Did you know that the majority of grant applications are rejected almost immediately? The top reason they’re rejected is because applicants didn’t do their research ahead of time and skipped steps that are crucial to standing out from competitors.
Writing a successful grant proposal is a delicate balance of art, science and education. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or new to the grant writing process, here are five tips to increase your chances of finding grant funding for your next project (these tips apply to both private funding and government dollars):
It sounds like a no brainer, but many organizations don’t dive as deep as they should into their grants proposal. Think about all of the possible subject areas your project could realistically impact. For example, a summer youth program looking for operating funds could touch on broad topics such as recreation, health and fitness, education or childhood nutrition. When researching funding sources, be sure to look within those subject areas for possible grants. This expands your universe of potential grant opportunities and increases the likelihood that your proposal will be accepted.
Don’t judge a grant by its title.
Know the saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” This applies to grants too. Don’t assume a particular grant fits your needs based on title alone.
Once you’ve identified a grant opportunity that looks promising, be sure to read the guidance that accompanies that grant. This guidance has a ton of important information, including the amount of money available, application deadlines, funding priorities and more. The guidance will help you determine if the grant is right for your needs.
Also, be sure to keep an eye out for restrictions or guidelines that may limit your ability to apply: perhaps the funder only accepts applications from certain states or regions, or maybe the goal of your project does not align with the funder’s stated goals. If that’s the case, keep searching.
Follow instructions closely.
In addition to providing valuable information about the grant, the guidance also serves as a roadmap for how to write and submit your application. That’s why it’s important to follow the instructions provided.
In many cases, the guidance will tell you how to format your application, how many sections you should have, what those sections should be named, how long (or short) some components should be and a variety of other things. You’d be surprised at how many mistakes we see in grant applications – missing contact information and names, etc. – because people neglected to read the guidance on how to format your grant proposal.
In some cases, you may be instructed to put application elements in an order that seems strange or illogical to you. Resist the temptation to reorder things the way you think they should be compiled. Take comfort in knowing that there is probably a very good reason why the guidance is instructing you to do it in this manner. If you’re anything like me and appreciate order and logic, this can be a difficult rule to follow, but trust me – it will serve you well.
Know your audience.
Understanding who will review your application is an important part of successful grant writing. Why? Because you need to speak the language of the reader.
A few years ago, a friend of mine wrote a grant and assumed that the panel reviewing the application would be college-educated, white-collar women and men. While extremely well researched and well written, the application was denied. Only later did my friend learn that many of the reviewers had never attended college and that they had to read through hundreds of applications. My friend looked over what he submitted and realized where he went wrong: his elevated writing style and use of long words and even longer paragraphs did not match the education level of those reviewing the application.
The lesson to be learned from my friend’s experience: know your audience and write for them. Understand what they need to review your application quickly and favorably and deliver it to them. Make sure to provide specific details about the actions you will take with your project and avoid using buzzwords or jargon that reviewers may not understand.
[By the way, my friend rewrote his application the next year using shorter words and paragraphs and it was approved].
Don't force a square peg into a round hole.
Knowing when not to submit a grant application can be just as important as knowing when to.
After reading the grant guidance, does it seem like a stretch to get your project funded? If so, you will need to decide if it makes sense to take the time and energy to write an application. My rule of thumb is that I don’t force things: if it seems that it might be difficult to get a project to “fit” within the parameters expressed, I generally pass on the opportunity because it will take far more time for me to make my case to the reviewer. Remember, time is money.
Sometimes, your project aligns perfectly with the grant guidance but deciding whether to submit an application can still be difficult. The size of the funding pool and presence of strong competitors are two factors to weigh when making a decision.
The bottom line
Writing and submitting a grant proposal can be overwhelming. But if you follow these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a winning application and getting grant funding for your organization or non-profit.
Not sure how to write a grant proposal? In Triad’s nearly 40 years of business, we’ve written and submitted hundreds of grant applications for our clients. We know what reviewers look for and what will make an application stand out. If you need help writing a grant, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org - we’d love to work with you!