Nonprofit Grant Writing: How to Secure Grants for Your Cause
Grant funding is crucial to the survival and success of most nonprofits. But the process of capturing grant funding can be highly competitive. It’s especially difficult when a grant writer requests support for a new program or organization for the first time.
Part of what makes grant writing so challenging is that typically every funder wants something different from a grant proposal. While most funders want to see the same core elements in a proposal, the narrative configurations, space limitations, and formats in which funders want this information can vary substantially.
To help improve your grant writing efforts, we have compiled a list of effective grant writing tips:
- What Is Grant Writing?
- Professional Grant Writing Tips
- Nonprofit Grant Writing Dos & Don’ts
- Additional Nonprofit Grant Writing Resources
When it comes to grant writing, there’s not a formulaic approach. Rather, you’ll need to customize your approach for each funder you pursue. Using the suggestions below, you’ll be well on your way to winning vital grant funding. If you’re ready to take your grant-seeking plan to the next level, let’s get started!
What Is Grant Writing?
Grant writing is the process of applying for funding provided by a private, corporate, or government grantmaker.
In general, grant proposals can ask for financial or in-kind support for a nonprofit organization. While a bulk of grant writing consists of crafting a compelling grant proposal, grant writing also requires researching possible grants, connecting with funders, maintaining grant calendars, managing active grant proposals, and reporting on how accepted grants were used.
Who Should Write Grant Proposals?
In a nonprofit, a grant proposal might involve a wide-ranging team, including grant writers, development coordinators, fundraising directors, executive directors, board members, and other key stakeholders, such as staff and community members.
Many nonprofits will also seek professional help from external grant writers and fundraising consultants. External consultants can offer grant-specific experience and expertise and allow nonprofits to better focus their time and resources.
What Are the Parts of a Grant Proposal?
While every grant proposal will look a little (or a lot) different, most funders require that proposals contain a common set of elements. If you plan to write a grant proposal, you should familiarize yourself with the following parts:
- Introduction/Abstract/Executive Summary. Include a brief overview of the proposal with information about your organization, your ability to complete the proposed project, and a demonstrated need.
- Organizational Background. To establish credibility, describe your organization and services in terms of location, demographics, and mission.
- Problem Statement/Needs Assessment. Using clear data, state the problem your project plans to address and link it to the funder’s goals.
- Program Goals and Objectives. Identify the anticipated outcomes and benefits of the proposed project.
- Methods and Activities. Detail the activities, timeline, and key staff that will help you meet your goals and objectives.
- Evaluation Plan. Explain your plan for assessing and measuring the success of your project.
- Budget/Sustainability. Show how proposed funding will be allocated, stepped down once it ends, and how it fits into your larger financial plan. You may be asked to include specific financial documents, such as an IRS Form 990.
In addition to these core components, many funders will request additional attachments. In order to make sure you’ve included everything requested, always read the grant proposal guidelines carefully before submitting.
How Do You Write a Grant Proposal?
So, ready to write a grant proposal? Before you begin typing, let’s review the grant writing process. For the best results, follow the steps below:
- Meet with stakeholders to align on funding goals. Develop a specific, actionable plan for what you want to do and why you want to do it.
- Determine the granting organization where you’ll submit a grant proposal. For best results, they should have a connection to your organization or a history of funding similar projects.
- Research the granting organization. Review the organization’s proposal guidelines and sample proposals from your peers and/or the organization itself.
- Create a rough draft. Using the information you collected in the previous steps, write an initial draft of your grant proposal.
- Collect feedback from stakeholders. Share the rough draft with your proposed project’s stakeholders, including staff, community, and board members, for their thoughts and suggestions.
- Revise, revise, revise. Based on the notes from stakeholders, revise and edit your proposal. You might need to go through several rounds of feedback and revisions before the proposal is in shape to submit.
Ultimately, remember that the essence of what a grant funder wants to see in a proposal remains generally consistent. Funders want to know:
- What your organization needs the funding for
- What difference the funding will make
- Where the funder fits in
Throughout the process of drafting and writing your proposal, always keep your answers to these questions top of mind.
Professional Grant Writing Tips
Learning how to write a grant proposal is the first step to securing funding. Put the time in now to learn the best approaches for appealing to funders. Otherwise, a poor proposal can make a bad impression on funders and weaken your chances—both present and future—of winning grant funding.
As a general rule of thumb, good grant writing is simply good writing. To create a convincing ask, you’ll need to tailor your proposal, communicate ideas clearly, convey a core compelling idea, and write to persuade.
However, simply remembering these elements is not enough. You actually need to apply these tactics when crafting your proposals in order for them to be effective. Let’s take a closer look at each of these components of successful nonprofit grant writing.
Tailor Your Grant Proposal.
There’s a common saying in the world of grant seeking: “If you’ve met one funder, you’ve met one funder.”
Requesting grant dollars can be quite intimidating, especially when you’re new to the grant-seeking process. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to requesting grant dollars. In other words, don’t create one generic proposal and then “shop it around.” Rather, you need to tailor each proposal that you craft. To stand a chance at securing grant funding, you’ll need to do the following:
- Tailor the format. Each grantmaker has different instructions for composing and submitting a grant request. When going for a grant opportunity, make sure that your application follows every guideline. Even if you have a solid relationship with the funder, don’t be tempted to believe that you can cut corners. Disregarding their instructions can automatically land your proposal in the reject pile.
- Tailor the message. Writing a truly compelling proposal means tailoring both format and content. You’ll need to articulate the unique alignment between your organization’s mission or project and the interests of the funder in key places—especially in the cover letter, introduction, and conclusion of the narrative.
Overall, keep in mind that funders don’t exist to fund your organization’s mission. Rather, they exist to fulfill their own missions by supporting relevant projects through philanthropic initiatives.
Ultimately, tailoring your proposal format and message is just the first step in showing a funder that your organization can be trusted, putting you one step closer to securing the grant.
Communicate Ideas Clearly.
When you’re under pressure, it can be tempting to skimp on the review and revision process to save time. Instead, take a step back and consider how clearly you’re communicating your ideas. They may make perfect sense to those who are directly involved with your organization, but you need to write for an outside party.
Letting clear writing fall through the cracks is not a challenge you want to create for yourself. Write your grant proposal to be clear and easy to follow.
Make it part of your grant writing discipline to communicate complex ideas simply. To communicate in a straightforward but compelling way, try the following:
- Think before you write. Clarify exactly what you’re asking for before putting it on paper.
- Use familiar, concrete words. Avoid pretension and unhelpful jargon as these can bog down the reader.
- Limit sentences to a single idea. Choose several short sentences over a single overly complex one.
- Write in “active” voice. Active voice is when the subject performs the action. For example, “The Board approved the request,” not “The request was approved by the Board.”
- Develop transitions. Transitions help you link ideas, arguments, paragraphs, and sections instead of abruptly jumping to a new topic.
- Organize using signposts. Use headings, lists, and bullet points to help the reader navigate your ideas.
Remember, one of your main goals is to make your reader’s job easy. The hard work should be on your end, not theirs. Aim to create a compelling proposal that’s clear and logical.
Convey a Core Compelling Idea.
Simply put, a core compelling idea is an overarching theme that sticks with the reader. In the case of nonprofit grant writing, it’s an idea that clarifies how your organization’s work is important, urgent, unique, and deserving of funding. While this may be simple to understand, it’s much more difficult to master.
As a first step, define a core compelling idea that is unique and will distinguish your organization from your competition. Keep it intentionally simple and memorable, while summoning the reader’s attention with powerful language.
Most importantly, your core compelling idea should respond to what the grant funder cares about. For instance, if you’re writing to a local community foundation, orient your core compelling idea around the distinct impact that your organization or project will make in the community. After stepping away from your grant proposal, the reader should be able to understand and remember exactly what type of difference your organization proposes to make.
Knowing how to write a grant proposal means centering your writing around the idea you wish to stick with the reader. By anchoring your nonprofit grant proposal around a core compelling concept, you’ll stand a better chance of persuading the funder and cutting through the competition.
Write to Persuade.
A grant proposal must not only inform but also inspire. It’s up to you, the grant writer, to create a proposal that convinces the reader that your organization is worthy of funding. A well-written grant request should convince the reader that your organization or project addresses an urgent need, is staffed by qualified professionals, and has achievable goals.
Persuasive nonprofit grant writing begins with remembering that you’re writing for a real person who can be converted to belief and action. Consider appealing to your reader through three different modes of persuasion:
- Ethos: The Gut. Ethos is an appeal to ethics. Give the reader the gut sense that you can be trusted by establishing your competence and credibility. Achieve this by including impressive credentials and qualifications that showcase the best about your organization and staff.
- Logos: The Head. Logos is an appeal to logic. Use well-supported facts, data, and testimonials to back up your claims. This gives your reader a reason to believe that your compelling claims are true. Use bulleted lists, explain facts via narrative, and insert graphs to help data stand out.
- Pathos: The Heart. Pathos is an appeal to emotion. Show, don’t just tell. Instead of explaining the impact of your programs in the abstract, use real-life examples to make your proposal more gripping and memorable. When possible, use vivid imagery and powerful quotes to put the reader in the story.
At its best, nonprofit grant writing should appeal to the reader’s gut, head, and heart. If nonprofit grant writing isn’t your strong suit, Grants Plus is here to help. The Grants Plus team can help you pinpoint potential funders and craft powerful proposals.
Nonprofit Grant Writing Dos & Don’ts
Grant seeking is highly competitive. Educate yourself on the misconceptions surrounding grants and leverage the following dos and don’ts to rise above the competition—even if you’ve never dabbled in nonprofit grant writing before.
Don’t: Submit a Grant Application Cold.
Before submitting a grant application, cultivate a relationship with the prospective funder. Search for a pre-existing connection between a person at the foundation and a member of your board, staff, or donor circle.
If you don’t have a connection, create one! First, call the funder to introduce yourself and your organization. Outreach can go a long way to warm up the funder to receive your proposal. Starting your engagement off on the right foot can put you substantially closer to winning a grant!
Do: Get a Green Light to Apply.
Before spending the time writing your proposal, research the foundation’s current funding priorities and restrictions. For instance, they may have a specific list of the types of funding requests that are likely to be denied. Grantmakers’ areas of focus constantly change, so make sure you’re up-to-date on what they’re aiming to fund.
It may turn out that they’re not a match for your organization. Figuring this out early on means you won’t waste time writing a tailored proposal just for it to be rejected.
Plus, this may help you determine exactly what angle to take with your grant writing. Don’t guess at the best fit or proposal strategy—get the green light to apply!
Don’t: Overlook Basic Application Instructions.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not adhering to a funder’s specified proposal requirements. Well before the deadline, review the foundation’s current application format, submission process, required attachments, and other instructions. This way, you won’t overlook important requirements.
Never cut corners! This will come across in your writing, indicating to the reader that you didn’t put enough thought and care into it. Ultimately, veering from the guidelines could land your proposal right in the reject pile without any further thought.
Do: Match the Foundation’s Funding Period.
Even worthy proposals will likely be disqualified if they’re not submitted within a foundation’s funding period. Just like foundations have guidelines for formatting your grant proposal, they have rules for when you can submit your requests, too.
Before submitting or even writing your grant proposal, confirm the grantmaker’s timeline specifications. This way, your efforts will not be in vain.
Don’t: Skip a Compelling Financial Narrative.
A well-designed proposal budget follows the foundation’s required format, matches the application narrative, and establishes that your funding plan is sound and achievable. To accomplish this, provide a financial outlook that’s accurate, supports a clear need, and reflects a healthy and sustainable funding strategy.
Take it a step further by demonstrating which expense(s) will be supported through the foundation’s grant. Remember, the best grant proposals evoke emotion and instill a need to take action through a compelling narrative.
Do: Prove the Last Grant Was an Investment Well Made.
Part of a smart grant-seeking strategy is demonstrating that an organization deserves a foundation’s financial support. Achieve this by providing an impressive, timely report for any previous grant awarded by the funder. If your organization has received funding from a foundation and reported successfully before, the likelihood of continued support is higher.
Foundations view grants as investments and grantors as partners. Because of this, you need to show them that their contributions to your nonprofit are smart, well-made investments. Be upfront about any shortcomings and explain how you’ve improved on them. By providing clear and honest reports, you showcase your organization as a smart bet for continued funding.
Additional Nonprofit Grant Writing Resources
While these tips can strengthen your organization’s grant-winning odds, even outstanding proposals sometimes get declined. As a final word of advice, instead of getting deterred when your nonprofit receives a rejection notice, turn it into a growth opportunity. Ask the foundation for feedback and listen to their advice for improvement.
Now that you know the best nonprofit grant writing tips, apply them to your grant-seeking strategy. Soon enough, you’ll be on track to winning more grants and growing your organization!
To continue your nonprofit grant writing research, explore our comprehensive resources for all your grant needs:
- Stop Writing and Start Dialing to Grow Your Grants Program. Learn the value of talking to funders before writing your grant.
- Factors to Consider When Deciding to Go for a Grant Opportunity. Use our downloadable checklist to determine whether or not you should pursue a potential grant.
- Latest Resources from the Grants Plus Blog. Head on over to our blog to learn about the most up-to-date best practices for nonprofit grant seeking.
There’s a lot that goes into grant seeking. Whether you need assistance with pinpointing funders, crafting your proposals, or any other part of the process, Grants Plus is here to help!