a test. Secure the score sheet and you’ll have a basic outline of exactly what the grantors are looking for.
7. Write Passionately!
It can be tough to write passionately in grant because of its inherently fact-based nature. However, if you’re able to let your passion for your project or organization shine through it’s going to get you noticed. You’re investing in people as much as you are a cause, so it helps to inspire confidence in the physical agents the money is going to.
Try to take some time to think about what you do before you sit down to work on your grant. That added intentionality can go a long way in putting you in the right headspace.
8. Answer Only The Questions Provided
Continuing with the idea of prompts and rule following, it’s important to keep it brief. If a grant committee has questions they want answered, they’re asking for a reason. Don’t go on a tangent outside of that as it’s automatically considered irrelevant. Prompts can be a gift that keep you focused, don’t squander them!
9. Research The Funder
Just because you’re the best performing organization doesn’t mean you’re a shoe-in for the grant. At the end of the day it’s the funders choice who to give the grant to. To give you the best chance of being selected do some research on them.
What is their mission, values, history, past grant recipients? Then tailor your grant in a way that demonstrates how funding your cause will serve them.
10. Don’t Cut And Paste Your Summary
Another simple best practice pointer is to write original content for your summaries. Unless otherwise instructed, do not duplicate any content word for word within your grant. It can be tempting to pull your best sentences and reuse them in your initial proposal summary, but it’s a cheap shortcut.
Instead, rewrite your statements and hone in on short, factual material that stands out in a skimmable way.
11. Carry Your Story Through to Your Budget Request
The tip here is right in the name. If you’re telling a story about your organization within your proposal, make sure that narrative is weaved into your budget proposal. If you tell a heartwarming knockout story about the relevancy of cancer research, then simply say $100,000 requested for misc. staff needs, you’re losing all the emotional hypnoses you’ve created.
If you’re telling a story it should reflect in your proposal start to finish.
12. Start Early
Grants almost always take longer to write than you think they will. It’s crucial you start early. Especially with the unknowns that come from waiting for program directors and staff to send you the information you may need.
If you do find yourself crunched for time here’s an unpopular opinion: don’t submit the proposal. By presenting a sub-par picture of your organization and performance you’re giving a relevant and substantial decision makers a less than impressive picture of yourself. As a result, you won’t get the grant and you may taint your reputation for future funding opportunities if you’re written off early.
13. Ensure You’re Targeting The Right Grants
Money is money, right? Wrong. Due to the time and effort it takes to prepare and write a grant proposal, you don’t want your effort to be for nothing. Unless you’re a very large national organization, you may have a difficult time securing funders outside the local scope. Especially when it comes to covering specific operational or program costs. The “big fish” national foundations focus tend to be capital expenses for programs that can go on to replicate a model on a national stage. If that doesn’t seem like you, focus your sites of local foundations and you’ll soon find yourself yielding a far greater ROI.
In summary, remember to think outside your immediate impact, find your passion, and follow the rules. Thoughtful, well-organized, and smartly written grants will always be rewarded!
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