First and foremost, Happy 4th of July! I’m very aware that today is a holiday and you probably have limited time in between barbecues, dips in the pool, or lighting off fireworks to read this. Or you’re reading it sometime after the 4th, in which case: welcome back to work. So in honor of the holiday and because I know you’re all busy people, I’m bringing you a blog post about grant writing that I hope you will find both useful and blessedly short. Nothing like an easy, informative read in between festivities to rev you back up after a holiday, right?
Today’s article is all about the best advice I would give to new grant writers.
Since Bruce Ripley and I published “Get the Grant: Your No B.S. Introduction to Grant Writing” earlier this year, I’ve been fielding lots of questions from people new to the field of grant writing or those who are new to nonprofit work in general.
I always recommend reading the book, but for those of you who have been in touch with questions for me and don’t have time to read the whole thing, here are some of my best, most important pieces of advice for becoming a great grant writer and hopefully securing more awards for your nonprofit:
Join a professional grant writing association & get yourself a mentor
Joining a professional association and getting yourself a mentor is like putting yourself on the fast track to success. It gives you a group of pros and a particular person which you can use to ask targeted questions, get advice, and avoid common mistakes. And most professional nonprofit associations have mentor programs, FYI.
My recommendation, for a myriad of reasons, is to join the Grant Professionals Association (GPA) and find a mentor match through them.
No amount of great writing will get you grants for an ill-conceived program.
There will be times that you are asked to write a grant and, to put it bluntly, it would be a total waste of time for you to do so because the program or org in question has no hope of getting an award no matter how well you write. This usually happens because the nonprofit has not thought through program design, researched need, and has little to no evaluation methods in place to demonstrate impact and effectiveness. A funder will see that in 3 seconds flat.
Don’t spin your wheels – make sure your org has put these elements in place before you start working on any proposals.
Don’t wing it – put in place a grant writing strategy and work that strategy
Strategies win grants. Whether you use a fancy software system like GrantsHub or you set up a rockin’ spreadsheet like my Master Grants Planner, give yourself a way to outline a real strategy so that you can see what you’re doing at a glance, communicate it to others, and track your progress. Then work that strategy.
Good strategies are the result of good research. Know where to look and how to evaluate prospects.
I should also clarify that strategies only help if you’ve put real thought and work into formulating them. This is where research comes in. Specifically, knowing where to look for grant prospects and how to evaluate which are most likely to result in awards is a skill to cultivate.
There are tons of places to look for grants, but for those who are very new to grants I always recommend that you start by calling up your local community foundation, introducing yourself and your programs, and talking about how you intend to impact your community. They are almost always your best bet for your first grants.
Assemble your list and then use information from the grant maker’s website, grant databases, and 990s to find out:
- What they fund/don’t fund
- Where they fund
- Who they’ve funded in the past (and do they ever fund anyone else?)
- The size of their average grant award
If they look like a match, include them in your strategy and plan to email or call them to introduce yourself and start forming a relationship with them.
(Hint: as with individual donors, it’s the relationship that often gets you the money in grant seeking.)
Read and answer the darn questions.
When you are putting together your letter of intent (LOI) or proposal, for goodness sakes read the darn questions and actually answer them. Grant makers will tell you that often when a grant seeker does not directly answer the question that was asked, it results in a denial. They asked the question for a reason, so make sure you really answer it.
If you really, really want to include information that wasn’t asked for either do it in the attachments or give the funder a call, tell them why you think it’s important, and see how they would like you to handle it. And calling gives you another chance to work on that relationship, so bonus.
Grants are not academic essays – write for average humans.
Please, please, please do not write your grant proposal as if it’s an academic essay and pack it full of jargon and convoluted phrasing. Write for normal humans who need to be able to quickly understand what your organization does and why it needs a grant. Write for people who want to help but who are pressed for time and need to get to the heart of things quickly. Because that’s exactly who’s reading and reviewing your proposal. Sometimes your award depends upon your ability to write plainly, clearly, and concisely.
As you might imagine, there are about 1 million nuances to grant writing that I did not address here. But if you’re new to grant writing or to nonprofit work these suggestions will get you far down the road to grant writing success. In fact, they’ll probably pull you ahead of the pack a bit because there are lots of people out there writing grants who are not doing these things.
Trust me – just ask any grant reviewer and prepare for a diatribe about it.
And of course, if you want to dive in further and continue honing your skills you can always read the rest of the free articles here on the CNPS blog and grab a copy of “Get the Grant: Your No B.S. Introduction to Foundation Grants”. I know it’s a shameless plug. But I believe in what I write so why wouldn’t I recommend it to you?
Also, you seriously should join GPA and get in on that mentorship program. You’ll thank me later.