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Nonprofit Grant Writing: Securing Grants for Your Cause

The tips, the dos, and the don’ts of successful nonprofit grant writing.

You have the mission. You have the organization. You have a vision for bringing positive change in a way that’s unique to nonprofits.

Now, you need the funding.

This is where grant writing comes into play, an endeavor that’s crucial to the survival and success of most nonprofits. However, the process of winning grant funding can be highly competitive, especially when a grant writer requests support for a new program or organization for the first time.

One of the biggest challenges with grant writing is that virtually every funder wants something different from a grant proposal. While most funders want to see the same core elements in a proposal, their hopes and expectations can vary greatly when it comes to the narrative configurations, space limitations, and proposal formats.

To help improve your grant writing efforts, we’ve compiled a list of effective grant writing tips:

One of the most important things to keep in mind with your grant writing is that there’s no formula to follow. You’ll need to customize your approach for each funder you pursue. The advice that follows will put you well on your way to winning vital grant funding. So 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.

Grant proposals are written and submitted by nonprofit organizations as a way to ask for financial or in-kind support. In addition to crafting a compelling grant proposal, the grant writing process also involves researching possible grants, connecting with funders, maintaining grant calendars, managing active grant proposals, and reporting on how accepting grant funding was used.

Who Writes Grant Proposals?

Nonprofit organizations typically form a team of grant writers, development coordinators, fundraising directors, executive directors, board members, and other stakeholders such as staff and community members to handle their grant writing.

In addition to in-house teams, many nonprofits also partner with external grant writers and fundraising consultants who can offer grant-specific experience and expertise, allowing nonprofits to focus their time and resources elsewhere.

What Goes Into a Grant Proposal?

While every grant proposal is unique, most will contain a common set of elements to meet criteria set forth by the funder. If you’re planning on writing a grant proposal, you should familiarize yourself with the following sections which are typically included:

  • Introduction/Abstract/Executive Summary – This is typically a brief overview of the proposal with general information about your organization, your ability to complete the proposed project, and a demonstrated need.
  • Organizational Background – This provides additional information about your organization, its mission, location, and demographics as a way to establish credibility in the eyes of the funder.
  • Problem Statement/Needs Assessment – This states the problem your project plans to address using clear data, and should align with the funder’s mission and goals.
  • Program Goals and Objectives – This identifies the anticipated outcomes and benefits of the propose project for which you are seeking grant funding.
  • Methods and Activities – This details the activities, timeline, and key staff that will enable your organization to meet the project goals and objectives.
  • Evaluation Plan – This explains your plan for assessing and measuring the success of your project.
  • Budget/Sustainability – This demonstrates how the funding will be allocated, stepped down once it ends, and how it fits into your organization’s larger financial plan. You may also be asked to include specific financial documents, such as an IRS Form 990.

Along with these core components, you may also be asked to include additional attachments as part of your grant proposal. To ensure your grant proposal is complete, it’s essential to read all of the funder guidelines and criteria before submitting.

How Do You Write a Grant Proposal?

Once you’re ready to get going on writing your grant proposal, there are some proven steps you’ll want to follow to make sure you’re covering all your bases:

  1. Meet with stakeholders to align on funding goals – You’ll want to develop a specific, actionable plan that provides a blueprint of what you want to do and why you want to do it.
  2. Determine which funder or funders you’re pursuing – Be sure to identify funders who have a connection with your organization or a history of funding projects similar to yours.
  3. Research the granting organization and criteria – Familiarize yourself with the funder’s proposal guidelines, its giving history, and sample proposals from your peers and/or the funding organization itself.
  4. Create a rough draft – Integrating the information you’ve gathered and organized in the first three steps, write an initial draft of your grant proposal.
  5. Collect feedback from stakeholders – After sharing the rough draft with your internal team, get their thoughts and insights on suggested revisions.
  6. Revise, perfect, revise, perfect – Using the feedback from your team, revise and edit your proposal. You’ll want to go through multiple rounds of feedback and revisions before finalizing and submitting your proposal.

Above all, no matter how customized your proposal needs to be, remember that what a grant funder wants to see are answers to these key questions:

  • What does your organization need the funding for?
  • What difference will the funding make in realizing your project?
  • Where does the funder fit in?

No matter where you’re at in the grant writing process, keep these questions top of mind.

Tips for Writing a Successful Grant Proposal

Understanding how best to appeal to funders with your grant proposal is a critical first step to securing funding for your organization.

By putting in the time now to learn these best practices, you’re not only improving your chances to secure funding, you’ll also avoid the pitfalls that could leave a bad impression of your organization with funders and weaken your chances well into the future.

As a general rule, always remember that good grant writing is simply good writing. 

To create the most convincing ask, you’ll need to:

  • Tailor your proposal
  • Communicate your message clearly
  • Convey a compelling core idea
  • Write to persuade 

Let’s take a closer look at how each of these components of successful nonprofit grant writing can improve your chances of securing funds for your organization’s cause.

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.”

Translation? Every grant seeking opportunity is unique and should be treated as such.

Requesting grant dollars can be intimidating, especially if you’re new to the grant seeking process. But it’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to requesting grant dollars. Don’t create one generic proposal and “shop it around.” Instead, you need to tailor each proposal you write. Here’s how:

  1. Tailor the Format – Every funder has different instructions for composing and submitting a grant request. Make sure that your application follows every guideline, even if you have an existing, solid relationship with the funder. If you cut corners when going for a grant opportunity it can land your proposal in the reject pile.
  2. Tailor the Message – Funders don’t simply want to hear about your project and goals, they want to see a unique alignment between your organization’s mission and their values and priorities. You need to articulate this alignment in the cover letter, introduction, and conclusion of the narrative.

Remember, funders don’t exist to fund your organization’s mission. They exist to fulfill their own missions by supporting philanthropic initiatives and organizations with which they align.

Tailoring your proposal is a necessary first step in showing each funder that they’ve been heard and that your organization can be trusted, putting you one step closer to securing the grant.

Communicate Ideas Clearly

One of the most common mistakes made with grant writing, especially when you’re under pressure, is communicating your points in ways that make sense to those who are directly involved with your organization, but not to outsiders. 

And for the purposes of your grant proposal, the funders to whom you’re appealing are outsiders.

This is why, while it can be tempting to skimp on the review and revision process to save time, it’s essential to take a step back and consider how clearly you’re communicating your ideas. 

Make it a part of your grant writing discipline to communicate complex ideas simply, to review and revise, to write for external audiences, and to be straightforward and compelling. Here’s how:

  • Think Before You Write – Have a plan and clarify exactly what you’re asking for before putting it on paper.
  • Use Familiar, Conversational Words – Don’t use pretentious words or fluffy jargons as these can bog down the reader.
  • Limit Sentences to a Single Idea – Use several short sentences to make individual points instead of 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” instead of “The request was approved by the Board.”
  • Use Transitions – Transitions help link ideas, arguments, paragraphs, and sections, as opposed to abruptly jumping to a new topic.
  • Make it Easy to Read – Use signposts like headings, lists, and bullet points to make it easier for the reader to navigate the content.

Communicating your ideas clearly using these tips will make the reader’s job easy, which should be a top goal for every grant proposal you write.

Convey a Core Compelling Idea

Think about the great stories you’ve ever read. Odds are, part of what makes it great is a core, compelling idea that serves as the overarching theme. That’s what sticks with readers. It’s no different with your grant proposal. 

You’ll want to present an idea that clarifies how your organization’s work is important, urgent, unique, and deserving of funding. While this may be simple to understand, making that presentation compelling is difficult to master.

A great first step is defining the core, compelling idea that’s unique and will distinguish your organization from others seeking grants. Keep it simple and memorable, while capturing the reader’s attention with powerful language.

Your core, compelling idea should directly reflect what the grant funder cares about. For example, if you’re seeking funds from a local community foundation, make your core compelling idea focus on the unique impact your project will have on the local community. After reading your grant proposal, readers should be able to clearly understand and remember what type of difference your organizations plans to make.

By anchoring your nonprofit grant proposal around a core, compelling idea, you’ll stand a better chance of being remembered and cutting through the competition.

Write to Persuade

Writing a winning grant proposal is about more than informing. It should also inspire. It’s your job to create a proposal that inspires and persuades readers that yours is an organization worthy of funding. It should convince the reader that your organization is planning to address an urgent need, is staffed by qualified professionals, and has achievable goals.

Writing to persuade begins with remembering you’re writing for a real person who brings human logic and emotions to the table. Consider using these modes of persuasion to convince your reader:

  • Ethos: The Gut Ethos is an appeal to ethics. Persuade your reader that your organization is competent and credible by including impressive credentials, awards, and qualifications.
  • Logos: The HeadLogos is an appeal to logic. Use well-supported facts, data, and testimonials through bulleted lists, graphs, and factoids/iconography to demonstrate that your claims are true.
  • Pathos: The Heart – Pathos is an appeal to emotion. Make your proposal gripping and memorable by using real-life examples of the impact your organization has had along with vivid imagery and powerful quotes.

At its best, your grant proposal will appeal to the reader’s gut, head, and heart. If nonprofit grant writing isn’t your strong suit, consider the Grants Plus team which includes experts who can pinpoint potential funders and craft powerful proposals. 

Nonprofit Grant Writing Dos and Don’ts

Grant seeking is highly competitive. By learning the misconceptions surrounding grants and using the following dos and don’ts as a guide you’ll position yourself to stand out from the competition—even if you’re new to nonprofit grant writing.

DO: Get a Green Light to Apply

Wasting time, energy, and resources is never a good thing. Especially when it comes to your grant seeking efforts. So it’s important to research every funder’s current priorities and restrictions before starting, to make sure they’re a good match for your proposal. 

Grantmakers’ areas of focus and types of funding requests they’re most likely to approve are constantly changing. So making sure you’re up to date on their current focus early on means you won’t waste time tailoring a proposal that’s likely to be rejected upon arrival. 

DON’T: Submit a Grant Application “Cold”

Submitting a “cold” proposal in grant seeking is like making a “cold call” in sales—the odds of success are simply much, much lower. So before submitting your grant proposal, cultivate a relationship with the funder.

Do some research and see if there’s a pre-existing connection between a person there and a member of your team. And if you don’t have a connection, create one. Consider calling the funder to introduce yourself and your organization. Taking a few simple steps at outreach can go a long way in warming up the funder and starting your engagement off on a winning foot. 

DO: Match the Foundation’s Funding Period

The last thing you want to do is writing a worthy and winning grant proposal, only to see it rejected because it wasn’t submitted within the foundation’s funding period. 

Just like foundations have guidelines for what goes into your grant proposal, they also have rules for when it can and can’t be submitted. Make sure to confirm each grantmaker’s funding period before submitting or even writing your proposal to make sure your efforts aren’t in vain.

DON’T: Overlook Basic Application Instructions

When it comes to your grant seeking efforts, never cut corners. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not adhering to a funder’s specified proposal requirements, which often include an application format, submission process, required attachments, and other instructions.

Make sure you know all the details of the application instructions before you write and submit your proposal. Otherwise, the funder will see that you didn’t put enough thought or care into it and it’s much more likely to end up on the reject pile. 

DO: Prove the Grants You’ve Won Were Investments Well Made

A key part of a smart grant seeking strategy is demonstrating your organization is worthy of a foundation’s financial support, and a great way to do just that is by providing an impressive, timely report for any previous grant awarded by the funder.

Foundations view grants as investments and grantors as partners. If your organization has received funding from a foundation and reported successfully before, show them that their support of your organization was a smart, well-made investment. By providing clear and honest reports, you showcase your organization as a smart bet for continued funding.

DON’T: Skip a Compelling Financial Narrative

You’ll want to be sure to include a well-designed proposal budget, following the foundation’s required format, that aligns with the application narrative and establishes that your plan is sound and achievable. 

To do this, provide a financial outlook that’s accurate, supports a clear need, and reflects a healthy and sustainable funding strategy. You can even take it a step further by demonstrating which expense(s) will be supported through the foundation’s grant dollars.

Additional Nonprofit Grant Writing Resources

Even outstanding grant proposals sometimes get declined. As a final word of advice, if your grant proposal gets rejected, don’t get deterred. Instead, turn it into a growth opportunity by doing some follow-up and asking the foundation for feedback and listening to their advice for improvement.

With all of these nonprofit grant writing tips in hand, you can apply them to your grant seeking strategy. Soon enough, you’ll be on track to winning more grants and growing your organization.

And to continue expanding your knowledge in this area, explore our comprehensive resources for all of your grant needs:

There’s a lot that goes into grant seeking. Remember, the expert team at Grants Plus is here to help whether it’s pinpointing funders, crafting your proposals, or assisting with any other part of the process.

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