Ten tips to spur the cre­ative grant pro­pos­al-writ­ing process

Written by
Pamela Grow
June 26, 2012
‘Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.’—George Isles

No matter how long you’ve been writing grant proposals, or how successful you’ve been, you can always learn something new. It pays to refresh your thought processes from time to time, either by taking another class in proposal writing (or even a short story writing class) or reading another grant proposal writing book.Think outside the box to boost your creative thought process. If you’ve never read Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood,’ do. The writing is so succinct, so eloquent – in the words of one reviewer, ‘I haul my copy out every 2-3 years just to remind myself how wonderful the rhythms and nuances of the American language can be at the hands of a master.’

Here are my top ten tips for grant proposal writing:

  1. Get yourself outside of your organization to actually meet with your key stakeholders. Talk to your board members. Find out why they give of their time and money. Find five long-time donors and talk to them. Survey the recipients of your services … you run an after school education program for kids? Talk to their parents and teachers about the changes they’ve seen in their kids’. A museum? Randomly survey visitors. While outcome measurements are important, real testimonials help to bring a grant proposal to life in a way that statistics can’t.
  2. Thoroughly research your funder (this is especially important if this is your first proposal). Your proposal should be written in the right "voice" for the funder. In general, funders respond well to language that is personal but not overly familiar; for example, using "we" instead of "The X Organization" when referring to yourself. Don't use slang or colloquialisms; define technical or discipline-specific terms a potential funder might not know.
  3. Avoid writing in BIG BLOCK paragraphs. Break your paragraphs into bite-size pieces. Readers don't like having to wade through huge blocks of print.
  4. Throw out the jargon and mean-nothing phrases. If you are having a hard time explaining the project, its outcomes or the need for it in a straight forward manner, you’ll appear to be hiding behind convoluted language.
  5. Use a timetable. While the grant application guidelines may not specifically request one, all grant foundations want to know when you promise to deliver on their goals. And be certain to note how you will sustain your program once the grant expires.
  6. Remember that a grant rejection is merely an opportunity. You never ever want to take that declined proposal and merely file it away. Always follow up by phone with these specific questions:
    1. Is there anything we could have done differently in our proposal?
    2. May we resubmit for your next funding cycle? (Note the date and REAPPLY)
    3. Are you aware of any other foundations that we might approach? Your final step should be a gracious letter to the foundation, thanking them for their time and their thorough review of your proposal. You’d be surprised at how few organisations take the time to thank the foundation. Doing so will set you apart.
  7. Make research a weekly priority. Set aside half a day to one day per week to research sources of foundation and corporate funding.
  8. Write every day. Even if you’re tied to routine tasks or are in a particularly un-creative mode, make the time to write every day.
  9. Compile a library of essentials, both in print and online.
  10. Maintain a ‘swipe file.’ The best copywriters maintain swipe files – advertisements they’ve found particularly effective, other marketers’ letters – the point is not to COPY, but to inspire. Make it a point of saving particularly compelling examples such as annual appeal letters or prose you’re particularly proud of.

About the author: Pamela Grow

Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems, and the founder of Basics & More™ fundraising fundamentals online training. Created to provide time-pressed nonprofit professionals with fundraising training that works with their busy schedules, Basics & More™ has delivered instruction to thousands of nonprofit organizations, raising hundreds of millions in the process. 

Pam has been helping small non-profits raise dramatically more money for over 16 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show. Her blog, PamelaGrow.com was named one of the 25 Must-Read Nonprofit IT Blogs 2016.

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