Connecting and talking with funders is something we try and do as often as we can. We know that every conversation will turn into an opportunity to gather valuable grant writing tips and helpful information that we can pass along to all of you.
This past week was no different. We had the opportunity to sit around a boardroom table with seven funders, from a variety of government and community funding organizations, to “pick their brain” about what successful grant writers consistently implement and execute to ensure the best proposals get submitted.
Writing Effective And Successful Grants Isn’t As Hard As You Might Think
After years of writing grants and getting to know funders, we find it interesting that not much has changed in what it takes to submit a successful proposal.
Yes, grant applications look different and have moved online, and there has been a shift in funding priorities that now seeks greater collaboration, innovation, evaluation, and overall impact of a program or project, but what funders talk about as it relates to what makes grant writers successful remains strikingly familiar and within reach for anyone trusted with the task of securing funds for their organization.
It’s Time To Get Back To Grant Writing Basics
Part of our role at GrantsEdge is to share information directly from funders, and to ensure that grant writers have everything they need to write successful grants. So, no matter how long you have been writing grants, whether it’s been five years or five days, we encourage you to take out your pen, or get you keyboard ready to take a few notes.
The following five ideas may not be new for many of you, but the funders we spoke with reminded us that grant writers continue to make the same mistakes and fail to recognize the importance of some of these foundational elements. It’s time to reflect on your own grant writing, be honest with yourself, and make sure you’re doing everything funders tell us that successful grant writers do each time they submit a new proposal.
5 Foundational Ideas You Need To Implement To Be Successful
The following five ideas are not listed in a priority sequence. They are all equally important, and the funders were uniformly passionate about the relevance of each and the emphasis one should place on all of these concepts.
1. Successful Grant Writers Understand Funding Guidelines
Each and every funding opportunity comes with a set of guidelines and expectations. Successful grant writers take the time to read the guidelines, understand the funder’s priorities, and take note of the application instructions. Once they’ve read through the guidelines once, they do it again, with a highlighter in hand, keeping track of any questions they might have to ask.
It is within this part of the process that a grant writer will determine whether their program or project is a strong fit with the funder’s overall objectives, while also gaining awareness for any boundaries or restrictions related to receiving funding.
Why is this so important?
Funders often receive applications that don’t comply with their instructions or requirements. Some grant writers think their proposal will be so compelling that funders might overlook their guidelines to fund a project that falls outside their core purpose. They won’t, they can’t – trust us on this.
Not fully understanding the guidelines of a funder is a quick and easy way to waste your time and ensure an unsuccessful result.
2. Successful Grant Writers Talk To Funders Before They Write
We know that not all funders make themselves available to grant writers, but many are very open and willing to connect. Long before you even begin to type your first word in the grant proposal, funders want you to understand how important and valuable it is to reach out and begin to build a relationship. Funders appreciate the opportunity to answer your questions, clarify information, understand your program more closely, and provide insight that can guide your writing.
Why Is This So Important?
Funders want organizations to be successful in their grant writing. Funders want to join organizations in bringing significant impact to communities. They want to find credible partners who can be effective stewards of the money they have to invest. One of the best ways to accomplish all of these things is by working in partnership to bring a successful proposal together. Effectively and regularly communicating with a funder can be one of the best ways to increase your chances of success.
In an GrantsEdge blog from October of 2016, we wrote about how to have successful meetings with funders. In, “A Halloween Story: Turn Meetings With Funders From Scary To Successful,” we outline three ideas you should consider to ensure a meeting with a funder goes well. Read this blog to gain some helpful ideas and resources that will make talking to funders easy. Inside the blog you’ll have access to a FREE template that will outline how to write an effective concept paper.
In another GrantsEdge Blog from September of 2016 we write about “The #1 Step You Must Take To Improve Your Grant Writing.” In this blog we also write about the how important it is to meet and build relationships with funders. Inside the blog you will have access to a FREE email template that you can use to reach out and schedule meetings with funders.
Take advantage of these FREE resources and make connecting with funders a huge priority.
3. Successful Grant Writers Know Their Audience
Do you actually know who will be reading your proposal? Are the reviewers a group of staff members from the funder’s office, a small group of community members, or a combination of staff and volunteers? Successful grant writers take the time to find out who will be reviewing their proposal and what is most important to that specific group. Will the reviewers be motivated by logic or emotion? Will the reviewers be most engaged by story or data, or both? In the end, it may be a combination of all of the above, but without asking any questions and attempting to understand the reader, your proposal may come up incredibly short.
Successful grant writers focus their proposal on what is important to the funder, not on what the writer necessarily thinks is important. Reading the guidelines and talking to a funder (see points 1 and 2 above) can provide the insight needed to engage your audience effectively and realize a successful proposal.
Why Is This So Important?
With tens and potentially even hundreds of proposals to read, a review committee is faced with the unenviable task of identifying the best projects to fund. If your proposal is written in a way that does not resonate well with the review team, it can be quickly moved to the bottom of a very large pile. Be very clear in your writing so that your audience knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are understood, that you have their priorities and objectives in mind, and that your project is worth the investment.
4. Successful Grant Writers Submit Mistake Free Proposals
Just like the clothes you wear can leave a certain impression with the people that see you, so too can a mistake and error-filled grant proposal influence the perception funders have of you and your organization. We are amazed at how often funders receive proposals with multiple spelling and grammar mistakes and budgets with numbers that don’t add up properly. Successful grant writers ensure a rigorous editing, review, and revision process is followed. Successful grant writers invite fresh eyes and outside perspectives to read their proposals and provide feedback. Successful grant writers put a process in place to ensure that each application is completed with excellence in mind.
Why Is This So Important?
Funders are seeking credible and professional organizations within which to invest their dollars and maximize impact. By submitting proposals filled with errors, funders may be left wondering if the organization has what it takes to successfully organize, operate, and manage a project. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s part of life, but a sloppy grant proposal is not the way to build trust with a funder. Don’t have your proposal moved to the “no” pile because the time wasn’t taken or the process wasn’t implemented to review the document before sending.
Added bonus: If you use the cut and paste method in the development of a grant proposal, be sure to watch for words, titles, or names of organizations that are specific to one proposal and not relevant for another. A funder can be quickly frustrated by a proposal that has a different funders name mentioned within it. Imagine being called by someone else’s name…it doesn’t feel very good, and certainly makes you think the other person either doesn’t care or lacks attention to detail.
5. Successful Grant Writers Write Like They’ve Never Been Funded Before
Grant writers, especially ones who have some experience, have been successful in the past, or do grant writing for large organizations that have historically gained funding, can begin to believe that they don’t have to work very hard on their proposals because funding is a foregone conclusion. This is not universal, of course, but it is easy for grant writers to get somewhat complacent and just routinely “pump out” proposal after proposal without truly thinking about what funders need or want.
Funders have been very clear that times are changing. Grant writers can no longer expect to get funded just because they have in the past. Organizations can no longer assume money will be awarded to them because they have a large program that has been run for years. Funders are more focused than ever on the impact of a program and the difference it truly makes. Grant writers will need to be very intentional about demonstrating the need for their program and the change the community will experience because of the program. Funders want you to write with urgency, and passion, and like the success and health of your community depends on every word and every number you include in your proposal.
Why Is This So Important?
It’s a new day for funders. The status quo for proposals will no longer be good enough. More organizations are asking for more money, and the competition for funding dollars continues to rise. To gain funding for your organization, don’t write your proposal as though it is going to get funded no matter what. Find some new and creative ways to tell your story and to share you message. Make sure funders understand the value and importance of the work you are doing. Do everything you can to make it impossible for them to say no.
So Now What?
Is it time for some reflection? Is it time to implement some new ideas or tactics into your grant writing processes? Based on what our funders have told us, are you a successful grant writer?
Although these ideas are somewhat basic in nature, our funders couldn’t express passionately enough how important these five components are to being successful as a grant writer. Don’t assume you are doing it right. Take some time to evaluate and look for ways to improve. Take the opportunity to gain some feedback from funders on proposals that weren’t successful so that you can find out if you dropped the ball in one or more of these areas. And the next time you are getting ready to write a proposal, have this list close by to ensure you give yourself every opportunity to experience success.
- Understand The Guidelines
- Talk To Funders Before You Write
- Know Your Audience
- Submit Mistake Free Proposals
- Write Like You’ve Never Been Funded Before