Grant writing is all about having no fear!

The biggest hurdle in grant writing is fear, especially for first time grant writers.  I know because I’ve been there. You think it is too big a task for little ol’ you. This isn’t true. Believe me, if I can write over 14 grants in 10 years, you can too.  I wrote my first grant,  during my first year as a teacher.  I was less than confident about my chances but there was no harm in trying.  So, I took the pen and began writing. Several months later, to my HUGE surprise, I was awarded the grant. It was so exciting and I was proud of myself!

I am going to share with you the basic steps that have made grant writing successful for me. Having been awarded everything from local to national grants that range from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars each, I know what it takes.  In addition, I have two books in our endorsed products that are great resources to assist you even further.  The two books are:

  1. The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need (Revised Ed.)
  2. Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing, and Writing Successful Proposals

Start small – Take baby Steps!!!

When you first begin, I recommend that you start small. Pick a grant that offers a simple application and documentation processes. This helps you break through the fear and get your feet wet. I would look into local grant sources. These are generally easy to find if you ask around and they tend to vary in their focus.  If you are in education, something like donorschoose.org is also a good place to start.

Be sure the organization is a fit for the grant you are writing.

I recommend looking into your options and picking an organization that your grant project fits best with. For example, if you are applying for an innovative technology based grant don’t apply to a foundational grant for playground equipment or community restoration. Also, if you are applying for an innovative technology grant don’t write your proposal and ask for computers. This is not progressive technology.  Be sure you are introducing something that is cutting edge, otherwise you need to find a more appropriate grant funding source.

Follow the rules!

Be sure to follow the rules of the application process. I know this may sound silly but it is the number one reason, according to lots of research, that grants don’t get funded. People don’t follow directions. If it says 500 words or less don’t write and submit 501. Give the people what they want!  Exactly as they ask for it.  Cover what each section of the application is asking exactly as directed. If you don’t answer the question or provide the information they are seeking, you will not get funded.

Typically a grant committee or organization will ask for very specific data. Be sure you are clear in giving that exact data, in whatever form they ask for it.

Once you choose an organization you’re ready to write your grant proposal.

I have outlined below a few key strategies that I follow for every grant proposal that I submit.

1. Know your audience

Know your audience and what they have funded before. Look at who and what got funded before. Grant agencies typically list previous award recipients online or if it is a local grant ask around. Your next step is to ask those recipients if they are willing to share their successful applications with you — to give you a sense of the appropriate scope and depth of a successful proposal. Frame your request in that manner and people are typically happy to share. This may sound odd to ask a stranger to share with you. This is exactly how I got my first grant. I asked a fellow district that had been previously funded by the organization to share their proposal with me. To my surprise, they were more than happy to share. Tackle that fear and ask!

2. Clarity of your idea or project.

KISS– Keep ISimple Stupid. Don’t over complicate or try to fluff your writing. Remember, they are typically sifting through tons of applications. Simple and straightforward is best.

3. Persuade them

Persuade them that your project is needed, unique, and achievable. The organization wants to know that you have something special and unique. They need to know that you can prove the project’s results and that those results are achievable.

4. Research

Research is something I believe in. I always incorporate statistics or some type of research that my project is based on. This gives credibility to the project that carries much more weight than what you think or believe.

5. Logical structure

Logical structure in your writing is necessary to gradually develop the reader’s understanding. Make sure the project is fully explained but don’t talk over the heads of your readers. It is important to know as much as you can about your audience before you begin writing. This will assure that you don’t insult them or confuse them.

6. Center around a compelling, measurable idea or outcome

Center your proposal around one compelling idea or project result. It must all connect to what you want to achieve.  Be sure that your goal is very clear and measurable.  If your goal can’t be measured you will not likely get funded.

7. Sell your story!

Be sure you sell your humanized story. Engage their human emotions.

Before you decide on a project and the position you will take to write the proposal remember the MOST IMPORTANT FACT –

Funding agencies aren’t interested in your mission. They want to see their own mission and priorities come alive.

Be sure to center your proposal around the organization’s mission.  Connect your project to their mission.  If you don’t know their mission, don’t waste your time writing a proposal because you have a very slim shot of getting funded.

Now comes that tricky part!  This is where practice makes perfect if you aren’t a natural born writer.  80% of grant writing involves putting together puzzle pieces exactly as instructed, following directions.  Approaching a grant proposal as an exam makes you sound like a robot that is following a script.  This is not going to leave an impression or persuade your funding agency to give you money.  So, DON’T DO THAT!  Give your proposal personal pizzazz.  Sound like a human!

In addition, the book The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need , offered in our endorsed products, discusses the relationship building and mission focus necessary to work this into a proposal successfully.

The other 20% is where the special sauce seals the deal.

A human will be reading your grant proposal and they need to be convinced to hand you that much needed cash that you are requesting. As much as people enjoy data that assures them that investing in your organization is a low-risk, high-impact venture, they also love a compelling story.  You MUST sell your story!  I find this to be the hardest part of grant writing for me when I first began and it is still something that I have to make a continuous effort at.  I am not one for blowing my own horn.  That is uncomfortable territory for me.  However, it is crucial in order to get people to show you the money!

Writing a grant means lots of editing!

Now that the proposal is written you’re done, right? No!  Any proposal is only as good as it’s appeal and clarity to its audience.  This step is almost more important than all the others combined.  Get external people to review it prior to submission. The writer cannot review it for clarity. You will miss errors, simply by virtue of your familiarity with the material. You will also have only your perspective in terms of understanding and clarity.  Ask colleagues to read the application. I prefer to have people outside of the field read  the proposal with the following questions in mind:

  • Are the goals clearly stated?

  • Does the grant meet the organization’s criteria?

  • What is the impact of your potential findings?

Having proofreaders that do not have expertise in the area at all is beneficial given that members of the grant-review panel will not have expertise in every aspect of your proposal.  This can be especially true if you are writing for something like innovative technology or cutting edge topics such as that.

Start Writing!!!

I hope this article has given you the confidence and basics needed to get started.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t win your first proposal.  Inquire about what didn’t work for the organization, edit it and resubmit.

Again, be sure to check out both of the books mentioned for further grant writing assistance.

  1. The Only Grant-Writing Book You’ll Ever Need (Revised Ed.)
  2. Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing, and Writing Successful Proposals

Please send me an email if you found this article helpful.  I would also love to hear about your grant writing experiences.  Please share them with me.  God speed and good luck!