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Grant Writing 102: Tips from Successful Grantwriters

April 2006

Last month, "Grant Writing 101" listed resources recommended for learning grant writing basics. This month, we look at specific tips and words of wisdom from successful grant writers.

Ten Tips

  1. Request guidelines, annual reports, and other pertinent information from the foundation before sending a grant proposal. You may be able to download most of this information from the organization's Web site.

  2. Unless your organization is a national one, try to stay local when looking for funding sources, particularly for operating or program costs. National foundations are more likely to fund capital expenses of programs that can be replicated nationally.

  3. Do you know the trustees? If the foundation is local, run the names of the trustees and foundation staff by your board. They often run in the same circles, and one phone call can help put your grant proposal on the top of the pile.

  4. Work with your program staff to be sure your information is up to date and relevant. They can also provide you with anecdotes and client testimonies that you might not otherwise have.

  5. Although it is often the nature of the beast, try not to wait until the last minute to prepare your grants. Do not use Express Mail to send your application. Using Express Mail can signal to the grantmaker that your organization is a poor steward of funds.

  6. Don't send a lot of "fluff" attachments. Many grantmakers will specify what to send. Don't send more than they request.

  7. If you are awarded a grant, be sure to send progress reports, whether they are requested or not. Keep in touch with your funding sources.

  8. Some foundations can be very picky. They have their reasons. If they specify page length, page margins, typeface, etc., be sure to follow the specifications.

  9. Before mailing out your grant proposal, call the foundation to be sure you have current contact information.

  10. Many groups use a "Common Grant Application," developed by groups of grant makers to ensure that all applicants provide the same information. Be sure to check individual foundation guidelines to see if they use this tool.

Words of Wisdom from February Question of the Month Participants

"1. It is their money, therefore you must follow their rules (AKA follow the directions given). 2. Ask questions of (or have conversations with) the grants officer. (Always ask to have a score sheet, if possible.) 3. Be a reviewer. You make fewer mistakes and you remember who your target audience is. At the state, community, or federal level—all are helpful. 4. Use charts, graphs, tables, and pictures. Your reviewer might not know where XYZ County in A State is—show them with a map. 5. Tell a good story. Make your need compelling. For example most grants want to know about the diverse population. Well, Jasper County, Iowa, is 99.7% white, but we sure have a high number of individuals over age 65—16% of the county, compared to 14.9% for Iowa, compared to 12% nationally. We have an above average median income, but we are a manufacturing community and those jobs are going away—quickly. If your population isn't what they are looking for, tell them what they should be looking at in your community."

-- Lisa Skaggs, Newton/Jasper RSVP


"Train yourself to clearly and thoroughly answer the questions presented. ... the best resource is a potential funder's own guidelines. It never ceases to amaze me how many grant writers do not answer the questions asked or provide the information requested. A literal reading and interpretation of grant guidelines is one of the most important practical measures you can take to help your request get noticed (and funded, hopefully)."

-- Alan J. Lipsky, R & L Consulting


"When you are turned down for a proposal maintain sincerity and interest by a thank-you letter."

-- Anonymous Participant


"No matter how picture perfect or word perfect the proposal is, it is still the funder's choice if they will fund the organization."

-- Stephanie Malcom, Grant-It Consulting


"I read requests for Grants daily and prefer concise, to the point requests. I value any statistics or comments on the success of programs especially if this is featured in the form of articles in periodicals. Strive to appreciate the time of the person or persons reading the request. Concise, to the point requests without a lot of 'flowery' prose about the topic show professionalism and respect for the grantmaker's time."

-- Anonymous Participant

Components of a Grant Proposal

  1. Proposal Summary
  2. Introduction of the Organization Seeking Funding
  3. Problem Statement (or Needs Assessment)
  4. Project Objectives
  5. Project Methods or Design
  6. Project Evaluation
  7. Future Funding
  8. Project Budget
  9. Appendices
Karen Dutro and Suzanne E. Coffman, April 2006
© 2006, Philanthropic Research, Inc. (GuideStar)

Karen Dutro is a nonprofit associate with GuideStar. Before joining GuideStar, she worked as director of development for Military Ministry in Hampton, Virginia, and William Byrd Community House in Richmond, Virginia.

Suzanne Coffman is GuideStar's director of communications and editor of the Newsletter.