Everybody is looking for a silver bullet for success, and grant writers are no different. If only there was an effortless solution, or one easy trick to getting your grant proposals to the top of the funder pile every time you submit an application. It’s actually the question we get from grant writers more than any other: “How do I ensure funders say ‘yes’ to my proposal?” As we facilitate training workshops, it is almost a guarantee that, at some point in our session, the conversation will turn to wanting to know how to get a grant proposal to stand out from the competition.
It’s a great question and one every grant writer should consider.
What Will Make My Grant Stand Out?
There are many parts to putting together successful proposals. We’ve already written a few blog posts that highlight some key elements to getting funders to notice your proposals.
In our April 28, 2017 blog post, “5 Grant Writing Tips To Make A Funder Giggle… In A Good Way,” we provided five tangible steps you could put into action to alter the fate of your proposal.
In another blog post, from April 13, 2017, we shared some important thoughts we heard from funders during a recent conversation. During our talk, they shared some of their frustrations about grant writers and the application process in general, but more importantly, they gave us some insight into what they felt grant writers needed to do to develop the best proposals. Read “Get In On The Secret: What Funders Want Grant Writers To Know.”
Those two previous blog posts highlight some helpful observations and wisdom from funders on the things that make grant proposals really good… or not. Have a read and reflect on what new ideas you can implement to make your proposals better.
The Top 3 Ways To WOW A Funder
So what’s the secret? What can a grant writer do to make sure their proposal gets noticed and gets moved to the top of the pile? What are the must-haves, the elements funders just can’t do without? If all the success factors were boiled down into the top three ways to get your proposal to stand out, what would they be?
Making Your Grant Stand Out – Success Factor #1: Care About The Funder
Do you like gifts? Most people do. The best gifts, the ones that are most special, are the ones given with you in mind. A gift card to the mall, while a nice gesture, just isn’t the same as tickets to see your favourite local band, that no one else has heard of, play an intimate venue on a Friday night. One gift can be given to anyone, while the other is just for you.
It feels good to know that someone really listens and truly cares about you and what you care about.
Funders are no different. They want gifts (i.e. grant proposals) that scream, “we care about you,” “we know who you are,” and “we know what is important to you.”
The first question you ask, and the question that drives the initial stages of your grant application research, should be, “What does the funder want?”
In grant writing, it’s vital to know what the funder cares about, their purpose, mission, and objectives. Without a full and profound understanding for why they exist and how they want to invest their money, your proposal is likely to miss the target.
Funders cite a lack of “fit” all the time as one of the biggest reasons for proposals to be rejected. It should be your starting place to know what is special to the funder and what will have them excited to write a cheque to your organization.
Here are a few questions you might ask as you seek to understand what a funder wants.
- What are their values, and do we align with them?
- Do the funder’s priorities and fields of interest match with our purpose and activities?
- What have they funded previously?
- What can we do to make their process easier?
Care about your funder and know what they care about. Once you have worked through this idea, you will understand how much easier it is to write your proposal and compose it in such a way that a funder can’t help but move it to the top of the pile.
Making Your Grant Stand Out – Success Factor #2: Make The Funder Care
It’s easy to be passionate about your own ideas, programs, and projects, but are you able to lead others to understand the importance and urgency for what you are trying to accomplish?
The best way to make a funder care about what you are doing is to clearly demonstrate to them that without your program, your community suffers. You need to show them the gaps, the issues, and the problems in your community and help them understand how your solution is one that will make a difference in solving the problem.
This all happens within the “Needs Statement” part of your proposal.
Earlier this year, we wrote a blog post called, “The 4 Fundamental Features Of A Strong Needs Statement.” In it, we highlighted how vital your needs statement is to the rest of your proposal, how it is the engine that drives your application, and outlined four keys to bringing increased levels of success to your proposals through the effectiveness of a strong needs statement.
Here are a few of the questions you can answer for a funder with a strong statement of need:
- So what?
- Why should we care?
- What is the crux of the problem?
- Does the organization have a viable solution?
- What happens if we don’t fund this opportunity now?
- Are the facts compelling?
- Have they already begun to make a difference in the lives of their participants?
If you can make a funder care about the problem, the solution, and the ultimate transformation your program will bring, your proposal will rocket to the top of the pile.
Making Your Grant Stand Out – Success Factor #3: Dare To Be Different
It doesn’t take long to get lulled into a sense of complacency, a place where we are satisfied with the status quo and are content to do things the way we’ve always done them. And yet, the times we are often most excited and aware are those times when we see something we’ve never seen before.
Funders manage hundreds of proposals. They read about hundreds of programs related to eradicating poverty, increasing child literacy rates, or saving the environment. After a while, the programs begin to look and feel the same. It becomes challenging to get excited about investing in programs or projects that look exactly like the ones they funded the year before and the year before that.
So, what’s different about your program? What do you need to highlight in your proposal to show a funder that your solution is distinct, that it’s unlike anything they have seen before.
Now, this is not about being different just for the sake of being different. It’s is about finding innovative and creative ways to bring solutions to difficult problems. It’s about collaborating with organizations that are unexpected, yet brilliant. It’s about reaching out to target groups that others may not have thought about.
It’s time to embrace the qualities about your organization that make you unconventional and highlight the experience and expertise of your staff.
As you begin to write your proposal, keeping within the format provided by the funder, look for ways to be different in the way you communicate your story and compelling in the way you unpack the problems you are looking to overcome.
When preparing to write your next proposal, ask yourself these questions:
- What makes us quirky, yet effective?
- What solutions do we offer that address gaps in the sector?
- What partnership can we develop that might make this an even stronger proposal?
- What expertise do we have that may not be duplicated anywhere else?
Make Your Next Proposal Stand Out
The next time you’re talking to another grant writer and they start to talk about wishing they knew how to get their proposals to the top of the funder’s “yes” pile, share these three tips with them:
- Care About The Funder
- Make The Funder Care
- Dare To Be Different
If you can do these three things, your proposals will be well on their way to being better than most and more likely to intrigue and impress a funder.