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  • Getting Your Grant: 10 Things to Focus on Besides Writing

To get grant dollars, whether from private foundations or government agencies, your writing should be secondary to other preparations. Too many nonprofits make the mistake of investing in a solid technical writer and spending hours preparing a lengthy proposal with perfect grammar, while ignoring what is really important. Yes, writing counts, but make sure you think about these ten aspects as well, and maybe even before you bother contracting that writer!

1. Budget

Do you have a well-defined budget for your program? You want a detailed breakdown of tangible expenses, i.e. not just a line item “materials”, but a breakdown of all the screws, nuts, bolts, and hammers that you are using as materials for your project.

Think about it from the funder’s perspective – wouldn’t you want to know what exactly your money was going toward, and that it was supporting an organization that took the care to think through all of the details? Compiling budgets might bore us, but the quality of yours says a lot about both your commitment and your ability to administer your project.


funding sign


2. Logic model

Take the time, before you write a grant, to map out how your project is meeting an identified community need (by a body more important than you and respected in the community, like a regional foundation giant or government agency), how your work specifically targets those needs with its unique goals and resources, and how it is impacting the need in a positive way with specific, measurable outcomes.

This model should be a one page flow chart with as few words as possible. No template applies to all nonprofits, but try searching online for your type of organization for ideas (“health organization logic model project template” for example). More and more foundations and government agencies appreciate that you have already thought about 1. linking your project to greater community goals and needs and 2. evaluating your ability to impact those needs with their money.

3. Personal relationship

Did you check to see if you can get a meeting with the foundation or government funder before you submit the proposal or while it is in review? Even if it is just over the phone, discussing your project in person can help you get an award.

If you are not allowed to call the foundation directly, research its board members and try to make a connection to a patron in your own network (your board members, volunteers, etc.). Then call that person to discuss your project. They might be able to give you a plug during the decision making process.

4. Requirements

You might not even bother writing something if you cannot submit an audited financial statement, or if you do not have five years of experience. Check the requirements first!

5. Funder goals

Make sure you research what the foundation’s goals and priorities are, and then make a point to not only use their words throughout the proposal, but to highlight them or bold them as well to show how you are meeting their identified community need.

For example, if a foundation says its goal is to help poor children eat healthier, and you have a diabetes education program, use their exact jargon: “we are helping poor children eat more produce by giving them lists of local farmer markets that accept food stamps.”

6. Sustainability

Show, however you can, that their funding will go beyond the current fiscal year. What are you doing to make sure your program has funding beyond the now and immediate future? Do you have funding from individuals, corporations, and foundations alike? Can you show that the community supports you with in kind donations and volunteer hours?

7. Partners

Do you have a strategic partner? Analyze the funder’s past donations. You can get that information on Guidestar.org by downloading IRS 990 returns and seeing what other community organizations they support.

For example, if they support your local boy scouts, and you work with their troops, have the president send a letter of recommendation! He probably knows the foundation on some level personally, but at minimum you know the funder likes their work and you are linked to it.

8. Ask amount

Be careful to scale your ask amount to both the funder’s average giving as well as your impact. Again, go to Guidestar or Foundation Center and determine what the funder gives on average to organizations like you.

Also consider impact. If your program affects 500 people you might ask for more money than a program that impacts only 20 for example. This process is more intuition than science, but try to think reasonably. You do not always want to ask for the maximum grant amount if you organization does not merit it in comparison to the other grant seekers with which you are competing.

9. Brevity

Tailor your proposal to the modern day snippet reader – include as little text as possible to make your point, and put the most pertinent information first. One tip is to include your organizational history and accomplishments, but put it on the last page of your proposal after you already talked about the program in which the funder will be most interested. 

Link to your website where possible, or include appendices and attachments as opposed to making the reader sort through a large amount of text for the most important elements. Also, use bullet points freely and use phrases instead of full sentences when possible, highlighting the most impactful elements (actual numbers of people served) and funder goal keywords.

10. Images

Include as many powerful action images as possible! You want to show a child volunteer pushing a wheelbarrow over a group standing in front of a community garden, for example. Ask yourself when describing a project in your proposal with words if you have a picture that shows it instead, and substitute the text for a photo. Diagrams like your logic model can also replace multiple pages of text in some instances, saving you space with stringent page limits.

While clear, grammatically correct writing is a fantastic help to getting a grant, it might not be the most important aspect of your fundraising. Focus more on your content and selling what you are offering in demonstrative, brief ways instead, and you might save some money on a technical writer and be more successful!

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