4 Quick Tips for Winning More Grants for Your Non-Profit

by Joe Garecht

Oversized Grant Check

While individual giving should form the backbone of every non-profit’s fundraising strategy, grants from foundations and corporations play an important role in many organizations’ fundraising plans.

In the past, we’ve talked about the grant writing process, as well as different places to find grants for your organization.  We went into even more detail in our two-part series the Guide to Raising Money from Foundations.  Today, I want to present you with four quick tips to help you write better proposals and win more grants for your non-profit:

#1: Don’t Be Afraid to Show Emotion in Your Grant Proposals

While facts will play an important (perhaps even a primary) role in your grant proposals, it is also important to appeal to the emotions, feelings, hopes and aspirations of the people reading your proposal on behalf of the grantmaker.

Remember, a foundation won’t be the one reading your proposal – foundations are institutions that have neither ears nor eyes nor mouths.  Instead, your proposals will be read by people… including the people that work for the foundation as grant officers, the people that sit on the foundation’s grants committee and board, and the receptionist that opens your proposal and sends it on to one of the grant managers.  Write your proposals for people… and remember that people are drawn in by stories and emotion.

Avoid the advice you will get from some corners to treat your grant proposals like scientific papers.  Hit all of the bases, include all the facts and figures, but make sure that your proposal also appeals to the emotions of the people who will be reading it.  Make sure that they truly understand the impact of your work and the dire plight of those you are trying to help.

#2: Keep Your Story Arc Consistent

It is important to make sure that your grant proposal contains a consistent story arc.  This means that you start by telling about the problem you are facing, build up to the solution, prove that the solution will work by sharing outcomes, and then invite the foundation to become the hero of your story by funding the project.

Be sure to keep your story consistent.  If your project tackles hunger in Africa, it might be easy to also go off on a tangent about your work fighting malaria in Africa or hunger in the South Pacific.  Don’t!  Mention these parts of your mission, if you must, while giving the background of your organization, but for the meat of your grant proposal, stick to the project, mission, and vision at hand.

And remember… nobody, not even a seemingly boring and stuffy old foundation, wants to fund a small vision.  So make your vision a big one.

#3: Write on an 8th Grade Level

I often tell fundraisers that when writing a fundraising appeal letter, they should write at 6th grade level.  This keeps their letters easy to read, which in turn ensures that more people will read (and respond) to their appeal.

For grant proposals, my rule of thumb is to keep your writing at about an 8th grade level.  Those who are reviewing your grant proposals will, on average, be more educated than the average direct mail recipient and will have more experience with non-profits and grants, and thus will expect slightly elevated discourse.

That being said, you still don’t want to make your proposals seem difficult to read, or else they will seem like a slog and encourage the grant officers reviewing your proposal to skim over some parts while reading others with a chip on their shoulder.

Keep it to an 8th grade level.  Avoid jargon and technical terms wherever possible.  And be sure to include lots of headings, subheadings and white space so that your proposal looks easy to read.

#4: Remember that Foundation Grant Officers are Your Peers

Another problem that I often see in grant proposals is grantwriters writing as if they are beggars and supplicants at the mercy of high-and-mighty foundation staffers.  This is a huge mistake and, in my experience, makes it much easier for funders to dismiss your proposal.  If you seem unsure of the worth of your work or seem like you need to beg to get funding, foundations, corporations and government agencies will take you at your word and assume you are not, in fact, worthy of funding after all.

Think of grant officers the same way you do individual donors… they are your peers.  Your non-profit does good work, and it needs additional funding to do even more good work.  You are offering foundations the chance to participate in that work by investing in your project.  They can choose to fund you or not, but if they choose not to fund you, it doesn’t say anything about the worth of your work.

Both you and the grant officers reviewing your proposals are working in the non-profit sector to do more good in the world.  You both want to see great things happen and help lots of people, though you may sometimes disagree on priorities.  That’s ok.  You are peers… write and act like it!

Photo Credit: Jaxport

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