Grant seeking is an essential component of non-profit fundraising, often comprising the greatest contribution to a charitable organization’s bottom line. Grant writing itself is a challenging proposition, due in large part to the myriad complexities of the typical grant making process. While the changing economy has spawned tighter budgets in countless areas over the past several years, so have the challenges faced by grant writers similarly mounted. Gone are the days when a simple, compelling pitch received a warm welcome, followed soon after by a written check; here instead are fewer provisions, greater restrictions, and increasing hurdles to overcome.
Competition for charitable funds is fierce in today’s climate; in fact, first time applicants rarely realize success on their first attempt. With little formal instructions or template parameters available, it is incumbent upon grant writers to put every tool in their toolbox to work, as creatively as possible, to maximize the ability to get through heightened application obstacles. Articulating the compelling merits of a charitable organization is a responsibility that falls squarely upon the grant campaign’s shoulders. The bad news is that this is a weighty burden to carry; the good news, however, is that there are a handful of best practice, common-sense-like rules that, when followed consistently, will aid significantly in a grant seeker’s ability to accomplish their aim. Here are ten tips to follow that will ensure your ability to put forward the strongest possible grant application.
1. Know The Grantmaker
Have you read the mission statement of the grant maker? If you have not – you should. How does it line up with your own mission? If their mission and your program have competing priorities, it will not be obvious to the funding organization why they should support you. Put yourself into the shoes of the grant maker – how will supporting your organization reflect upon their mission?
Imagine yourself as the Executive Director of your targeted grant making organization – standing before a panel of donors, asked to review the purpose behind the grants you have selected for funding. How would you go about explaining the basis for your decisions? Understand the “language” of the grant maker – and be able to speak it intelligibly. Learning as much as you can of their language and incorporating that language in your proposal maximizes their understanding of what you are trying to do, and why they would be wise to support you.
2. Know The Competition
Creativity aside, grant seeking is plagued by some very simple math – in a nutshell, there is much less money available than there are deserving candidates. While grant makers would presumably love nothing more than to be able to provide support to every applicant, that is just not possible. Given the fierce nature of the competing organizations seeking funding, pause for a moment of empathy for the grant maker – and when you do so, remember to be brief, succinct and concise in your application. There is a fine line between passion and pretension, and you cannot rely upon the assumption that your funder will share your ideology to an exact degree. Oftentimes, grant reviewers are volunteers; making their job easier can be both a kindness as well as valuable strategic approach.
3. Know The Rules
Do they want you to articulate everything there is to know about your organization in two paragraphs or less? Make sure you stick to that parameter. Does the grant maker ask for everything in Size 14 font? Then, give it to them. While many of these rules may seem senseless and arbitrary, the bottom line is, they are the rules they have asked everyone to follow; the last thing you would want is to risk a wonderful cause being tossed out of a pile of applicants simply because the pages exceeded the stated limits proffered in the application. Enough said!
4. Know Your Editor
Serious grant writers willingly grasp and value the treasure that a good editor represents. That said, it behooves a grant author to choose that editor/editors wisely. Doubtful that there is much use in having an editor that, say, has a lengthy background and history with your own organization – rather, however, an editor that has an established tenure with the industry of your targeted grant maker? Priceless.
5. Plan Ahead
Jay Doering, Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Manitoba, advises “it is very easy to spot an application that has been hastily put together over days, versus an application that has been groomed and vetted over weeks.” Keep in mind, too, that your grant application constitutes your best foot forward. Does your best foot arrive on time, or better yet, ahead of deadline? Or, instead, does your best foot come sliding in at the eleventh hour, riding on the tide of a whim and a prayer? The package of a grant application is a combined articulation of what you are all about; be sure that the manner with which you deliver your application fits the esteem of its contents.
6. Be Honest
If your grant proposal encompasses details about a program, its goals or its measures of success – do not stretch the truth. If you believe in the program for which you are seeking funding, you will hopefully also agree that the need to embellish factual details is wholly unnecessary – or, at least, it should be. Grandiose details about what you hope to accomplish will not help things, either; be realistic in your approach and what you hope to attain. The last thing you would want to face is delivering a report card to your funding source after the completion of your project, and having a spotlight shine upon your distortions of the truth – precluding you from future funding consideration.
7. Write Like You Mean It
Proposal writing is a unique style of communication. In your grant proposal, start by telling the reader what is important, significant or exciting about what you are doing in your community. The chore at hand is to convince what might be a skeptical reader that your topic is important, original, and that your organization can be trusted to succeed in your mission at hand. You are selling not only the idea behind your program, but your credibility as well. Write in concise, succinct fashion – but above all, write intelligibly and in a matter befitting formality.
8. Know Your Resources
Have you exhausted research on your topic? Do you know local trends in your industry, important factors that weigh upon your mission and your goals? Speaking to factual components in a grant campaign – published research that can be verified – will help solidify your campaign as well as your credibility. Better yet – cite resources used, and provide as much ease as possible for the reader to verify things directly!
9. Review, Edit, Be Formal
Few people can write clearly and concisely without editing, including professional writers. Make no mistake – your proposal will need editing and likely rewriting as well. Remember, your proposal is a representation of your organization; if there are spelling errors, rampant jargon, acronyms and poor grammar, the reader might decide that the sloppy presentation mirrors how you would execute your program.
10. Follow Up
Your role in seeking a grant does not come to a close once a proposal is submitted; this is the time to polish your approach and stand apart from your competition. Do your homework – find out who the key decision makers are, what their time frame is for review and rendering decisions, and be proactive in your communications. In this age of electronic convenience, be careful not to underestimate the value of an old-fashioned phone call – sometimes this could be the difference between your proposal falling to the bottom of the pile, versus being put right on the top. Even if your application is turned down the first-time around – do not make the mistake of passing up on the invaluable opportunity to garner feedback tied to the rejection, as this may prove the most useful tool in tailoring your second submission.
Is your grant maker a local organization? Even better! Invite them to come and meet you to see for themselves the inner workings of your organization. Even when grant makers cannot afford the time to do this, the invitation itself speaks volumes as to your credibility. Meeting people in person, when opportunity presents itself, goes a long way to creating a sticky relationship – which leads to much greater probability of repeat funding in the future.
Bottom line is this; grant seeking is a learning experience. Have you submitted an application that was rejected? Do not fret – remember that success rates are low the first time around. Do not get discouraged if you are not immediately successful. Instead, make note of the feedback you received and use that to your advantage for repeat as well as future submissions.
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