Sunday, April 15, 2012

When Sitting Down To Write the First Draft of a Grant Proposal, Help Yourself Out...

Writing a grant proposal (also called the grant application when applying for a grant) can seem like the wall between your organization receiving the grant or not.  You know it's not quite that dire nor simple but if you aren't a writer or don't enjoy writing, it can feel like that.

Often a first draft of anything written is really just the process of getting key information out of the writer's head and down on paper.  Too, each and every grant donor is a separate, different, unique organization.  So, each one has different requirements, questions to answer, and funding interests.  So, even if we have an up to date case (main body of the grant proposal we already wrote out and updated to copy and paste for different grant proposals), we need to add or delete, for each and every grant donor we apply to, the document so it becomes specifically what the individual grant donor you're applying to at the moment expects and wants.  Blasting many different grant donors with a single, same, arbitrary, grant proposal that you wrote without including information requested in each potential donor's giving guidelines and considering each's recent giving history isn't just a waste of time and resources for your nonprofit.  It wastes potential grant donor's staff's time and they 'round file' your document before they consider taking it seriously.  Too, you risk harming your organization's reputation by demonstrating you aren't operating as professionally or with as much knowledge about professional nonprofit best practices (which is what follows) as other nonprofits that will be applying when you do, too.  Make your nonprofit a real potential contender for any grant when you apply, without wasting your organization's time or resources or the potential grant donor's time and resources.  Here's how...

If you're sitting down to write a grant proposal, perhaps you are answering the potential grant donor's giving guidelines' questions, first, in order to write the grant proposal's first draft out.  It helps if you have handy the proposed project or program's description, the intended participants' demographics, whatever real (defensible) data demonstrates the need exists by the intended beneficiaries for the proposed project but has not yet been provided by any other organization or service provider, the proposed program's budget, the staffing plan, etc.  It helps, too, if you have researched this potential funder and clarified (if it is so) why this grant donor in particular may be truly interested in funding your proposed program (usually its because the grant donor states in their giving guidelines that whatever your proposed program is, is actually something they state they are interested in funding for the cause and work that your nonprofit is going to do (i.e. If our nonprofit is a school (the nonprofit/cause/effort we do) and the potential donor's giving guidelines that we are applying to states, "...We fund Back To School programs and we are most interested in doing so in low income neighborhoods or neighborhoods with childhood attendance rates of 85% or less..." then this is a potentially good donor for us to (take the time and resources and spend them to) apply to this particular grant donor because we are looking to fund a Back To School program in a low income neighborhood with a student attendance rate of only 80%).  In our example the fit between our organization's mission, the program we are wishing to fund, and the potential grant donor's stated funding interests (in their giving guidelines) are 1:1.  Now, we do not know what they have already allocated in grants to other organizations doing similar work to ours' or what their ability to donate during the funding cycle we are applying in is - so, even 1:1 matches between a nonprofit needing a grant and a potential grant donor actually donating a grant does not guarantee a grant will be raised.  Any and all donors always have the right to say 'no' or 'not right now but apply again' or whatever they wish.  But, locating more than one potential grant donor to apply to that demonstrates they would be potentially a good donor/partner for your proposed project (through its recent donation history (to other similar organizations/programs as yours'), and what they state in their giving guidelines they are looking to fund) is the most likely situation in which a nonprofit (having done its research) has set itself up to get a grant.

So, when you first sit down to write the draft proposal - be armed.  Have already prospected for good solid potential grant donors.  Too, arm yourself with data and the proposed project's plan, budget, etc.

Write the first draft with a couple of rules in mind:
1. You get to write the first draft without feeling it has to be perfect.  You do not have to (nor should you be) writing anything close to "perfect" in any first draft.

2. You get to be wrong, to leave information out, talk on and on and too much about anything, organize the document poorly, etc.when writing the first draft.  You do.  These are the things that should be done in a first draft but then caught after fresh eyes reviews it.  So, do it.

3. NO FIRST DRAFT IS READY TO BE SENT TO THE POTENTIAL GRANT DONOR.  Take the pressure off yourself by allowing yourself time in the grant writing cycle to write a few drafts of any grant proposal.  Allow for your proof reader to have a day or two to do their job and get back to you.  Schedule this out.  You never want to be beginning writing the first draft to be sent to the potential grant donor three hours before the application is do.

Scheduling ahead of time allows anyone time to work on and develop a terrific grant proposal by virtue of there being a few sets of eyes on it, revised drafts, and tightening the proposal up.

Be succinct in your writing.  In second and third drafts (of three or four drafts total, let's say) you want to have taken the opportunity to tell the grant donor everything they requested information on (in their giving guidelines or to you personally over the phone in conversation) without wasting the reader's time at the grant donor's office. 

For example, let's say in a first draft of a grant proposal that you and I are working on for a literacy nonprofit we work for , we included the following: "Our organization, Be First To Read and Write, is an effective nonprofit.  We have been around for thirty years and our literacy and writing rate, among our clients, has remained 90% over the past five years - with many of our clients going on to get their G.E.D. or equivalent, afterward, at a rate of 20% of our participants."

It's informative, it's information that a potential grant donor would appreciate knowing, but too - it's long.  It's also awkward to read even though we understand what is meant, here.  The thing is, imagine the grant donor's office.  They just received tens (maybe more) of grant proposals that they now have to read and also comprehend well enough to determine which proposed program is potentially going to be effective, efficient, and successful enough to be considered in the final round for the grant.  Help the reader by being succinct in your writing.  Be to the point, clear, and saving this space on the page actually helps your nonprofit.  It allows your nonprofit more room in the number of pages allowed in the grant proposal to say more!

Let's compare that first draft paragraph with our second or third draft revision, here: "Be First To Read and Write has operated for thirty years.  We are proud that for the past five years ninety percent of our programs' participants learned to read and write.  Twenty percent of our clients going on to get their G.E.D. or equivalent."

We stated all of the facts in the second revision that we did in the first draft but with fewer words and sentences.  If we want to economize the space used on the page even more (which makes it easy for the grant proposal reader to simply scan to acquire the information we wrote in the second draft paragraph, above), we could format the information as such (if in the giving guidelines there are no indications the donor doesn't want indented formatting - which sometimes can be the case if the grant donor accepts applications only through an online portal, for example):

* Be First To Read and Write is 30 years old
* For the past 5 years, our organization has had a 90% success rate
* On their own, after completing our programs, 20% of our successful students go on to get their G.E.D.

How you qualify your organization's accomplishments (i.e. "On their own, after completing our programs, 20% of our successful students go on to get their G.E.D.") can be easily determined by you (the writer) by looking at and noting what the grant donor seems to want their money to ultimately successfully achieve.  For example, maybe the grant donor gave to another nonprofit, two years ago, $50,000 to a similar (but separate) nonprofit as yours' and during your research you discovered that the grant donor notes that organization's particular success more than other recent grant donors - and the organization found that 12% of that other nonprofit's (that got a grant two years ago) clients went back to school ( just going back to our hypothetical literacy nonprofit for the sake of example).  Then, you and I know that this donor really cares about what ultimately the participant of literacy programs goes on to do with their new found literacy, even though the grant donor may not explicitly state that in their giving guidelines, on their website, or elsewhere; and even though the client is doing something on their own beyond the scope of the actual program the donor funded.  [This demonstrates, too, why it's so valuable for nonprofit's to evaluate their own programs and follow up with participant clients even after a program ends to determine the true and real outcome of the organization's program.  Too, this is invaluable information to share with not just the program's grant donors but all of its donors - 'here's what your money achieved'].   It helps us understand what the potential donor (that we're about to apply to) wants, ultimately, to see happen with their donation (the grant).  It's powerful information to arm ourselves with when sitting down to write the grant proposal.  In this case - we happen to know that they value successful literacy students' rate of acquiring or finishing their G.E.D.  We just happen to have a similar (if not better) return rate to high school education (or equivalent) than that prior grant recipient!  We damn well better let this particular potential funder know this, then!

You see, there is actually strategy that is helpful when writing a grant proposal.

You of course, too, want to always be truthful.  No organization loses a grant for being honest.  Nonprofits lose grants (and worse - their reputation), though, when found out to be lying, fudging, etc.  Grant donors are in the business of working with nonprofits.  They see it all.  Don't fret if there's a weakness or omission in your organization's history or potential.  Be frank about it.  That is not a sin.  Lying is.  Often, too, nonprofits have the expertise or experts to lend to help your organization get into the shape it needs to be, in order to be successful, if they believe in your organization (even if it has short comings right now).  Yes, this happens.  They also talk with other grant donors about potential grant recipients (nonprofits).  Your organization's name and reputation gets around.  Never forget this.  No grant donor is going to be shocked if a nonprofit learns a lesson or gains new capacity before or after receiving a grant.  A grant donor will be disappointed, though, if an organization pretends in a grant proposal to be or be capable of something it isn't (and doesn't admit that up front).

Arm yourself with information, schedule enough time, be succinct in your writing, and be honest and you have set your organization up to really possibly raise that grant.

[For more information on how to write a grant proposal or write specific unique segments of one see the "How To" label, at the lower right under "Labels" on this web page].

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