Sunday, July 05, 2009

How to Make the Case for Your Grant Request, In the Grant Proposal

As in all things, nonprofits looking to raise grants must execute making the case in each and every grant proposal. We all know from famous legal drama television shows, such as Perry Mason, L.A. Law, Law & Order, that those who make their cases well, before a jury or judge, get the attention and perhaps even the desired ruling from those who have the ability to grant (eh hem) the desired outcome. It is very much the same in all fundraising, but here we are going to take a look at grant writing.

Donors who offer grants are doing so, now, because they are educated about (and even often work in or have retired from the industry related to) the cause that they most care about. They want to find solutions to issues in our communities but have the means to fund those solutions (unlike many of us) and have chosen to invest their wealth into partnerships. See, many grant donors go about donating grants (e.g. reviewing grant applications from nonprofits) as looking for partners in the community (nonprofit organizations, collaborating organizations, educators/researchers, etc.) who have the expertise and success rate to really create effective change that actually meets the real need that exists in the community (that as yet, is unmet). These partners (nonprofits who are doing the work to solve the solutions in innovative, potentially very successful, expert, and outcome-based ways) bring the talent, success rate, ethics, and even other community partners to the equation and the grant donor brings the capital (or, sometimes further expertise in addition to the organization's own talent pool, resources in addition to a fiscal grant, infrastructure, or more). These grant donors are not simply handing checks out, willy nilly. They are interested in real results that are demonstrable, efficient, innovative, and truly really helping. They are experts in the professional fields or industries that they decide to support and they are very knowledgeable about the issue or cause.

So...this means we will want to keep a few things when we sit down to write any nonprofit's grant proposal's main case. The "case" is the portion of the grant proposal that comprises most of what are today often considered 'standard' sections (or content) in the grant application (proposal) document. Most grant proposals, in a standard grant proposal,l include perhaps a cover letter, but most often an introduction, the request (or ask), an organizational description, a statement of need (describing the issue that the proposed program is going to better), beneficiary population description ( the demographics and description of the population that will benefit from the program), a project description, a budget narrative, and a closing. In each of these sections there is content, now, that is pretty standard to provide. For example, in the project description you will want to include the expected outcomes of the proposed program, the evaluation method and plan that will be used to self-check the program's success and where improvements are needed, and what outcomes the program is expected to generate for the community. The case, itself, is most often all standard grant proposal content except the cover letter, introduction, closing, and perhaps the ask, itself, and the budget narrative (but well written grant request documents are seamless and flow so these are arguably a part of the case; and this point is part of the reason why when anyone hires a professional grant writer. You are hiring expertise (in how to write and create a compelling case), knowledge (what should be in the documents and what can be omitted and how to create grant winning documents and processes), and skill writing well and knowing the grant seeking process are invaluable and time/resources saving for the organization).

Knowing that grant donors: are more often, today, experts themselves in the professional sector and cause(s) or issue(s) that they support, know what a well written grant proposal should include and inform them about, and are looking to work with (when they donate a grant) the recipient nonprofit that raises the grant (they do not just walk away with crossed fingers hoping that their grant is spent efficiently, that the organization is being run well and ethically, and that the proposed program that they just funded will actually achieve measurable successful results)...we nonprofits who apply for grants would be wise to create strong cases in our grant proposals.

A strong case will include...

__ Information that makes the case that the nonprofit that is applying is filing an as yet unmet niche in the community. If other organizations are doing what the organization is proposing to do (and assume that the grant donor is connected to your professional sector and the other organizations who work in this arena), then they are not going to grant for a second like program. They want to see innovation and achievements (successes) that really address as yet unmet community needs. This information can be culled (for the grant proposal documents) through recent studies conducted on the issue that are well designed and respected, demographics research, a needs assessment (study), a feasibility study (sometimes), or networking with colleagues in the professional sector working on the issue.

__ Clear descriptions of the beneficiary population, clear and thought out program designing (including creating the budget, funding the entire program, and ensuring that it isn't going to "die on the vine"), clearly stating why your organization is the organization to facilitate successfully addressing the issue that your organization is proposing to, etc. Be clear.

__ Getting the word out about your organization (and its excellence). This may seem contrary to writing grant proposal content but the fact is that anything and everything that will bolster each proposal that you submit to granting entities - the better. If a potential grant donor receives your grant proposal but has not heard of your organization, the talent working for it, and any (and all) of its major successes; but they have heard of another similar organization also applying for a grant at that time, they are likely to grant to the organization that they have heard excellent things about. Remember, they are investing in our communities - they are not bleeding hearts doling out money to any and every nonprofit. They must be viewed as investors, and as such, must be made comfortable giving your nonprofit large sums of money. It's just how it is.

__ Be compelling but do not go about writing a grant proposal that terrifies, horrifies, pains, or traumatizes its reader. Hitting them over the head (wth talk like 'if you do not give us this grant 50 children will die over the next year) is not compelling (or 'enough' when writing a proposal). Instead demonstrate the point you are making. In this example, I'd replace that sentence (and strategy) by providing recent well found study results (e.g. statistics or demographics) that demonstrate these children are extremely vulnerable. I'd give actual real examples of why death is considered eminent. I might also add a current innovative (but proven) theory in our profession (or method in our profession) that will avert this crisis giving them hope and shoeing them that there are real solutions that we are going to provide.

__ Assume nothing. Do not use jargon, do not think that they have read every recent professional study and their findings in the latest journals, do not discuss populations in purely derivative terms but, without being too flowery, include the passion and enthusiasm your organization feels about providing this program, etc. In the grant proposal documents share, open up, and without being condescending, express the 'who, what, when, why, where, how, etc.' in clear succinct terms.

__ Tie their own organization's work into the work that your nonprofit is proposing to do. Many grant donors, today, work in the very cause or issues that they are most concerned about. For instance, the Ford Foundation is known for pulling 'dream teams' together to conduct and then publish professional papers on studies aiming to assist any entities, in our communities, working on their causes. When applying to Ford, then, you will want to be sure that you communicate that you are aware of their work in the same field as your working in and tie their work to your own proposed project.

Making a strong, compelling, viable, honest, thorough, and well written case in any grant request document takes preparation, time, research, networking, current knowledge about the issue and the work currently being done on it, etc. Once, though, your nonprofit has these facts and findings for its own grant documents (and more importantly, knows where it located or received all of this case-bolstering data) the easier it is to write the next grant proposal! The initial leg work is worth its time in spades. Writing an excellent case in any grant proposal leads to raising grants.


Marilyn said...

This is one of the best nonprofit sites around. Thanks for all the info you share!

Marilyn Fried

Arlene M. Spencer said...

Marilyn, Thank you so much for your affirming comment. I'm happy to share! Happy holidays, Arlene