Monday, March 21, 2011

When Writing A Grant Proposal, Should The Grant Writer Use Professional Jargon or Not?

When writing a grant application or proposal, it can be difficult to deal with the jargon or words that are unique to a nonprofit's professional field of work.  Does the grant writer take the time, in the actual grant proposal, to define jargon words, after each one's use?  Does the grant writer, instead, use jargon in the grant application but then also provide an index of professional jargon in the back, as an attachment?  Or, does the grant writer just avoid jargon and replace it, where it would've been used in grant request documents, with 'everyday' words?

All nonprofit organizations work in a professional field.  One organization assists people who have just been diagnosed with breast cancer, another receives brand new school children's clothing as donations and gives them out to children in need, and the next one works on an entirely different cause.  Add to that, too, that each nonprofit's mission statement, or service or effort for the community, varies organization to organization, as well.  For instance, the organization that is assisting those who have just been diagnosed with cancer might provide support groups, information and referral services, provided by professional social workers, the children's clothing donations might be all volunteer run, while a housing and lending program might be run to provide low income families with the basic information on how to save for and achieve the dream of home ownership. 

What an organization does to provide its service, product, or program; and what cause or issue a nonprofit works on determines what professional field(s) it works in.  Some are organizations working in environmental causes and their effort is conducted by biologists, oceanographers, and administrators; others are religious organizations conducted by appropriate religious leaders, lay people, and volunteers; and still other nonprofits provide emergency and disaster relief and are doctors and nurses.

For every cause or issue and every type of program or service provided, in other words, for every professional field, there is language unique to it and this is what is commonly called jargon, and each field's jargon mostly varies from the next, but of course there is some overlap in word use.

Why worry about jargon at all?

When any organization writes and submits grant proposals, there is always going to be someone (i.e. foundation staff and board of directors) or something (computerized programs that receive grant proposals on behalf of a grant donor and process them, initially, for the grant donor) that reads the grant application that you and your staff and volunteers have just submitted.  It is imperative that this fact never leaves a grant writer's mind as they write, formulate, compile, and submit each grant proposal.  Since you and I do not know who will read each grant proposal we submit, but we each hope that every single one gets funded, we must format, write, compile, and submit grant proposals that make it easy for whomever or whatever reads them to get the first time around: what our organizations will do with the grant money, why, how, for whom, when, expecting what outcome.  You nor I want to get in our own organization's way of getting any grant by befuddling, confusing, or losing the potential grant donor's interest or comprehension as they read our submission.  Instead, we always want to be creating excellent submissions that will enhance the recipient's impression, experience of, and knowledge about our organizations.

For example, if I work for a nonprofit that is mostly staffed by geologists and the organization works with communities around the world being endangered by exotic gems trade, my grant proposal might include the following paragraph.  Imagine that you work for the grant donor and are reading the document (quickly - along with two hundred and fifty other grant proposal submissions) to determine which get to the next stage in the consideration process.

"...Gems Are People Too, when assessing what options a community has to avert and avoid conflict or endangerment, as they process their local geology, our geologists conduct field work and assess the strike, dip, and run on site; the size of the developed gembody; and the composition (in ratio to one another) of the geologic formation including veins, intrusions, and contacts."

You might generally understand that the geologist goes into the field and takes a true assessment of each location's geology and describes it according to professional geologist practices, as you read the grant proposal, but you don't necessarily understand what exactly the organization considers, determines, and uses to base its work on.  It is very important,  though, that I make it easy for the staff at the grant donor's office to understand what I am explaining about the nonprofit and its work, if a grant donor is going to give to my nonprofit.  It is imperative.

So, I should re-write the above example paragraph and remove the jargon.  I should not create a larger paragraph (because I'm not using jargon but having to explain everything in 'layman's terms').  I should still formulate clear, on point, succinct, and informative sentences.  A re-write, then, might look like this:

"Gems Are People Too, when assessing what options a community has to avert and avoid conflict or endangerment, as they process their local geology, our geologists conduct field work and assess what the geologic history is in the immediate area, what direction each type of rock in that location runs, and how large each body of the geology is.  We determine what gems, minerals, ores, and rock the local geologic resource is comprised of, in total, including whether or not other types of rock interrupt or intrude into the majority rock, on site."

The re-written paragraph avoids jargon, conveys the same information about the nonprofit's work, and avoids confusing, frustrating, or losing the person or program that will read the grant proposal; all in relatively the same amount of word-space.  The second re-written paragraph could even be whittled down a bit more, without losing key information or facts.

Jargon has its place in professional dialogue, among colleagues, but it should not be used in grant proposals that might confuse the grant donor.  No one needs to be condescended to, nor shown how brilliant an applicant organization is through the grant proposal's use of jargon.  A nonprofit must, in a grant proposal, clearly convey, articulate, and demonstrate what the organization applying for the grant does, why, for whom or what, how, and all other key details without losing, confusing, or frustrating the grant application reader.

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