Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Grant Proposal Writing Tips

After pulling together key documents belonging to your non profit organization, such as accounting reports, program results, notes from talking with programs (or service) staff, and other necessary information and research; you write a first grant proposal draft and then a second...you wonder after the third re-write 'what is the goal here'?

You and I know that the goal is to write a concise, clear, thorough, honest, and compelling grant proposal that will raise the grant money that your non profit organization needs. What, though, about getting the steps that make the difference between a good grant proposal and a great one?

I urge you to keep in mind that for every grant proposal that you submit there is always the possibility that it will not be funded. Not getting the grant is disappointing but more importantly it is the reason why your organization must diversify its revenue stream. In other words, be sure that you have other fundraising methods in place - or you may find yourself out of money in the middle of a new program or project. Never rely on just one method of raising funds now or in the future (even if you're just starting your non profit organization). Why? See my post http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2006/10/seeking-grants-for-new-programs-or.html

It is very helpful, especially when you are sitting down to write your first grant proposal, to have attended a good class, workshop, or conference sessionthat teachs the 'how to's'. The time and money that you invest in your education will be paid back to you and your organization many times over. It is worth taking the time to learn the basics and develop the skill before starting out in grant writing. I wrote a helpful post that provides resources for starting grant writing - check it out at http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2006/11/easy-resources-for-grant-writer.html

If you have not had the time to attend a course or read a good book on how to write grant proposals, but are going to go ahead and write and submit one anyway - it sounds like you're willing to learn through trial and error. People in this position my be tempted to pull an ancient grant proposal document out of your organization's file cabinets, or to ask a colleague for their agency's grant proposal and use that as a template for the one you're about to write. Keep in mind that while both documents may have garnered grants - you may also be using a document that works best for them and would not help your group. Or you may wind up putting the errors that they made in their document into your own proposal. When, though, you take a course or read a good book you have a clearer understanding of what works, what is expected, and how to do some of the required documentation (i.e. such as writing a budget for the proposal) - see my post on how to write budgets at http://thegrantplant.blogspot.com/2004/06/word-gets-is-in-budgets.html

So, if you are without time and want to just wing a grant proposal - ask a colleague who is an accomplished grant writer for assistance. Ask them if they could spare some time to show you what are the required components of a good strong proposal, and if they would be willing to proof read your first draft and help you shape it up into a great proposal. If you do not have an experienced colleague to ask for help - you can hire a consulting grant writer to do this for you and your organization - this is a common service that consultants provide. You can write a first draft and get them to proof it for you and suggest formating or missed information. It is one way to lessen grant writing costs and is also a good way to provide you; your agency's grant writer, with a one on one private lesson in the proposal process.

In general keep the following tips in mind;

1. It is most important that your document be honest. Never embellish the truth because you think it will help your organization get a grant. No non profit agency has it all - and if yours' appears to - that will be a red flag to the grant donor. Avoid getting a reputation for dishonest reporting - it will harm your organization and grant donors speak to each other - do not think that word would not get around. Your agency's reputation is at stake - never lie. Grant donors expect 'things to happen' or 'difficulties to arise' - they deal with that every day. Really.

2. Provide the grant donor with every bit of information, document, financial report, etc. that they request in their proposal directions also called giving guidelines. Leave nothing out. If your group does not have something that they requested - create the document that they're asking for. If it's something like a previous year's Balance Sheet and your organization's only existed for three months, call and speak to a programs person and tell them your situation - it will be fine, but your effort to keep them informed will be a proactive step in their eyes.

3. Write drafts. Do not submit a first draft of a proposal. You will have written long sentences that could be shortened and clarified for meaning. You will have misspelled words. You will have missed some required information. There will be errors. Be sure to have at least one proof reader go over your grant proposal EVERY time you think you've come to the final version. Provide them with the grant guidelines and ask that they check that you've included everything that the grant donor is requesting. Trust me, this is experience talking; you'll be glad that you did.

4. Speaking of experience, this point is where writing skills are crucial....Be clear, concise, and thorough. What do I mean? Let's pretend that you and I are working on a grant proposal and we work for Skateboards Forever - a group that collects skateboards for our museum. Let's say that I've written the following sentence in the first grant proposal draft: "Skateboards Forever has existed for ten years providing history, demonstrations, and other services to mostly children but adults, too, so that the community understands that skate boarding is a valid sport." You might read this first draft sentence and suggest the following edit of it: "For ten years Skateboards Forever has validated the importance of the skate board sport by providing our community with demonstrations, history, displays, and clinics." Not only is this sentence shorter - it is thorough (gives all of the information) and it is easier to read.

5. Keep in mind that the grant donor is going to read through tens if not hundreds of grant proposals - be clear, be concise, format for easy reading, and know that while they may want to read more about your organization - because of time, most grant proposals are only skimmed for the key information.

6. Set your organization and its request for grant money apart from others. How? Explain the need that your organization and its mission provides to the community - no other organization in your region provides it, perhaps. Or, maybe you're the only locally started organization doing what you do. Maybe you assist a certain specie or population that no other organization does. Something sets your group apart from all others in your region - this is your key. Where do you state this unique strength? In any section of the grant proposal that gives you the opportunity to. For instance, perhaps you could open your proposal with a strong statement such as "Skateboards Forever is the only skateboard museum in the nation."

7. While most grant donors will request specific information and documentation in your grant proposal, not all will. If they do require specific information - they may not request key or basic information that all grant proposals should include - they may assume that you'll give this information to them. This is another great reason to bone up before sitting down to write your first proposal. For instance if the giving guidelines do not state "provide us with your organization's mission statement" I guarantee you that you are better off including it in each and every proposal you submit, as your mission statement is the backbone of your organization's work.

Experience, whether hired or acquired makes the difference in getting more grant proposals approved!

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