Writing a successful grant is a delicate balance of art, science, and education.

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or new to grant writing. Whether you’re looking for private funding or government dollars, the five tips below are always good to keep in mind when setting out to obtain funding for your latest project.

  1. Think. 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 such broad topic areas such as recreation, health and fitness, education, childhood nutrition, and perhaps others.  Then, when researching funding, be sure to look within those subject areas for possible grants.  This expands your universe of potential grant opportunities.
  2. Read. Just as we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, we shouldn’t determine if a particular grant fits our needs by its title alone.

Once you’ve identified a grant that, by its title, looks promising, read the guidance that accompanies that grant.  This will provide you with a wealth of information that will help you determine if the grant is right for your purposes.  Everything from the amount of money available, to application deadlines, to funding priorities and more can typically be found in the guidance that accompanies grants.

Also, be sure to keep an eye out for factors that might limit your ability to apply:  perhaps the funder accepts applications only from certain states or regions, or maybe the goal of your project does not align with the funder’s stated goals.

  1. Follow. In addition to providing you valuable information about the grant, the guidance also serves as a roadmap for how to best write and submit your application, so be sure to follow the instructions it gives you.

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.

In some instances, 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 and 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 things that are ordered and logical, this can be a difficult rule to follow, but your discipline will serve you well.

  1. Know. Understanding who will be reviewing your application is an important part of successful grant writing because it will allow you to accurately “speak the language” of the reader.

A few years ago, a friend of mine had written a grant and assumed that the panel reviewing the application would be college-educated, professionals.  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 hundreds of applications, so he looked over what he submitted and realized where he went wrong:  his writing style and his use of long words and even longer paragraphs did not match the education level or the needs of those reviewing the application.

The lesson to be learned from my friend’s bad experience is this:  know your audience and write for them.  Understand what they need to review your application quickly and favorably and give it to them.

  1. Decide. Sometimes, knowing when not to submit a grant application can be just as important as knowing when to.

After reading the grant guidance, it may seem like a stretch to get your project funded.  If that’s the case, you will need to decide if it makes sense to expend 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 in the grant guidance, I generally avoid trying to make it fit because it will usually take far more time for me to make my case to the reviewer.

Sometimes, your project aligns perfectly with the grant guidance but deciding whether to submit can still be difficult.  A small funding pool or an expectation of extremely strong competition are just two factors to weigh when making a submission decision.


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