Grant Writing And Collaboration: What You Definitely Need To Know

More and more these days, funders are looking to invest in collaborative efforts ranging from the intensely structured “Collective Impact” approaches to a simple requirement that there be partners involved. While working independently can allow you to be more streamlined and reduce the headaches of obtaining multiple signatures, conducting endless meetings, and considering different approaches, there is a great deal that can be achieved by working as part of a collaborative.

So, if funders believe a collaborative approach is important to ensure maximum impact with your programs and projects, as a grant writer, you will need to understand both the potential pitfalls and benefits of working with other organizations.


Involving partners in your project isn’t always an easy thing to do. Here are six challenging elements you may encounter when pursuing and working within collaborative partnerships.

  1. Issues Of Power And Control – Working together requires a sharing of power and many people find it difficult to give away any control. Issues of power and control are frequently the underlying and often not discussed “elephant in the room.” To be truly successful, people need to be honest about this issue and look for ways to define responsibilities and decision-making processes before the collaboration even starts. A Memorandum of Agreement or Terms of Agreement are important documents to produce. At the end of this blog you will have the opportunity to download the Collaborative Agreement Template a FREE document that outlines some of the elements you will need to agree upon when collaborating.
  1. Lack Of Trust – When individuals and organizations work together, the first thing that needs to be achieved is to gain each other’s trust. As the oft-cited saying goes, “progress occurs at the speed of trust.” Often a lack of trust is based on misconceptions or on a lack of knowing the players in the project. There are many relatively easy ways to start to develop trust from shared group activities to social events to working on small, easily achievable projects.
  1. Perceived Loss Of Identity – Similar to the issue of power and control, there can be a perceived or real loss of identity as attempts are made to merge different organizational cultures. This loss of identity can be felt by the organizations, by their staff, by their volunteers, and, just as importantly, by the community they serve. Communication, evaluation, and regular check-ins will provide opportunities to address ongoing concerns.
  1. Differing Perspectives – Although differing perspectives can also be found on the benefits list, it has its potential pitfalls as well. To deal positively with this one, everyone needs to enter the process recognizing that they need to be open to different perspectives and that this may cause some angst and tension. Providing regular opportunities for each partner to openly share their perspective in a safe and receptive environment can help alleviate this pitfall.
  1. Different Visions And Expectations Of Outcomes – It is imperative that there be clarity and agreement on the vision and outcomes before embarking on a large collaborative process. If this work hasn’t been done, then it needs to be the next step taken to see if there is even a reason to continue.
  1. Different Working Styles – Culture and working styles are different from organization to organization and this can cause friction between partners and get in the way of moving forward. It is important to not gloss over this or ignore the impact different working styles can create within collaborative efforts. When a collaborative process encounters blockages, take time to evaluate whether the perspective of people’s working styles is resulting in assumptions that are then colouring all of the other actions and interactions.


Funders know the benefits of collaboration are many. Here are six benefits you should understand.

  1. Blended Solutions – When partnering with other organizations, each group brings thoughts and experiences that can be helpful for everyone. Often, the whole can be more than the sum of the parts.
  1. Broader Appeal – Your organization has its champions and supporters while your partners will (typically) have a different group of stakeholders who are proponents of their work. Coming together can bring all of those interested supporters together and significantly increase the base of support.
  1. Differing Perspectives – Complicated issues can benefit from being examined from multiple perspectives. Sometimes, another perspective identifies a piece of the puzzle that was just out of sight from your view.
  1. Innovation – Bringing together organizations that haven’t traditionally worked together can result in innovative ideas that never would have happened if they continued to work alone. This is particularly true when the organizations coming together have traditionally not worked with each other (i.e. two different sectors coming together).
  1. Reduction In Duplication – Funders are really looking for a reduction in the duplication of services and if two or more organizations can share one function, that is seen as a more efficient way to move forward. Often, this is in back-of-house functions, like shared administration or IT for a project.
  1. Success With Funders – There are no guarantees of success and this should never be the only reason to collaborate, but as mentioned earlier, in some cases, funders are only funding partnerships and collaboratives. Most funders are looking for greater impact with their investments and a collaborative is often more likely to be able to deliver that.

Develop Your Own “Up Front” Agreement

One of the most important elements of developing a successful collaboration with partner organizations is to establish an agreement “up front.” Although it sounds like a bit of extra paperwork, it is an extremely important part of successful collaboration. The agreement does not need to be lengthy or drawn up by a lawyer. There are a few key pieces of information that should be identified, including who the partners are, an understanding of responsibilities, a defined decision-making process, an identification of the conflict resolution process, a determination of the expected outcomes, and how the funds will be allocated and managed.

For FREE access to a more detailed outline of what to include in your Collaboration Agreement, enter your name and email address here to download the document.

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5 Ideas About Report Writing That Funders Really Want Grant Writers To Know About

In my previous work as a funder, I always looked forward to seeing progress reports and final reports. Report time provided an exciting opportunity to celebrate the success of the projects that organizations had worked so hard to implement. It also proved to be a time that strengthened our relationships with agencies, as we took time to speak with them and understand their work more intimately.

The process of reporting is important, as it not only brings a level of accountability for grant writers and their organizations, but it provides an effective way for organizations to tell their stories of impact. There are very few things more exciting for a funder than gaining a clear perspective of the difference their dollars have been able to make.

Based on my experience though, grant writers don’t always hold that same positive perspective of the reporting process. I’ve had numerous questions asked of me over the years about funding reports. I’ve had grant writers ask, “Why don’t they just give us the money and trust us?” or “Why do I have to do all of this paperwork?” or “Why do all funders have different requirements?” I understand the frustration and challenges of completing funding reports. They can be time consuming and they never seem to be due at a time that is convenient. But your reports are important and they are an important part of the entire process, not an annoying add-on at the end.

With that in mind, here are five key ideas to consider the next time you sit down to write your report.

1. Know When Your Reports Are Due

As a grantee, it is your responsibility to know when you are required to report – it is not the responsibility of the funder to notify you about upcoming report due dates. The reporting dates are normally included in your contract or letter of agreement. Some funders do have an alert system, but that is rare and a real bonus. Your organization needs to have a system of keeping track of reporting requirements, whether it is on a shared calendar or assigned to one person. Find a system that works for your organization and build it in a way that considers the fact that changes in staff and dates may occur along the way.

2. Report On Time

It can be quite damaging to your credibility when a funder is forced to chase you for your required reports. There is a reason the reports were scheduled for a specific time. Perhaps the dates were set to correspond with the scheduled release of your next cheque or because the funder needs to collate findings to report internally. In that context, completing the final report is just as important as progress reports. Many organizations are vigilant when submitting progress reports as they know that future cheques depend on it, but too often grant writers become less attentive when they have a final report due.

Remember, as a grant writer, you are in the business of relationship building and everything you do during the course of any grant will impact the possibilities for the future. If a funder needs to send frequent reminders of overdue reports or make several phone calls, you will be considered a higher maintenance organization and that will be in their mind when they review your next application.

3. Use The Reporting Forms Provided

You may think you can design a much better form than the one provided by the funder but don’t be tempted to alter the format. There is a reason the funder has asked for information in this specific order. The report questions are also developed with intentionality, so although they may seem redundant or you may consider providing different information than what is asked for, know that the funder has likely spent considerable time designing their reporting forms to allow them to more easily review and potentially to collate information from various grantees to give them a better sense of their impact. If you are unclear as to what is expected as an answer to any one question, give the funder a call – most of the time, they will be happy to provide clarification. Remember, you really are on the same team, and they want nothing more than for you to be successful in your grant.

4. Consider Reporting Even When You Don’t Have A Report Due (I.e. Keep The Funder In The Loop Of What Is Going On With Your Project)

One strategy that can be effective, especially with a longer term, more complex grant, is scheduling check-ins with your funder. Ideally, these would be in person, but the reality is, that often will not be possible. Phone or Skype check-ins can be just as effective. Not every funder will be open to this idea either because of workload or ideology, but it doesn’t hurt to inquire. If they accept your invitation, make sure you are prepared for your conversation. Prepare an agenda and think through what the most important thing is that you want them to hear. Include that statement on the agenda so the funder can take it away after the meeting – that way, they will have that one key statement or fact reinforced and you improve your chances that they will remember it. Some of my most accountable and successful grantees I worked with over the years used this approach and it made the entire process feel so much more like an equal partnership.

5. Respond Promptly To Requests For Additional Information

Just because you have submitted your final report doesn’t mean you are completely finished. You may experience situations where your report raises a question for the funder and they contact you for additional information. Don’t be alarmed, but be pleased that they have thoroughly read what you have submitted and are interested in your work. Carefully read their questions and consider how to answer them.

Do You Have Any Reports To Write Right Now?

Take some time in the next few weeks to identify any reporting due dates, whether progress reports or final reports, and schedule them into your calendar so you can be sure to have them completed on time.

Reporting can be hard work and takes time, but it is also an incredible opportunity to share important stories with your funder. Take the reporting part of the granting process as seriously as your original application and be sure funders get your very best, all the way to the final report.

How To Survive Grant Writing Rejection And Use It To Your Advantage

You’ve spent hours – maybe even days or weeks – collecting documentation, writing draft after draft, discussing ideas with colleagues, reviewing, revising, editing, and you finally submitted your grant proposal to the funder by the deadline with confidence. I feel really good about this one, you think to yourself.

Months go by and you finally receive their response in the mail. You sit down at your desk, carefully open the envelope, and pull out the letter.

You read the letter to yourself. Thank you for submitting an application to the Healthy Communities Grant. Unfortunately… You stop. You feel your stomach sink. You didn’t get the funding.

Download our list of “5 Questions To Ask A Funder After Having Your Application Rejected”

Dealing with rejection is always difficult. Especially after having invested so much time and effort into writing what you thought would be a successful application. The good news is it’s not all that bad. Turn rejection into success with these three steps.

1. Don’t Take It Personally

The first thing to do when you receive a rejection letter is remind yourself not to take it personally. Your proposal was not rejected because the funder didn’t like you, your organization, or your project. There are, however, a number of reasons why your proposal may have ended up in the “Denied” pile (many of which we try to help you avoid here on our blog!).

Obviously, your proposal may have been rejected because of mistakes you made in writing or packaging your proposal. Maybe there were too many spelling errors, your proposal didn’t fit the guidelines, or there were inconsistencies in your narrative. Or, maybe you forgot to attach a copy of the program’s budget, like you were asked to do. These are simple reasons why funders say “No” to proposals.

Regardless of the reason, don’t take it personally. Don’t do anything rash like removing the funder from your prospect list. Stay optimistic and keep moving forward.

2. Never A Failure, Always A Lesson

Next, remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world. Every grant writer will hear “No” at some point and that’s okay. It’s not unusual for many grant writers to be rejected a number of times. Remind yourself that all is not lost when a funder says “No.” Instead, take this as an opportunity to learn.

I know many people that say they are afraid of failure. What these people often forget is that a situation is only a failure if you don’t learn anything from it. Spending all that time writing that grant was not a waste of time if you can learn from where you went wrong. So, how do you do that?

Before you ask for help, try to figure out for yourself where you may have gone wrong. If the funder gave you feedback in their letter, read it and really think about their comments. What can you take from their comments that can help you improve for when you go to write your next grant application? If they did not provide any comments, revisit “10 Common Mistakes Grant Writers Make & How To Avoid Them” and see if any of these common mistakes resonate with you in some way (if you don’t have it yet, sign up to be a GrantsEdge Insider to receive your FREE copy!). Once you’ve spent some time reflecting on your work, go back to the funder and ask for more specific feedback from the individual who reviewed your application.

3. Ask For Feedback

Unless the funder specifically asks you not to, you should always ask for feedback on your grant application. This can be valuable for two reasons:

  1. You’ll continue to build a relationship between you and the funder. Ideally, you’ll have met with the funder before you submitted your application, so meeting with them again will only help strengthen that relationship.
  2. You’ll get ideas for how to write future grants, not only for this funder, but for other funders too.

Meeting with the funder can help you really understand why your proposal was rejected. Try to find out why your project wasn’t funded, get some specific examples of where you went wrong, and ask them for advice on how you can improve. For example, if there was a specific section of the application that you struggled with, ask them specifically about how they read that section and if they could offer any suggestions for improvement. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but remember, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

If you make it a habit of meeting with funders, asking for feedback, and using what they’ve told you for future applications, you’re only increasing your chances of future funding success.

What Types Of Questions Would I Ask?

Not sure what to ask the funder when you meet with them? Access our list of “5 Questions To Ask A Funder After Having Your Application Rejected” for some ideas.

Download the questions here by providing your name and email address. It’s FREE and your email address is safe with us (we won’t be giving it away to anyone).

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How To Finally Bring Order To Your Grant Writing Chaos

I loved calendars when I was a kid. It wasn’t unusual for me to have a Toronto Blue Jays calendar on one side of my room and a Toronto Maple Leafs (yes, I know they haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967…insert your joke here) calendar on the other side.

As I’ve gotten older, and life has handed me just a little bit more responsibility, the idea of a calendar has changed drastically.  No longer are calendars just about pictures of sports stars or scenic Canadian landscapes. They have become an important tool to help with setting and accomplishing goals, staying organized and focused, and reminding me about the importance of each day.

In our blog post, Make 2017 Your Best Grant Writing Year Yet, we wrote about two specific actions that will make grant writing much easier. The third action, which we share in this blog, is developing and implementing a grant calendar.

So, what is a grant calendar and how does it work?

What Is A Grant Calendar?

A grant calendar is a document that allows you to vet new grant opportunities while also highlighting upcoming tasks, responsibilities, and deadlines for all members of the team.  Accessible to everyone, the lead person should use technology such as Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook, or a shared Excel file to ensure everyone has access and the ability to follow along with their part of the project.

The calendar includes application deadlines, highlights key dates, outlines important tasks, and identifies webinar or information sessions. A grant calendar also becomes a guide for your pursuit of funding opportunities. It helps you stay focused on what needs to be accomplished now and helps relieve the stress of last minute applications in the future.

Here is a list of some of the initial categories, with examples of the type of information you may wish to include:

  • Month: October
  • Funder: Billy McGee Foundation (not a real foundation, by the way)
  • Focus area: Literacy Program
  • Request amount: $25,000
  • Deadline: October 15th at 5 PM
  • Actions: Contact funder to ask questions related to application
  • 2016 Award: Did not apply

How To Use A Grant Calendar

There are a few ways you can use a grant calendar. You may wish to use a grant calendar as an easy way to see all of the grants you plan to write over the year. This can help you plan your deadlines effectively, and may even help you make the decision to say “no” to writing a grant because the timing conflicts with other more important priorities. Having a one-page document that everyone can see at a glance will be helpful to provide a high-level overview of what proposals are being written and when, while also providing a stronger sense for how much more money you may need to have awarded to meet your goals. You may get part of the way into your fiscal year and need to re-evaluate your plan and look for additional opportunities to secure funding.

Others may wish to use their calendar more closely to keep track of the status and individual tasks related to each application. Whether you use the calendar specifically for this or not, it will be incredibly helpful to build a full work plan for each part of the process. Building your work plan and outlining specific tasks that need to be completed for each individual application should be done in a separate part of your calendar (in a separate tab in Excel, for example).

Don’t Forget

Remember to also consider your organizational calendar when developing your grant writing plan. Do you have a large fundraiser in the summer that takes a lot of your time? Do you have an integral staff member going on vacation for an extended period of time in March? How might those events impact your ability to write grants during those seasons? Also, be mindful of the overall commitments to grant writing on a month-to-month basis and try not to overwhelm yourself or your team with more than you can handle in any given month.

Get Started

Don’t procrastinate. Begin to work with the calendar as soon as possible so you can begin 2017 organized, focused, and aiming for incredible grant writing success.

A grant writing calendar helps decrease your level of stress and keep you (and your team, if you have one) focused and organized as you work toward generating financial security for your organization. Doing the work at the front end of the grant writing process can save many headaches later and help create an even greater level of success.

Want to see how a grant calendar works? Download the Grant Calendar Template so you can quickly and easily begin to implement this idea in your grant writing process.

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Make 2017 Your Best Grant Writing Year Yet

There is something refreshing and energizing about starting a new year. Now, I’m not a big “resolutions” guy, but I do like the idea of taking some time to re-establish priorities to make sure I have my focus clearly set on the right things.

Too many grant writers just let things happen, they spend their entire year chasing grant opportunities, and aren’t strategic when it comes to how and where they will pursue funding dollars, which applications they will complete and submit, and how much money they even need to generate for their organization. That’s a pretty stressful way to work.

Let’s take a look at some tangible ideas you can implement right now in order to be prepared and calculated in the way you and your organization moves forward with your grant writing in this new year.

Here are two ways to set yourself up for grant writing success in 2017:

1. Gather Stories Of Organizational Impact

Powerful and persuasive stories of impact are an important element of any successful grant proposal. Funders desperately want to know that your organization is capable of operating projects and programs of significance. Unfortunately, what grant writers often do is wait until they are in the midst of an application to try and gather up these powerful stories, or better yet (read this with dripping sarcasm), they cut and paste a story of impact from a previous grant proposal…a story that is five years old…but, it’s a really, really good story.

Don’t wait too long. Put a plan in place as soon as possible to reach out to your team to ask for feedback. The more persuasive stories, statistics, and anecdotes you have in your arsenal, the better.

Here are a few ways to go about gathering these stories:

A. In Person – Book some time with your colleagues to ask questions about last year. Ask them to “tell you about a time…” – a moment when they were surprised, when there was a turning point for a client, or when they felt most connected to their work. Just let them talk while you listen and record their stories of success and impact.

B. In Writing – Send an email to your stakeholders and ask them to write about an account (or two) of something important or life-changing that happened to someone because of the work of the organization. Ask them to briefly outline the problem or conflict, the solution that was offered, and the resulting outcome. Even something written in point form will help you greatly when the time comes to include these stories of impact in grant proposals.

C. On Video – Not everyone feels comfortable on video, but for those who do, this can be an easy way for one to tell a story or two about a moment that made a difference. Encourage the storyteller to determine the last line of their story before they hit the record button and tell them they have three minutes to share. You don’t need a 15 minute video that covers way too much content. Less is more with video.

2. Set Grant Writing Goals For The Year

Most of us understand the importance and value of goal setting. Many of us understand the need to be specific in the setting of our goals to ensure they are realized. In talking to many grant writers over the years, it is amazing though how many don’t take the time to set specific targets and general direction for their organization.

So what could your goals look like for 2017? Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Develop a realistic work plan and timeline for each grant, and stick to the plan. In our blog post, “Two Simple and Strategic Ways To Become a Grant Writing Superstar” we have a FREE detailed work plan template. Download it and set a goal to put together a work plan with each grant writing proposal.
  • Read and research at least one grant writing sample each week to get a better sense of what other writers are doing to be successful.
  • Build relationships with three new funders this year. It may take some initial research, but you won’t regret getting to know them and having the opportunity to share your organization’s work.
  • Develop a connection with at least two new grant writers. This process will help your professional development and may even lead to some potential collaborative opportunities.
  • Take time to review past grants, specifically ones that didn’t get funded. Is there anything you can learn from your previous grants?
  • Read the GranstEdge Blog regularly. We’re here to help and want nothing more than to know you have found success in your grant writing.

Setting Financial Goals

When setting goals for grant writing, many will also set a financial goal, which is a smart idea. When doing so, be careful not to just set the goal based on your revenue needs alone. You may want to have a greater understanding for the fundraising landscape in general and the potential that exists for funding opportunities. Just because you need $650,000, doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense to set your grant writing goal for that amount. You may need to generate revenue in different ways. Be sure to get a list of realistic funding prospects with reasonable asking levels.

You may decide to set a number of other goals, but hopefully these examples will be enough to get you started.

Now What?

It’s time to put theory into action. It’s time for you to hit the reset button and prepare for the year to come.

How can you begin to implement these two concepts next week?

Get A Strong Start To Grant Writing In 2017

I can’t believe it’s that time of year again. At GrantsEdge we’re working on wrapping up all our projects for 2016 and we are thinking ahead to 2017. As we do so, we’re thinking back on the past year and all that we’ve done. One thing we do really well at Kovacs Group (and something we want to carry into GrantsEdge as well) is taking time for reflection.

Why Reflect?

As individuals, as a team, and as an organization, we always want to do our best work. We want to provide other individuals and organizations with the best grant writing supports and services possible. To be able to do this, it’s important to reflect on what we’re currently doing and what we need to be doing to achieve our goals. In this sense, reflection is all about learning. When you’re able to learn from what you’re doing (or not doing), you’re able to make the necessary changes you need to grow, to do better, and to be better.

3 Questions To Ask

As you wrap up your grant writing for the year, we encourage you to do some reflection as well. Reflect on all that you’ve done in 2016 and ask yourself the following questions:

1. What Went Well?

Ask yourself this question to reflect on the successes you’ve had this year. Maybe you got funded, brought in more than you were hoping, or discovered some new funders to approach or grants to apply for next year. It’s important to celebrate your successes, but also take time to learn from them. What did you do that led to your successes this year? Why did they work? Perhaps these are processes or ideas you should continue to implement in future years.

2.What Didn’t Go Well?

Ask yourself this question to reflect on the failures you’ve had this year or the areas you struggled with that you know could be improved. Remember that, while they may sting at first, failures are not a bad thing; they are opportunities for future learning and improvement. Maybe you heard a lot of “No” in 2016. Maybe you tried to move out of your comfort zone and apply for some new grants this year, but were still not successful. Maybe you’re spending way too much time figuring out how to write grants and it’s taking time away from other important matters. Identifying the areas you are struggling with will help you identify what needs to be done to turn those failures into successes.

3. What Would You Have Done Differently?

Asking yourself the first two questions will help you answer this one. What are you doing really well right now? Do more of that! What’s not going so well right now? Figure out what you need to do instead. Try some new strategies. Meet with the funder to ask questions instead of trying to do everything on your own. Attend more networking events as a way to search for funding or partnership opportunities. Only apply to grants where the funder’s interests match yours instead of applying to every grant you can find. Whatever the reason, figure out what you want to do differently and how you’re going to do it.

Start 2017 With A Bang

Take some time individually to reflect on these three questions. Ask your teammates (or anyone involved in your organization’s grant writing process) to do the same. Write down some ideas for each one. Then, meet with your teammates and compare notes. Decide on the strategies you want to implement in 2017 and create a plan to do so.

Asking these questions now will help set you up for a successful 2017. By knowing exactly what’s working, what’s not working, and what you want to do differently, you’ll be able to implement changes right away.

Remember, too, that reflection doesn’t need to only happen as the New Year approaches. Take time throughout the year to reflect on your progress and make adjustments to your plans as you go.

See you in 2017!

Five Effortless Ways To Cut Your Word Count

Hi, my name is Norm, and I am verbose. It doesn’t happen as often when I’m speaking (that’s what I’m telling myself to feel better), but when I write, I have a serious problem. I use more words than I need. I am trying so hard right now to be concise!

Because of this problem, when it comes to grant writing, I have experienced some difficult days trying to edit my work to fit into the funder’s word count box. I find it frustrating, and at times difficult, trying to cut words while ensuring the vision of my project does not get lost, as I bring it down from a beautiful 630 words to a funder’s mandated 400. Those are obviously 230 of the most important words I have ever written, and I’m being asked to remove them.

Have you lived this nightmare?

OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating slightly. It’s not really a nightmare, but writing in concise ways to fit grant proposal word counts is a tough task. I understand it, and I’m not trying to fight it, I just know that more than a few grant writers have shared this same sentiment.

At GrantsEdge, we are always looking for ways to make your grant writing easier and more efficient, so because we know the word count issue exists, we have put together some suggestions for being more concise in your writing and have provided you with some tips for cutting words without losing important meaning.

Avoid Gratuitous Phrases

There are a number of phrases we use, that if removed, can get us closer to the word count on our grant application while keeping all our meaning in tact. Avoid using phrases like:

  • “At the present time”
  • “For all intents and purposes”
  • “In the event that”
  • “On the other hand”
  • “The ways in which”


Long Version: The bus driver explained the ways in which his route was extended.

Short Version: The bus driver explained how his route was extended.

In this simple example, we have lost three words without any difficulty at all. The more you can trim meaningless or unhelpful phrases to unclutter your sentences, the fewer words you will use.

Remove Redundancy

Redundancy in our writing happens all too often. Here are some classic examples of ways that writers are unnecessarily repetitious.

  • “Personal opinion”
  • “End result”
  • “Free gift”
  • “Period of one week”
  • “Basic fundamentals”
  • “Filled to capacity”
  • “Actual experience”

The list could go on, but I think you get the idea. A few of these examples are from the Daily Writing Tips website. If you want to see more, check this out: 50 redundant phrases to avoid.

When trying to reduce your word count, also watch for phrases that echo the quality in the statement:

  • “Oval in shape”
  • “Larger in size”
  • “Shorter in duration”

When writing your grant proposal, be careful to avoid being redundant and when editing, be as ruthless as possible to remove words and phrases that are repetitive and therefore irrelevant.

Be Careful Of Unnecessary Modifiers

Stephen King said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” If Stephen King said it, it must be true.

Modifiers are words or phrases that give additional detail about the subject discussed in a sentence and tend to be descriptive words, such as adjectives and adverbs. Not all modifiers are bad, as they can be used to help engage a reader. However, they do create additional detail in a sentence that can take up valuable space when we have the opportunity to be more concise.

In grant writing, adjectives and adverbs are often used in the place of evidence, so be sure to replace them with quantities, data, dates, and quotes.

Here are some examples of modifiers you may be able to cut from your next proposal to keep the word count down:

  • Actually
  • Really
  • Very
  • Basically
  • Probably
  • Definitely
  • Somewhat
  • Kind of
  • Practically


“It’s a very warm day.” While the word very intensifies the word warm, in most cases, the word very and the word it modifies, in this case warm, can be eliminated and replaced with a single word that is more concise: “It’s a hot day.”

By eliminating the modifier, you can use fewer words and be more concise.

With all this advice, I’m thinking you can probably be basically kind of short and to the point with your very nice proposal. See what I did there?

Restructure, Reword, And Rewrite

It can be beneficial to have someone other than the original writer edit and revise your grant proposal, as it is often difficult to review your own work. Through that process, have the editor trim words by restructuring sentences to limit the word count. It may mean going over the proposal a few times and looking at it from different angles, but cutting a number of sentences back can go a long way toward making your proposal fit the funder’s guidelines.


You’d be surprised by the number of times grant writers use more words than they have to in a sentence. (20 words)

It’s surprising how often grant writers use more words than necessary in a sentence. (14 words)

Grant writers often use more words than necessary. (8 words)

Avoid Over-Complicated And/Or Flowery Language

Outside of writing a poem for your favourite loved one, flowery or eloquent words are not needed and shouldn’t be used when writing grant proposals. Your mission is to be clear and concise, not impress a funder with your level of vocabulary. The group reading your grant application should never need to reach for the dictionary or Google your words to make sure they understand them.


Flowery: We made such a grandiloquent verbal exodus from the gathering that everyone in our immediate proximity was agog, their mouths fluctuating and trilling in surprise. (25 words)

Simple: Our parting comments left everyone at the party speechless and surprised. (11 words)

Grant writers are also guilty of over-complicating their writing. When looking to cut the word count, an editor should be able to find ways to simplify the language. This is a prime example of where saying less not only helps your word count, but may get your point across more clearly to the reader.


Over-complicated: High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process. (17 words)

Simple: Children need good schools if they are to learn properly. (10 words)

You Can Do It!

It takes time to develop the skill of writing in ways that are clear and concise. If you continue to practice and seek feedback from those with experience, it is a talent that can be honed and developed. Enhancing your own editing skills can also greatly affect how you communicate to your readers.

Don’t be frustrated next time your writing doesn’t fit inside a funder’s word count. Use it as an opportunity to be more clear and concise in sharing your ideas.

Now It’s Your Turn.

Go back to a previous grant you have written – a section you are likely to utilize again in an upcoming grant (i.e. the Organizational Overview) – and use the suggestions above to trim your work by at least 30 words.

5 Questions You Need To Ask Before Writing Your Story For A Funder

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to tell stories. As a kid, I told stories mostly in an effort to make people laugh. Any story where an armpit could make funny noises or a kid falls in the mud was a good story (don’t judge me).

But I had no idea, all those years ago, how important storytelling would become in the many different parts of my life. I’ve told stories for years now as a way to engage people, paint a picture for them, and attempt to move them to action. I certainly didn’t know back then that storytelling and the grant writing world would intersect, and yet, the more I’m involved with writing grants, and the more I speak to funders, the more I understand that being able to tell your story well within your grant application, the better.

In our blog post, “The Top 3 Tips For Telling Your Story So Funders Listen,” we outlined some foundational elements of effective storytelling that you should implement as you compose your grant proposals. But, before you begin to write your story, there are some important questions you should be asking. The last thing you want to do is tell the wrong story, stare at a blank page, or not tell a story at all.

Consider these five important questions the next time you think about crafting your story to ask a funder to invest in your organization.

1. Do I Already Know What Story I Want To Tell?

Author Thomas Steinbeck said, “My secret to writing is to never create at a keyboard.” If your organization does not already have the elements of a compelling story in place, nothing you can do at the keyboard will make much of a difference.

If your program is already in place, or even if it is brand new, most of the story should already be written. Why did you create the program in the first place? What struggles does the hero of your story face? How did you come to be an effective guide? How did you arrive at your specific plan? What evaluation have you done to understand the impact and transformation? Why am I asking so many questions (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)?

If you don’t have a story already brewing based on the work you have done, you may not be ready to submit a grant proposal.

2. Who Am I Writing This Story For?

We can’t stress enough the power of understanding the audience for whom you will be writing. Take some time to do some research to make sure you have a full and deep sense for the funder and their overall mission.

Take some time to read about past programs and projects that have been funded by this particular grantee, if they are available. You can learn a lot about what the funder is passionate about if you know what they have already supported. Contact organizations that have received funding and pick their brains about what resonates most with the funder and how you might be able to write your story so they take notice.

As part of the work to get to know the funder, reach out to them specifically and look for opportunities to speak with them, meet them face-to-face, and find out what is important to them. Most funders are open to meeting with organizations and providing input into their funding process. Take advantage of every opportunity to get to know them and build strong relationships.

3. What Would An Early Headline Be For My Story?

Headlines can be interesting:

  • “Camouflaged Army Vehicle Disappears”
  • “Most Earthquake Damage Caused By Shaking”
  • “Statistics Show Teen Pregnancy Drops Off After Age 25.”

Ok, the good news is you don’t need to have an actual headline for your story, because obviously it is more difficult than it seems. The people who wrote those headlines actually get paid to write headlines for a living.

The power of writing an early headline for a story is that it forces the writer to boil down their premise into one sentence or a few words. By working through that exercise, writers gain focus quickly, and truly understand what their story is really about before they even begin writing. That kind of clarity will make the writing process easier, more efficient, and more effective.

4. Will Anybody Care About My Story?

Imagine that you have to tell your story to a friend. Would they be bored? Would they understand it? Would they care? Would it be the kind of story they’d like to hear more than once?

Your story, to be effective, needs to be compelling. It needs an interesting hero with a difficult problem. For funders to care, your story should demonstrate, through research and the reality of your community, that there are significant concerns and issues for your “main character.” Take the time to develop the need and be sure to concisely express that through your story.

As the sidekick, or guide, do you have a solution that really works? Where did you get your credibility to provide solutions? What capacity do you have to provide a plan for your hero?

Once you can answer these questions, you should be able to spend some time telling the story through this lens, and funders will be intrigued.

5. Is Your Story Different From Others?

Have you ever watched a movie and felt like you’ve seen it already? It happens all the time when films come out within months of each other and seem remarkably similar.

  • In May 1995, the movie “Gordy” came out. In August 1995, “Babe.” Both movies are about talking pigs.
  • In July 1998 the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out – December 1998, “The Thin Red Line” – both movies are about events surrounding WWII.
  • In January 2011, the movie “No Strings Attached” came out. In July of the same year, “Friends with Benefits.” I’ll let you look up what those are about, but believe me… same movie.

The point of the question is to force you to think about what makes your program different. What sets you apart from the other organizations that will be telling their stories? What can you do to surprise your reader (the funder)? What can you offer that is unexpected?

If a funder understands that your organization can offer something different from so many other great organizations, there is a greater likelihood that funding is something they would consider.

Bonus Question!

Have You Saved Your Work Recently?

You can thank me later. Writing is such hard work, it is important to not lose the work you have already done. Be sure to save it in a few places where you can access your writing when you need it.

You’re welcome.

Become really good storytellers so you increase your chances of having your grants funded. Engage your funders, be compelling, and work hard to write stories in ways that move them to say “yes” to your proposals. Save the stories about armpits and muddy kids for your spare time.

Now it’s your turn. Answer these five questions and start crafting your story!

Classic Grant Writing Mistake…The “Over-Promise”

You’ve probably experienced the “over-promise” and “under-deliver” dilemma at some point if you’ve ever been a consumer. The most recent for me came when our family thought it was a great idea to purchase a “robot vacuum.” It was going to solve ALL the vacuuming frustrations in our home. It was going to save us so much time. The promise was that we could turn it on and set it to vacuum our floors while we weren’t at home. The floors were going to be free of dust and dirt and ready for our friends and family to stroll happily across our floors in their new white socks. This was going to be the best…ever.

Well, did this thing ever disappoint! Oh, sure, we could let it run while we weren’t at home, but it never actually vacuumed anything. It didn’t pick up the dirt at all. Instead all it seemed to do was just redistribute the dust bunnies and breadcrumbs to other parts of the house. I don’t need my breadcrumbs in the front foyer, thank you very much.

But it came with such fanfare and high expectations. The commercials told me it was going to be amazing and revolutionize the art of vacuuming. I was never going to have to vacuum again. I’m such a sucker!

When all was said and done, the most prominent accomplishment of my robot “saviour” was becoming a play toy for the dog. The bottom line is that I’d never buy another vacuum like this again. It felt frustrating and like a huge waste of money! The robot vacuum definitely over-promised and under-delivered.

Don’t Over-Promise in Your Grant Applications

GrantsEdge has connected with many funders over the years, and the classic “over-promise” and “under-deliver” is a problem they have told us they have seen more times than they would care to remember.

But why does this happen? Why do grant writers and organizations continue to promise outputs and impact at a level that is unreasonable?

Funders Want To Give Money To Projects That Make A Difference

As grant writers, we know how important it is to be able to demonstrate to funders that your program or project will be successful and have a significant impact with your target population. Without that, funders may be less than excited to invest dollars in an idea that isn’t going to make much of a difference. And with that as the context, some grant writers “adjust” their numbers or create objectives and outcomes that aren’t attainable. Some grant writers complete proposals in a way that portrays greater benefit to the community than they can actually deliver in the hopes that funders take notice and say yes to their application. The result is that funders end up feeling frustrated when these projects don’t actually produce. When you under-deliver, your organization can erode trust with funders.

It’s OK To Fail

Now we know that not all grant writers over-promise on purpose or complete proposals in an effort to trick a funder in some way in order to get the money. Sometimes grant writers just aren’t sure how to best measure performance and aren’t strong with the evaluation process. If that’s you, you may want to look at “The Definitive Road Map To Evaluation” as that will get you started.

We also don’t want you to think you shouldn’t set some stretch goals or dream some big dreams or that funders will wag their finger at you like a disappointed parent if you don’t reach your goals. Funders understand that not everything works out, that circumstances beyond your control may impact your program and ultimately its outcomes. There is room to fail.

But, the rule still stands. If you are a grant writer, you need to work incredibly hard to ensure that your funded program or project delivers what you said it was going to deliver.

What Happens If You Don’t Deliver?

Whether it is a corporate funder, private foundation, or government funder, performance measures are an important part of every grant design and application. You will want to be able to accurately show that you know what impact your program will have on your target group and be able to demonstrate that you know how to measure it, track it, and use it in the future to make your program even better. Be clear and honest with yourself and the team about your target group, the need for the program, the benefits of the program for your participants, and how those benefits show up in measurable terms.

Not doing the hard work up front to know how to best communicate your program’s goals and eventual outcomes and getting an unrealistic proposal funded may actually be worse than not getting the funding at all. If you commit to certain outcomes and goals, you need to be able to deliver. When it comes time to report back to the funder, you need to be able to show them that you have accomplished what you set out to achieve.

But what are the possible ramifications of not delivering what you said you would deliver? It can’t really be that bad can it?

Is it possible an organization could have a grant rescinded? Yes, it’s possible.

Is it possible that you could severely damage a relationship with a funder? Yes, without a doubt.

Is it possible that funders might be suspicious of your future proposals? Yes, absolutely.

Is it possible that funders talk to one another, and that your overzealous goals could now be on the radar of completely different funders? I’m glad we’re thinking about this now, because funders do talk to other funders. So that is also a yes.

Now, we don’t want to be all “doom and gloom.” There is definitely opportunity to learn through evaluation efforts and course correct throughout your project. If things aren’t going as planned, find out why, build and implement solutions, and communicate with the funder.

OK, So You Won’t Over-Promise

We want your grant proposals to be compelling, but we want you to avoid dazzling funders today only to disappoint them tomorrow. Be realistic about what the program can truly accomplish and be sure to explain how you plan to evaluate your progress and success as it moves forward.

Don’t disappoint your funder the way my “robot vacuum” disillusioned me and my family.

How Do You Develop Realistic, Informed Outcomes?

Want to know what you need to consider when developing realistic expectations for your next grant proposal? Enter your information below to download our Five Considerations For Developing Realistic Program Outcomes.

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Ask The Experts: Amazing Insight From Funders At GrantsEdge Live

Have you ever been so excited you could barely sleep? That’s how I felt on Sunday night, in anticipation of GrantsEdge Live, our two-day grant writing training course. I couldn’t wait to meet the incredible people, from a wide spectrum of organizations, who had signed up to learn the step-by-step formula to write winning grants.

Participants told us that after two intensive days of learning and discovery, they now felt “confident”, “energized”, and “ready to write grants” to get their ideas funded! Now, our GrantsEdge team would love to take all of the credit for this, but we really can’t.

We were honoured to have four incredible funders accept our invitation to attend a portion of GrantsEdge Live. Each funder graciously provided valuable insight, answered thought-provoking questions, and offered feedback to help participants clarify their project ideas. There was also a lot of laughter along the way.

Who Was In The Room?

Joining us for this event were:

  • Jo-Ann Hutchinson – Regional Advisor for the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, & Sport.
  • Sara Middleton – Director, Community Partnerships and Investment with the United Way London-Middlesex.
  • Rebekah Morrison-Wize – Development Officer, Grants & Investments with the London Arts Council.
  • Janice Walter – Manager of Community Development for Neighbourhood Children and Fire Services for the City of London.

Insight From Funders

Below I’ve shared a few of the questions asked by GrantsEdge Live participants and a summary of the informative responses from funders.

Finding Funding For Program Expansion

Thought-Provoking Question: Seed funding for new programs appears to be more popular for funders today. What would you encourage me to do if the funding I’m seeking is related more specifically toward expanding and growing an existing program?

Awesome Answer: The packaging and writing of a grant can definitely be a challenge. As funders, we know that there are great programs in our communities that are experiencing strong outcomes and delivering exceptional results. We need to fund those programs. It is important in those cases to consider developing your ask and creating your expansion around a new demographic or in a new geographic region. Perhaps you want to consider expanding your program in a new neighbourhood or with a different age group. It just means making your pitch slightly more specialized. Don’t be afraid to tell us that you have a strong model and an effective approach that you want to try for a new segment of the population. Telling a funder that you need to hire two new staff positions is less appealing then saying that you are going to deliver 20% more impact.

Mistakes Grant Writers Make

Thought-Provoking Question: It’s difficult as a grant writer to not think about the fact that it might be my writing that is the reason our proposals haven’t been funded. Would you have some advice about some of the common mistakes grant writers make, or some ideas I should consider to impress a funder with my application?

Awesome Answer: We have a long list of common mistakes, that’s for sure! There are also some intentional concepts you can include to impress a funder. This is definitely not an exhaustive list.

  • The right fit – The biggest thing is to make sure you align your program and application to the funder’s priorities. Don’t go chasing the dollars and then attempt to make your program fit. You need to find the right funder and make sure your priorities align because we need to know that the programs we’re investing in line up with our outcomes.
  • The power of collaboration – Having effective collaborations and partnerships included in your application is also a key component that can impress funders. Partnerships bring efficiencies around areas like administration and space and it helps roll up outcomes and demonstrate even greater community impact when organizations are working together.
  • Don’t assume – Another common mistake that grant writers make in their overall writing is that they assume that reviewers already know everything about their organization. Funders often engage volunteers in the decision-making process, and those volunteers may bring assumptions or perceptions with them that are incorrect (maybe their child was in one of your programs in 1986), or they may know nothing about your organization at all. Make sure you are clear, concise, compelling, and provide enough information for everyone to make an informed decision.
  • Does it add up – The budget is typically the least effectively completed part of every application. Describing unit costs are very important so that as a reviewer we understand the reasoning behind your number and that it makes sense. Make sure you read our guidelines related to the budget and that you attach everything we have asked for as part of that process.

How Funders Want to Be Recognized

Thought-Provoking Question: What types of ways do you like to be or need to be recognized? What is the best way for my organization to recognize your support?

Awesome Answer: Our logo is the biggest and most important piece. Most funders will send you the logo and the guidelines for how to use it. Be sure to include it on reports, strategic plans, and any communication that is going out related to your project that has been funded.

Don’t send certificates (there was definitely laughter in the room at this point). We don’t expect any “bling”. Spend the money on your project. We don’t typically have room for hanging anything on our walls. A thank you card is fine, but nothing more than that is needed.

Thank You To The Funders Who Joined Us

A big thank you from the GrantsEdge team and GrantsEdge Live participants to the funders who made the time to join us and share their wisdom and experience. Participants said that this was definitely one of the highlights from GrantsEdge Live.