Tips for Writing Effective Grant Proposals

Writing a successful grant proposal (one that gets you the funds) is not a simple task. There is research and excellent writing expertise that need to be in place before proceeding with the development of a proposal. Many organizations do not have an experienced grant writer on staff to handle grant management, development, writing, and editing – and the job inadvertently falls on the executive director’s shoulders. If you do not typically receive grants and yet put a lot of hard work into writing them, take a look at some of the tips we have compiled this week on writing effective grant proposals. If you feel you could use even more help than what these tips provide, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 303-355-2919 for an assessment of your needs and goals.

Reader Tips:

-from David Jones, Finance and Public Relations Director of Grand Teton Council Boy Scouts of America:

1. Follow the guidelines from the grant maker, do not overstep the boundaries asked for, IE: # pages, typeset, etc.

2. Do some homework on what the grant maker is looking for – use your resources to find the information from many different sources.

3. Make a call, if needed to talk with someone at the foundation for more information needed or to get an inside look at what the grant maker is looking for.

4. Collaboration with other local agencies (and listing them as assets) will help with your proposal and project.

5. List in the proposal if you have received money from the foundation in the past…[Be specific about what the money has helped your organization accomplish.]

6. Get a second look at your proposal before it is submitted…[Try to find someone who has grant writing experience to review the proposal before you send it.]

7. Even if you’re turned down try again next time. Some grant makers are on a rotation basis and may say yes to the same proposal next time or may have more money to give next time.

8. Always thank the grant maker, as appropriate through given guidelines:A. Recognize the foundation/grant maker with a personalized note. B. As required through follow-up reports and results of the grant. C. Through a Press Release via the newspaper – send a copy to the grant-maker when it comes out or at least an original of what was submitted. D. Even if not asked for, send a follow-up of the results of the gift.”

Tips from Richard Male & Associates:

  1. Include real life stories . We try very hard, however short the application format, to include at least one example of how the organization makes a difference in people’s lives.   Some proposals lend themselves to “chattier” formats, but even with a very formal application, you can use the cover letter to talk about a real situation where your organization made a positive impact. It brings dry facts and statistics to life.
  2. Focus on the positive . Foundation staff and trustees read hundreds of proposals, many with very grim statistics and stories of suffering. However tough your mission—helping the homeless, rescuing abused animals, or trying to protect the planet from polluters—it is vital to talk about successes. Funders want reassurance that their money will be part of the solution.
  3. Eliminate jargon and acronyms . Never assume that the people reading your proposal will understand the jargon and acronyms of your industry, even if it’s one of their key focus areas. Even if the proposal deals with nuclear physics you should make an effort to explain your program so that lay people understand at least the summary, if not the details.
  4. Live within the limits/machete editing . Don’t try to get around the page limit by shrinking the font size and narrowing the margins. You don’t have to tell the funder every single detail about your programs or mention every award you received over the past five years. An attractive layout with white space and a readable font is more likely to endear you to the foundation staff and trustees (at least those over 45) than book-length proposals in teeny tiny type that requires a magnifying glass.
  5. Write the proposal from the standpoint of urgency without crisis. Make sure you are clear about the urgency of the dollars now because the competition has stiffened dramatically with the recession. Unless your organization is in a real crisis or you are crisis-oriented (such as the Red Cross), do not write your grant proposal as if your organization will fold if it does not receive the money now .
  6. The first paragraph is critical. Ask for the dollars in the first paragraph so the grant officer does not have to hunt for how much you are seeking. Make sure the grantor knows early in the proposal how much you want, for what purpose, for what time period, and state the importance of the money.
  7. Summary of the proposal is valuable. Writing a one or two paragraph, well crafted summary of the proposal is very important. If the foundation officer likes your proposal, and wants to recommend it for funding, he/she will need to write a short summary that goes to the trustees (who rarely read your proposal). It makes the program officer’s life much easier if you already have a summary (plus it allows you to describe your program in your terms).
  8. Send the proposal to the grantor 30 days before the deadline.By mailing the proposal 30 days prior to the deadline, you will be able to use that time to lobby your request, make any last minute changes, make phone calls, and get support letters which can enhance your chances.
  9. Design the budget carefully. Make sure the budget is well done. The numbers must be added correctly, the goals and objectives have to match the money you are asking for. It is also beneficial to put the in-kind contributions or donated dollars into the budget in a separate column. This lets the funding source know what you will be bringing to the table service-wise.
  10. Write self-sufficiency plans into the request. Most funding sources are not interested in funding your organization long-term. They will fund you to start programs and to keep them going for a few years. In the proposal, write a section on how you will sustain the program once the funding expires.

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