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Grant-Writing Tips

GRANT-WRITING: Make it a habit!

Studies indicate that the one quality all successful people have is persistence. They're willing to spend more time accomplishing a task and to persevere in the face of many difficult odds. There's a very positive relationship between people's ability to accomplish any task and the time they're willing to spend on it. --Joyce Brothers

The following articles have been adapted from grant writing tips on the SchoolGrants.org site; also Tony Poderis' Fund Raising Forum www.raise-funds.com; and an archived article from Foundation News & Commentary  Thanks to Donna Fernandez for allowing us to reproduce them here.

At A Glance: Quick Grant-Writing Tips

The most important thing for grant-writers to remember is that they might submit a perfect application and still receive a rejection. Most foundations have limited resources with which to fund projects. Do not get discouraged if you get a rejection from a possible funding source.

READ the grantor's guidelines and instructions carefully. Do not try to make the grantor's program fit what you want to do - your program must be in line with the funding agency's priorities.

Ideas should be innovative, creative and educational. Grantors will rarely fund operating expenses - they usually invest in supplemental programs. Private foundations often seek creative solutions to problems/needs, but they usually do not wish to fund risky projects. Try proposing a project that puts a fresh spin on an existing idea.

Keep your goals realistic! It is important to have an evaluation plan. Grantors want to know if the projects they fund are successful--that your project is meeting its goals.

Have a reasonable, detailed budget. Do your homework on costs prior to submitting your application and be sure to explain your budget even if there are no requirements to do so.

Clarity in communicating your ideas is very important. Have someone who is not involved in the project in any way read and critique your draft application.

Proofread! Spelling and grammar errors do not convey a positive image.

Follow the grantor's instructions to the letter. Applications are turned away when they do not exactly meet the funding agency's requirements.

Take time to review some successful proposals. This is a great learning tool.

If your project is rejected, ask the grantor for reviewer comments. The comments can offer invaluable tips for improving your future grant applications. Never forget to write thank-you notes - even if your project is not funded initially!

Components Of A Proposal

Most grantors expect to see the following eight components in grant proposals:

  • Summary: Very briefly summarize the project for which you are requesting funding. You should be able to describe your project in just 3-4 sentences.
  • Introduction: Use this section to tell a little about your organization - what qualifications do you have to administer the program/funds for which you are asking?
  • Statement of Need: Use facts to describe the needs your organization has that the proposed project will address.
  • Objectives: Describe the major ways the project is expected to impact your goals and the organization's needs. Objectives should be stated in measurable terms. (Audience size, number of participants, various communities reached.)
  • Methods: How are you going to accomplish the objectives of the program?
  • Evaluation: What quantifiable methods will you have in place to monitor the success of your project? [On-going monitoring of the program is required to determine that objectives are being achieved. Frequent self- evaluations enable timely corrections and adjustments if parts of the program are proving to be ineffective.]
  • Future Funding: How will your organization continue this work when the grant ends?
  • Budget: Clearly delineate costs borne by the grant. Be as accurate as possible.

Why A Mission Statement?

Tony Poderis says, "The Mission Statement declares "why" an organization exists, and is the only foundation upon which a long-range strategic plan (the blueprint for carrying out the organization's "business") can be developed." You must have a well-written and thoughtful mission statement in order to successfully seek grant funding.

Writing Letters Of Inquiry

Many foundations require a letter of inquiry before accepting full proposals from applicants. This allows foundations to easily choose projects about which that they wish to learn more. It saves you the time it takes to complete a full proposal that no one reads. But, what should you include in a letter of inquiry?

Before submitting a letter of inquiry (or, certainly, a full proposal), be sure your project meets the foundation's guidelines and initiatives. If the foundation does not provide specific instructions for a letter of inquiry, the following format has been recommended:

  • Name and address of the legal grant recipient organization;
  • Contact person(s) and title(s). Include telephone and fax numbers, as well as e-mail address!;
  • A summary of your organization's mission;
  • The size of this year's operating budget;
  • A description of your proposed project. Make sure this is closely related to the foundation's giving initiatives!!;
  • A summary of your project goals, objectives, and measurable outcomes. Again, these should be closely tied to the foundation's guidelines!;
  • A list of the key individuals responsible for the project;
  • If applicable, a list and brief description of project partners;
  • The time frame for the proposed project;
  • A brief description of funds requested and a description of how they'll be used; and
  • A statement regarding any prior funding you've received from the foundation.

All of the above should be included in a letter to the foundation that does not exceed 3 pages, plus any required attachments. Required attachments typically include a project budget, a year-to-date financial statement, and a copy of your IRS tax-exemption letter.

Writing Skills

When applying for funds, it is important to remember that the readers of your proposal may not be artists. This is especially true for applications sent to corporations and many foundations.

What does this mean? It means you must use clear, precise language that does not rely on "dancer-speak". Acronyms should not be used unless they have defined. Terms specific to dance must be explained. Specific programs with which those in dance may be very familiar may, and probably will, mean nothing to those outside that arena. Using terms that are unfamiliar to those offering funds will likely get your proposal tossed out because they will not understand your need for funds.

It is not difficult to see how effective and efficient proposals are more likely to be successful.

Before submitting your application to any grantor, have a colleague read it. The less knowledgeable the reader is about your subject, the better.

There are several advantages to this approach. First, if, after having read your proposal, your reader understands what your project entails, the grantor is likely to also comprehend the value of your proposed program.

A second advantage is that spelling and grammar errors are more likely to be caught by an independent reader. You know what you've written so when you proofread, you may read what you think you wrote rather than what you actually wrote!

Grant-Writing Advice

Obtain as much information as possible about a prospective grantor! Understand the mission of the grantor, look at past-funded projects, and determine the range of grant awards typically given by the agency. Be sure you make a note of any geographical preferences and/or limitations. Save yourself some time and look at "funding exclusions" and/or "eligible applicants" first - make sure your institution and/or project fits within the guidelines of the funding agency.

Most funding agencies publish grant guidelines or requirements. Be certain you understand them and follow them to the letter. Note the deadline and whether the proposal must be received or postmarked by the deadline. Don't have your proposal thrown away because you didn't follow the guidelines to the letter. Exceptions are rarely made; regardless of the circumstances. Some funders have special requirements; follow them!

You should always seek grant opportunities that match your project's goals and objectives rather than the other way around. If you change your project based on a funder's giving guidelines, you will soon end up with a project that is a mere shell of the original plan. The goal of grant writing is not more money for your organization; the goal is to fund programs that will meet the needs of your constituency.

Many grantwriters do not thoroughly research the priorities of the grant-making agency prior to writing their applications. This is a formula for almost certain failure. Applications should be specifically tailored to the foundation and requested projects should fall well within its initiatives, priorities, and guidelines. Applying for funds from an agency that does not support either your area of interest or your geographical area is a waste of your time and the program officer's time.

Your "needs statement" drives your entire grant proposal. The proposed project should revolve around the problems faced by your organization. The purpose of the grant is to meet the specific needs you have identified. If you have not adequately described the reason you need the program, including the use of statistics and other research data when possible, the funder will see no reason to invest in your project.

Most proposals, particularly foundation and corporation proposals, should include a short project abstract. The abstract defines your entire project - needs, goals, objectives, and budget - on a single page. As always, follow the guidelines of the grantor with regard to the project summary/abstract requirements. Remember that it is this summary that is usually read first. If you haven't adequately described your project, it may be the only part of the entire proposal that ever gets read. Even though the abstract is required at the first of the proposal, consider writing it last.

Every proposal will require a section(s) that describes the broad goals and measurable objectives of your project. You should detail the activities that will be implemented to accomplish the program's goals and objectives. Your budget and budget narrative must closely match the described activities. Your evaluation should carefully measure whether the stated project objectives are being met on a timely basis.

Foundation and corporate funders generally expect this section to be no longer than five to ten pages. Federal grants may allow up to 50 pages or more for a thorough discussion of your project. Again, follow the guidelines of the prospective funder.

Include a one-page cover letter if not specifically prohibited by the funding agency. The cover letter should briefly introduce your organization and describe your project, including the funding request. The cover letter should be signed by your executive officer and should be written on letterhead.

Use a reasonable font type and size (no smaller than 10- point; preferably 12-point). Leave plenty of white space - use margins of at least 1"; double- space if space limitations allow it. If possible, include graphs, photographs, or sidebars occasionally. Bold headings and sub-headings help break up the proposal and also make it easy for the reviewer to find sections within your proposal. Grammar and spelling errors show a lack of concern on the part of the applicant. Do not submit a proposal if you are not proud of its appearance.

Remember that proposal review is a subjective process. You should always provide as much information in as clear and concise manner as possible to help the reader understand your organization and your project. Refrain from using acronyms common to your area of expertise. Many readers are not going to be familiar with their meaning.

Do not overlook small corporations and businesses in your area when seeking grant support. These companies often have an interest in funding projects that support the community where their employees live. Always keep the funder informed of your project's progress and impact.

Even if your proposal is not funded, always send a thank you note to the grantor for the opportunity to submit your proposal. Ask if it is possible to receive reviewer comments so that you can see why your proposal was not funded. Use the reviewer comments to improve upon your proposal-writing techniques. And remember, even the most well-written proposals for the most super projects are not always funded. Do not get discouraged because your proposal was not selected for funding by a particular agency at this time.

If you are fortunate enough to have your proposal funded, send a thank you note for the grant. Next, keep the funding agency informed about your activities, progress and accomplishments. Invite them to come see your program in operation. Send photographs of the project in action. Send quarterly or semi-annual reports that tell how you've used the funds. In short, make the grantor your partner.

Nine Secrets Of Successful Proposals

From: The Inner Secrets of Successful Proposals, an article written by Linda A. Long, a freelance writer. The article gives tips on writing a successful proposal based on information Ms Long gained through conversations with the funders themselves.

Following are some tips to keep in mind during the grant-writing process:

  1. Research before beginning! Do not submit a proposal to any foundation or funding agent without first verifying that your project fits within the funder's guidelines.
  2. Read the grant guidelines! Many foundations have detailed guidelines available to grant-writers. These guidelines are made available so that proposals submitted to them will meet their funding initiatives. Applications that carefully follow the published guidelines allow them to easily determine if your project is one that matches their interests.
  3. Be concise! Put yourself in the place of the foundation's proposal reader. They receive and must review hundreds of proposals. The more easily and quickly they can determine if your project meets their objectives, the happier they are going to be.
  4. Clarity is important! Keep in mind that acronyms and terms specific to your profession may mean nothing - or may mean something different - to the foundation. Write your proposal as if you are communicating with someone who is not an artist and knows nothing about the field.
  5. Proofreading is imperative! Have someone who was not involved in the writing process proofread your proposal before it is submitted. Typos, poor grammar, and other errors that are easy for a separate set of eyes to recognize are easy to overlook in your own work. Submitting a proposal with such errors, however, gives the impression that you either don't know better or are willing to submit shoddy work.
  6. Collaboration is vital! Foundations often prefer to fund projects that have the greatest impact for the community and that are non-duplicative in nature.
  7. Realistic budgets are a must! Research your budget needs carefully before submitting your proposal. Do not ask for more - or less - than you feasibly need to ensure your project's success.
  8. Don't forget the evaluation component! Your proposal should include methods for evaluating the effectiveness of your project. Evaluation is a necessary component of all projects - without it you will not know if your project is progressing as it should.
  9. Address project sustainability! Foundations and governmental agencies want to know that, if your project is successful, it will be continued even after their financial support has ended.

Managing Your Grant

Your work has really only just begun after you write a successful grant proposal and receive funding for your project! Managing a grant can be a tedious process and as much time needs to go into an effective management plan as went into the initial program planning prior to writing your proposal.

Before you even write a proposal, you should do a self-evaluation of your organization's capability to properly manage the grant. Are you and your staff going to have the time and expertise to be effective grant managers? If the answer to that question is "no", you may be better off in the long run not applying for the funds.

An organized system of grants management should be in place that is coordinated from the beginning of the project to the end. Effective grants management includes:

  • continuously monitoring how well the project is meeting its goals and objectives;
  • verifying that all expenditures of grant funds are allowable and appropriate;
  • completing required programmatic and fiscal reports on a timely basis;
  • conducting a thorough project evaluation - including the distribution and submission of any agreed upon reports;
  • preparing for audit visits which the grantor may wish to conduct during and/or after the project; and
  • closing out the project according to the grantor's guidelines.

Remember: how well you manage your grant will shape your reputation and may determine whether you receive future funding.