With funding for nonprofits becoming more difficult to secure, organizations are left short staffed and lacking the personnel to create and implement a successful fundraising strategy. More often than not, preparing grant proposals is left up to a team member that lacks the experience and understanding of grant writing to be effective in securing funding through foundation and federal grants. With professional grant writers costing $75-$150/hr, fees for a single grant proposal can cost organizations $6,000-$10,000 dollars, with no guarantee that the proposal will secure funding. 

In this multi-part series, Basics of Grant Writing, we will help you get a better understanding of the grant writing process and provide you with tools to make your proposals more persuasive and clear. 


Part I of this series is focused on three criteria to craft a powerful grant narrative: Persuasion, Clarity, and Logic.

Persuasion

Grant applications must not only inform the reader of your program, it must also inspire them to care about your specific problem. It is the proposal writer’s duty to persuade the reader that their project or organization is more worthy of funding that their competition. The way to accomplish those? Persuasive writing. 

The first rule of persuasive grant writing is to remember that you are writing for a reader: a human being who can be moved, persuaded. 

A grant writer must convince the reader that:

  • The organization or project addresses a need
  • The need is urgent—funding is critical now
  • The organization and its staff are qualified
  • The goals are achievable and measurable
  • The activities and methods are well planned
  • The organization or project is better than similar organizations or projects

Clarity

Clarity in grant writing is not negotiable. Often, inexperienced grant writers try to sound overly “professional” by using fancy words and jargon in their writing. This is often a sign that the writer does not truly understand the topic that they are writing about and are trying to impress the reader instead of persuade them.

Writing clearly means you understand what you’re thinking and your reader not only understands your writing, but understands that you understand the problem. Below are a few tips to help make your writing more clear:

  • Keep it simple. Use language that would be accessible to any intelligent adult.

  • Eliminate jargon. Every industry has its own jargon. Eliminate all internally used acronyms, terminology and buzz words.

  • Remember the 12/12/12 rule. Imagine yourself in the shoes of the reader. It’s midnight and they have been reviewing grant proposals for 12 hours straight. Your application is the twelfth one in the pile. How will you get their attention? The key lies in the story you tell.

Logic

It is important that your proposal has logical structure and ideas are sequenced in an order that gradually develops the reader’s understanding. Structure helps the proposal flow and takes the reader from need, to your approach, to your expected results, showing them that you are more than capable of implementing the program you are proposing. 

Proposals that are disjointed and don’t flow frustrate the reader and can result in your main point being lost in the minutiae of thought fragments. Below are a few tips to ensure your proposals flow in a logical way to make the reader’s job easier. 

  • Prepare an outline.  By preparing an outline, you can ensure that your proposal follows a logical structure and flow. For example, you don’t want to discuss results before you describe your program approach. Writing an outline will help avoid this often overlooked mistake.

  • Start with need. Every grant proposal should start with a statement and description of need. You want to make sure that the reader fully understands that the problem you are trying to solve is a problem that fits within their funding guidelines. 

  • Follow with how. The second part of your proposal should always be your approach. After you explain the problem you are trying to solve, you want to describe how you plan to solve it. You want the reader to leave this section with a full understanding of your program with the confidence that your organization is well equipped to solve the problem.

  • Don’t skimp on the budget. Budgets are more than just numbers, they tell the story of the proposed program or organization through a financial lens. Every budget should have two components: A line-item budget; and a narrative that explains the line item budget. To make creating a budget simpler, we use budget outlines. We don’t know too many grant writers that use budget outlines, but it helps us ensure that we’re giving the reader enough information to determine that the budget is reasonable and necessary to solve the problem stated in the need section. Your budget outline could look something like this:

    Personnel

    • Personnel 1
      • How much does this cost?
      • Why is this necessary for program success?
    • Personnel 2
      • How much does this cost?
      • Why is this necessary for program success?

    Supplies

    • Supply Item 1
      • How much does it cost?
      • Why is this item necessary for program success?
    • Supply Item 2
      • How much does it cost?
      • Why is this item necessary for program success?

    Budget is one of the easiest places to lose points and potentially sink any chance of funding. Program officers and grant reviewers are trained to go over the budget with a fine toothed comb to make sure that the items in the budget are in fact a necessity. 

    CONCLUSION

    The process of preparing grant proposals differ depending on who you are seeking funding from. A federal grant proposal may have different requirements than a foundation grant, but the basic are the same regardless of the funding source. In every grant application you need to ensure that your writing is: persuasive enough to move the reader; clear enough for the reader to understand that you understand the problem; and structured to provide a logical flow of information. As long as these basics are included in every grant application you’ll have an excellent base to start convincing grant makers that they should provide the funds you are requesting.