A grant proposal must not only inform but also inspire. It’s up to the writer of a proposal to persuade the reader that a project or organization rises above the competition and is worthy of funding.
Persuasive grant writing begins with remembering that you are writing for a reader: a real person who can be moved, convinced, and converted to belief and action.
A grant writer must convince the reader that:
- The organization or project addresses a need
- The need is urgent—funding is critical now
- The organization and its staff are qualified
- The goals are achievable and measurable
- The activities and methods are well planned
- The organization or project is better than similar organizations or projects
How can you effectively persuade and motivate the human being on the receiving end of your proposal? Around 460 BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle defined three principles of persuasion—Ethos, Logos, and Pathos—that provide a useful frame for grant writers today.
Ethos: The Gut
Ethos is an appeal to ethics. Help give your reader the gut sense that you can be trusted by establishing your competence and credibility.
- The reader must first trust you, the writer. Demonstrate truthfulness (relate facts accurately), demonstrate candor (acknowledge agency shortcomings and steps for improvement), and show respect for the reader (deliver a neat, concise, and professional document that’s clear and easy to follow).
- Next the reader must trust the organization. Highlight agency credentials, accreditations, the qualifications of staff, and affiliations of board members. Present evidence of a strong reputation by noting participation in alliances and partnerships. Include letters of support and testimonials if appropriate.
- Apply a positive slant to your organization, but avoid distastefully discrediting others. (Example: “While local seniors may access services from a variety of community partners, ours is the only agency that provides reliable transportation to our service centers, 365 days per year.”)
Logos: The Head
Logos is an appeal to logic. When a grant proposal is grounded in well-supported facts and information, the reader can reason that the claim presented is true. Follow these steps to present a logical case:
- Anchor the proposal around a compelling claim. This is your assertion that the proposed project or idea is important and necessary.
- Back up this claim with facts, data, testimonials, and other supports. Don’t put your reader to sleep—try these tips to make data interesting:
- Bulleting a list of data points can make information more digestible.
- Avoid making vague references to unfamiliar sources; include a weblink or citation to external resources.
- Explain data in narrative instead of relying solely on the numbers to tell the story (for example, “Tens of thousands of children,” vs. “28% of these children…”)
- When the grant guidelines allow, insert graphs or charts to help data stand out.
- Anticipate and address the reader’s questions and counter arguments.
- Reinforce the claim by repeating it in later sections and in the conclusion.
Pathos: The Heart
Pathos is an appeal to emotion. Assume that your reader wants to believe your claim and give them something to care about.
- Include real-life examples that “show” rather than “tell.” Describing the experience of a specific client can be more gripping and memorable than explaining the impact of your programs in the abstract.
- Avoid hyperbole, but don’t hold back from using bold, vivid language that sets the reader’s mood and evokes powerful feelings like sympathy, fear, pride, and loyalty. (Example: “Many of these children are bound to struggle with lifelong health complications unless the school district can educate parents and students about diabetes causes and prevention.”
- Use vivid imagery that puts the reader in the story. (Example: “Picture where you slept last night. Now imagine waking up in a place that’s cold, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar…”)
- When page or character limits are tight, use the cover letter and attachments to feature examples and stories. A brief but powerful quote can add emotional interest if you can’t fit a full story.
- Remind the reader that she or he already cares about this issue or problem. Use language that reflects the funder’s own mission and vision in order to align your project to their interests.
At its best, a grant proposal should be a lively and motivating document. Make sure you present a persuasive case, and stand the best chance of getting funding, by taking care to appeal to the reader’s gut, head, and heart.
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