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Writing A Compelling Summary: How To Grab A Funder’s Attention

The summary section of a grant proposal can feel incredibly overwhelming because many grant writers think they have to summarize every part of their entire proposal in 250 words or less. It doesn’t have to be that difficult! With an easy-to-implement outline and a handful of helpful ideas, your next summary section can be the most compelling you’ve ever written.

What Is The Purpose Of A Summary?

Before we get too far into how to write a summary for your grant proposal, it’s first important to understand why we write it in the first place. The summary is often the first impression a grant writer gets to make on a funder. The job of the summary then, is to sell. Your summary should be persuasive, should sell your solution, should “knock their socks off” and should help the funder decide quickly they want to partner and invest in your organization.

The summary brings proposal to life and to encourage the funder to read more about your project or program. It’s not about trying to outline your entire grant proposal for them…that’s just too much too soon, but the other parts of your application should begin to fill in any of the blanks.

What Components Make Up An Irresistible Summary?

We’ve put together the five core components we believe you need to consider each time you write your summary.

Component #1 – The Opening

How many times have you started a book or a movie and a few pages or minutes in you have an overwhelming feeling that this is going to be bad…or that it’s not your style? It happens, and it’s amazing how quickly we’re prepared to move on to something we’ll like better. If the opening few words or sentences to your summary is boring, bad, or not helpful, a funder may be inclined to skip past you to the next proposal.

Your opening needs to be strong, it needs to grab their attention, and it needs to be compelling. To accomplish this, we would suggest avoiding anything about your organization, and make your introduction all about the “hero” of the story. The reviewers of grant proposals are humans, with human emotions, so find a way to strike a chord with them and make them take notice. Make them “fall in love” with your hero right from the start.

In an earlier GrantsEdge blog post we wrote about how to most effectively tell a story when writing your grant application. In it we described the “hero”, who represents the clients or community you serve. They represent the main character of your story, and are the ones your funder is most interested in understanding. Write your opening in such a way that funders know the hero needs some kind of support or a solution to a problem. Read more in this blog to find out about the “hero” of your story, how story telling and grant writing connect.

Component #2 – The Issue

The “Issue” is the part of the summary where you clearly demonstrate your understanding of the need that exists with your clients or in your community. In a clear and concise way you should define what problem exists and that it needs an urgent response. In writing the summary you might include some of your most important research and highlight the evidence it uncovers.

Make sure that your focus continues to be centred around the hero of the story and the need that they have, and not on your organization.

Component #3 – The Solution

This is the place where your organization can begin to shine. Once you have highlighted the main issue, it’s time to provide a glimpse into the innovative solution that your organization has developed and why it’s the right fit for this problem at this time. If you are anything like most grant writers, you will be inclined to want to lay out the entire solution at this point, to make sure the funder sees it and understands it all. The summary is not the place for all the details, but the place where you will just pull back the curtain slightly to let them see enough that they are intrigued, but that it also clear what the organization intends to do if awarded funding dollars.

Be sure to write about your solution at a very high level, avoid acronyms so that you don’t alienate your reader, and make sure that anyone, no matter how much they understand your “industry”, can easily recognize how your solution works and how it deals with the issue written about earlier in the summary.

This section of the summary would also be an appropriate place to highlight the cost of the solution and the financial ask that you will be making of the funder. As in other places in the summary, you will not have the opportunity to walk them through the entire budget for your project or program, but will only provide the main parts of what your solution will cost and the role the funder will play in that solution. If you have other funders, partners, or investors involved, this would be an ideal time to make that known.

Component #4 – The Credibility

What authority or credibility does your organization have to effectively deliver the solution? When formulating your summary you will want to demonstrate to the funder that your team is qualified and capable of managing the program or project, while also showing how your experience and leadership sets you apart from other organizations who may serve a similar target group.

This would be the time in your summary to highlight a few very specific reasons why the organization will be successful in delivering this project and ensuring positive impact for the participants.

Component #5 – The Funder

The final component of the summary provides the opportunity for the grant writer to establish the link between the goals of the project with how they align with the purpose or mission of the funder. As with everything else in the summary, be clear and concise in pointing out how the work of your organization fits nicely with what the funder is also looking to accomplish. You will want to be sure to have read through the funder’s guidelines, objectives, and overall purpose for their fund in order to show how working together makes sense. By doing this, your summary can further solidify for a funder that together a real difference can be made.

When Should I Write My Summary?

There is no right or wrong answer to when one should write their summary. There are successful grant writers on both sides of this question. Some find it easier and more effective to write the summary before any other part of the grant proposal, as it then becomes the outline for the rest of the application.

There are others who feel more comfortable waiting to write the summary at the end so they can be sure to clearly articulate the main highlights of the proposal. A proposal can often go through a number of iterations and changes, so for us, waiting until the other sections of the proposal are written is the path that we would most often choose.

As you gain experience in writing grant proposals you will likely find your groove. If you are early in your grant writing career, I would encourage you to try it both ways to see if one fits better with your style.

Make A Great First Impression

Your summary is your first chance to wow your funder and excite them about the opportunity your organization is proposing. By including the components we have described in this blog, you will have the chance to grab their attention quickly, demonstrate to them that you understand the issue, show them that you have a great solution and the capacity to implement that solution, and finally, highlight for them how your program or project aligns with their goals and objectives. Those are the ingredients needed to make a persuasive and lasting impression with your funder, one that will encourage them to dig into your full proposal, and one that will hopefully pave the way to the funding you need to impact your community.

The 4 Fundamental Features Of A Strong Needs Statement

In order to be successful in grant writing, you need the funder to clearly understand the problem you are attempting to solve, and you need to be able to back it up. It’s this fact that makes a needs statement so important to the entire grant writing process. A needs statement drives the entire proposal. It defines the problem, describes the implications of the problem, and identifies the gaps in your community. When you begin the process of writing your next grant, the needs statement should be the place you start, and may be the section you spend the most time digging into.

Of course, all parts of a proposal are integral to telling your story to a funder, but the needs statement is really what makes the rest of the grant application relevant.

A poorly written needs statement puts the entire proposal in jeopardy, as it often leaves reviewers and funders with too many unanswered questions. Not knowing how to write a compelling, concise, and effective needs statement could lead to a lot of unfunded projects, so we want you to have the information you need to confidently and successfully complete a needs statement.

What Is A Needs Statement?

Before we go any further in unpacking some of the essential elements of a needs statement, it will be important to know exactly what is meant by this term, one that might also be referred to as a “problem statement.”

A needs statement establishes the rationale for a project by clearly identifying the gap or problem within a specific community.

A needs statement should determine the focus an organization will take by addressing the particular needs of a specific target audience through a very distinct project. The needs statement should also explain to a funder what the community requires or what it is lacking, and defines the underlying issues the applicant is addressing. Ultimately, the needs statement should answer the questions, “What is the problem or need?” and “How do you know it’s a problem?”

Why Is A Needs Statement Important?

A needs statement answers the “So what?” question. It should provide the funder with a reason to care and lets them know the issue being highlighted is significant and requires a solution.

While the needs statement identifies the problem in a community, it should also provide the funder with an understanding of the surrounding conditions in that community that are aggravating and heightening the problem.

4 Fundamental Features Of A Strong Needs Statement

Crafting a strong needs statement can bring increased levels of success for grant writers. Here are four key components to writing a needs statement that will make your reviewers take notice.

1. Focus On One Main Issue

It almost goes without saying that your community likely has a variety of concerns and issues it needs to confront. It may also be a fact that your program is tied to more than one specific problem. However, it is important that your needs statement focuses on a central concern, and not the issues on the periphery.

For example, if  you are seeking funds to provide hands-on construction skills training for unemployed youth, your focus of your needs statement should be on the unemployment rate for youth in your community, the lack of local jobs for youth, and the link between skills training and later employment. Don’t spend too much time writing about the issues that are not the main concern. The fact that unemployed youth don’t have effective resumes and may lack quality interview skills, although important and may be dealt with inside the program, are not the core concerns.

Also Consider: As you write your needs statement, avoid the circular arguments that too many grant writers are guilty of in their proposal writing. The need for a skills training program for unemployed youth does not exist because there are currently no skills training programs for unemployed youth. That argument is not compelling for a funder. Also, link your program to the funder’s objectives. If your needs statement does not align with the goals of the funder, you may need to consider pursuing a different funding opportunity.

2. Use Data And Comparative Statistics

An effective and strong needs statement must resonate logically in a funder’s mind. The use of quantitative information, made up of the most recent, relevant, and local data you can find, provides an overview and snapshot of your community. Numbers, data, and statistics can paint a picture and tell an important part of the story in underlying the need for your specific solution. For example, it is very different to say that “many youth in Middlesex County find themselves unemployed,” than it is to write that “based on December 2016 stats, 12.5% of youth in Middlesex County aged 16 to 29 find themselves unemployed or underemployed compared to 9.5% in the surrounding counties.” The use of recent and relevant data reveals a much clearer picture of the problem.

By using comparative statistics, a grant writer could show the growing unemployment trend in the area by highlighting the increase in youth unemployment over the past 12 months, or could compare the unemployment rate in other counties in proximity. Use the data to demonstrate the need and the urgency of the problem.

Also Consider: As mentioned earlier, it is important for the data to be recent, relevant, and local. Using municipal data compared to national data will provide a clearer idea of the real problem in your specific community. Incorporating data from 2015 will hold more weight than sourcing statistics from 1999. The more focused the research is on the specific problem in your community, the more a funder will understand the true impact their investment can make.

3. Connect With The Heart

As much as funders will want reliable data and concrete logic in a needs statement, they are also human beings with authentic emotions. Make sure a funder understands the reality of the situation and how the problem in the community is impacting real people. Make it legitimate by telling a story or two. Use qualitative information from surveys, interviews, and ongoing interaction with clients and community members to share testimonials that relate to the heart and soul of the people you wish to serve and the problem that needs to be overcome.

Also Consider: Your needs statement needs a balance of qualitative and quantitative data. Don’t think that by simply pulling at a funder’s heartstrings your proposal will move to the top of the list. Be honest about the challenges your target audience is facing, but not at the expense of their dignity and value. Be prepared to show a funder a glimpse of the community you serve and the impact that will be made.

4. Highlight The Hurdles

One of the final pieces to include in a needs statement is a clear identification of the hurdles or challenges to addressing the problem. In your writing, leave some room in the overall statement to describe the gap that exists between the current state of the community and what the community would be in the future if solutions were implemented. You might also take the opportunity to feature some of the barriers that have prevented resolution of the problem in the past.

Also Consider: It is important for the funder to understand there is a sense of urgency related to the identified gap in your community. As you write, be sure to answer the question, “What happens if we don’t run this program now?” If the funder feels like your solution can wait, or that the need does not demand an immediate response, they will often seek other investments that do require funding immediately.

A Few Final Thoughts

If your grant proposal does not have a compelling need, it is likely that you don’t have a compelling project… or at least that’s what a funder might believe. Take the time to conduct strong research in order to present unmistakable data and profound stories of real people to establish the focus and rationale for your proposal.

Make sure your needs statement sets the tone for the rest of your proposal and provides the opportunity to demonstrate that a critical need exists in your community and that your organization’s solution will make a difference.

The Top 3 Tips For Telling Your Story So Funders Listen

I’m that guy you don’t want to watch movies with very often (or at all). Especially the typical Hollywood productions that make their way to local theatres. Why? I always know the ending. I try not to say anything out loud, or ruin the experience for others (except for maybe my wife… I do find that funny). Even though I love being surprised, which is why I’m pretty enthralled with a show like Game of Thrones (“I never saw that coming”), it just doesn’t happen often enough.

So What Do Stories Have To Do With Grant Writing?

How do stories and grants connect? At GrantsEdge, we believe that stories are a vital part of every grant application. Tell your story well, and a funder is more likely to connect with your idea, and more likely to say “yes” to your application. Bore them with a proposal that reads like all the others and you may end up back at the drawing board looking for money from a different funder.

If you can begin to include great storytelling in your grant proposals, funders will take notice, and your success rate will begin to increase.

Stories Have A Typical Formula

Before you go thinking I have some kind of special gift to be able to guess the outcome of a story, I don’t. I’m not alone in my ability to understand the classic rhythm of storytelling. You’re probably thinking of someone in your life right now who has been known to ruin the ending of a movie from time to time. It’s because most great stories follow a formula.

Even with all the predictability that most stories (books, movies, T.V. shows, etc.) bring, I still love them, and would never want to live a life void of story. As humans, we are wired in such a way that story captures us and moves us more than any other medium of communication.

The 3 Things You Need To Know To Write A Good Story

The 3 principles to writing a good story are:

  1. Know Your Audience
  2. Make Yourself The Sidekick, Not The Hero
  3. Articulate The Transformation

These are foundational principles for storytelling within a grant writing context. If understood and implemented, they can begin to take your stories from common to compelling, and your grant proposals from a “no” to a “yes.”

1. Know Your Audience

Know Your Audience

Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing in general, and storytelling specifically. Not knowing your audience is just asking for trouble.

I was reminded of this idea recently when attending a program in my community. The facilitator of the group had invited a guest speaker to lead a conversation around financial literacy.

The guest speaker had prepared a ton of great information. You could tell he was passionate about the topic and really wanted to be helpful. There was one big problem though, he didn’t know his audience.  As he described some of the finer points of saving money and planning for a strong financial future, participants became frustrated. Some were even angry. What he didn’t realize was the main source of income, for the vast majority of the group, came through government assistance. Being told they needed to “save money” was offensive to them. It’s wasn’t that they didn’t want to save money, but once they covered their basic needs, there wasn’t much, if anything, left at the end of the month. Even if there was, saving money was not even a possibility within the rules and regulations of the system.

I sat uncomfortably in the corner (as a guest) and watched, as most participants felt frustrated and angry. It was obvious that no one left the session feeling like they had gained anything valuable from the experience. One of the most unfortunate aspects, was the guest speaker actually had valuable information about how to manage money… it just never got heard. He didn’t know his audience. Had he known his audience, he could have shared his story and information in a way that would’ve resonated, rather than isolated.

Could you imagine alienating a funder that way by submitting a grant proposal that is so far off the mark they get angry? Maybe the example is extreme, but grant writers make this common mistake far too often.

One of the most critical components of telling a good story and writing a good grant is to write it with your funder in mind. Don’t write the proposal for you, write it for them. Tell your story in such a way that funders know you’ve tailored it for them. Do the work to understand their purpose for providing funding. Recognize the results they hope to foster through their fund.

The story you tell in your grant proposal must connect your mission with the priorities of the granting agency.

2. Make Yourself The Sidekick, Not The Hero

Let’s get right to the point. The hero of your story, every time, should be the clients or community you serve. They represent the main character, the protagonist of your story. In most storytelling frameworks, the hero is usually taken on a journey, or looking to accomplish a task that seems to be beyond what they think they are capable of doing. Without taking action, the hero, whose flaws and weaknesses are visible, will find themselves (and others around them) in danger or dealing with significant struggle. The hero needs to do something different. They need to take action for their survival. For the audience, this character is compelling.

At this point in the story, a sidekick or guide usually appears. In most stories, they come alongside the hero to help them solve their problem. Their job is to listen, understand, and empathize with the hero’s problem. The hero also needs a plan or a solution. It’s the guide who shows the way.

  • Frodo must save Middle Earth, but he’s not sure he is courageous, or brave, or good enough to accomplish the task. Gandalf is the guide.
  • Luke Skywalker isn’t sure if he has what it takes to be a Jedi. Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi play the role of guide.
  • Bridget Jones doesn’t feel worthy of love, and it takes her mother and friends to guide her through this journey of self-discovery.

For every Shrek, there must be a Donkey. 

You, or your organization, are the sidekick. You’re the one who has a plan for the hero to follow. It’s that plan that results in successful outcomes.

In too many of our stories, we want to write ourselves in as the hero. As you begin to craft your grant proposals and write your program descriptions and organizational overviews, become the sidekick. Help funders understand the hero of the story and their challenges, and then go on to explain how you will serve as the guide. Tell your story in such a way the funder understands the plan and how it will have an impact.

3. Articulate The Transformation

The transformation is the most exciting and interesting part of the story. This is the part of the story where I get that lump in my throat because, in the end, the hero is different, they’re in a better place, and their challenge has been met with a solution.

I want to suggest a formula that effectively articulates the transformation of the hero.

Problem + Solution = Transformation

We’ve already referred to the problem and solution parts of the story. As the guide, you enter the story with an understanding of the problem and you provide a plan and a solution. The last part of the equation is to write about the transformation. What has taken place in the life of the hero because they implemented the plan? What positive changes have occurred as a result of the guide’s solution(s)? What success have they experienced?

The description of the transformation is key in your grant proposal. By clearly outlining how your solution will change the circumstances for your clients, the funder will gain a deeper understanding of the benefit of your project and be able to make a decision about whether they wish to invest their funds into such a venture.

If you don’t include the transformation in your story, a funder is left wondering if your plan really works or makes a difference. Paint a clear picture for them. Evoke in the funder, the type of emotion that causes them to get a lump in their throat, as they recognize the transformation of the hero in the story.

Be A Great Storyteller

We all love a great story. Utilize one of the oldest forms of communication as a way to demonstrate to funders that your program is worthy of their support. Take grant proposals from good, to even better, by implementing the elements of storytelling outlined in this blog post. Here’s a quick recap. Be sure to know your audience before you write. Make sure you understand that you are not the hero of the story, but that you are the sidekick with a plan. And as you conclude your story, write about the amazing transformation the hero has experienced.

GrantsEdge is all about action, and we want to do everything we can to help you become a great storyteller as you write your grants. Use the GrantsEdge Problem + Solution = Transformation Worksheet to implement storytelling into your grant writing.

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