Top 10 Grant Writing Tips for Your Nonprofit | CharityHowTo

Blog Post by CharityHowTo Expert Diane H. Leonard, GPC

There are so many nuances to be considered when creating a successful grant seeking strategy.

Whether you are relatively new to the field of grant seeking or you are looking to increase your success percentage and craft more competitive grant applications, there are always tips related to the best practices of grant seeking that can help hone the way you approach your grant applications and ultimately increase your grant seeking success.

Before we dig into these 10 tips though, let’s ensure that you know the high level best practices for grant seeking which could be remembered as the “5 R’s of Grant Seeking:”

  • Readiness
  • Research
  • Relationships
  • wRiting
  • Reporting (Because we assume if you are following best practices, you will get the award and then begin to focus on being a good steward of the funding so that you start all over again.)

1. Be Grant Ready BEFORE You Start Applying

Grant readiness is another phrase for competitiveness in the grant seeking process. Grant readiness is looking at the formal framework such as your IRS, grants.gov and state specific registrations.

It is also looking at each individual grant-maker and assessing if you are ready to be a strong application for *their* process, whether it be about your years in existence or the level of program evaluation conducted.

Failing to assess your grant readiness before you begin applying for grants in general as well as for each specific opportunity will decrease your overall competitiveness, thereby increasing the number of rejection letters you will receive.

2. Do Your Homework About Each Grant-maker

Your initial research about a grant-maker likely centers around the keywords for their funding priorities, their application process, and their application deadline.

Digging deeper into the due diligence you should be conducting in your grant-maker research, you need to understand more about their recent grant-making history as part of your homework and learning.

You need to look geographically at where the grants are being awarded and how those locations relate to their overall stated geographic priority. You need to look at what their average and median grant award size is and see how those amounts compare to what you were planning to request through your application.

Dig deep. Learn all of the details possible so that you are asking the right questions when you reach out to a grant-maker to start building a relationship.

3. Have a Grant Calendar

A grant calendar is a critical mechanism for grant writers/grant professionals to use in keeping track of all the application deadlines they will tackle during one fiscal year.

The tool in which the grant calendar is documented and managed is not critical to the success of the plan.

The success of the plan is in laying out the anticipated deadlines for the fiscal year, making a plan for the drafting timelines for each application, and even including relationship development and maintenance efforts for those grant-makers that your organization intends to apply to.

While many grant writers may have some form of a grant calendar developed, there are two areas that I see consistent room for improvement.

The first is in keeping the calendar as a rolling 12 months instead of always being framed as just the organization’s fiscal year. Second, is in keeping the grant calendar only on their own personal calendar or own workstation/desktop.

A grant calendar is meant to be easily accessible and visible to the grant team, even if they don’t visit the calendar as often as the grant professional leading their efforts.

4. Remember That Grants ARE Relationship Driven

Relationship building is as important in grant seeking as it is in all other elements of fundraising.

Yes, the process is different for the way in which funds are requested and approved, but there are people making the decisions about the grants awarded to you and the impact you seek to create.

When reaching out to grantmakers, you should always be prepared with these three talking points:

  1. Short introduction of who you are, what organization you are with (not getting into your whole mission and all your programs), and if the grant-maker is not geographically in the same place, let them know where you are based/implementing your work.
  2. A 30-second elevator pitch of why based on your research of their funding and recent grant history, you think that your organization is a strong potential funding partner. Pause afterward to seek their input.
  3. Up to three thoughtful questions that were not answered through your research of their materials, but could help you customize your proposal to be more competitive in their process.

5. The IRS Acknowledgement Letter and Formal Report are NOT Expressions of Next-Level Gratitude

After you get the grant funding (congratulations, by the way!), the hard work of implementing the project/program as described begins.

While the initial steps often including signing and returning a grant agreement and sending an acknowledgment letter if some or all of the money has already been received, these formal steps are NOT expressions of next-level gratitude. They are expressions of obligation.

Instead, look for ways to express genuine gratitude to your grant-makers through things like open houses, invitations for a site visit, handwritten thank you notes from participants, and other customized ideas.

6. Always include SMART Objectives in Your Project Description

To use an objective to monitor your progress, you need to write it as a SMART objective. A SMART objective is:

1. Specific – Provide the “who” and “what” of program activities. The greater the specificity, the greater the measurability.

2. Measurable – Quantify the amount of change expected. It is impossible to determine whether objectives have been met unless they can be measured.

3. Achievable – Seem to reviewers to be attainable within a given time frame.

4. Relevant/Realistic – Accurately address the scope of the problem and programmatic steps that can be implemented within.

5. Time-bound – Provide a time frame indicating when the objective will be measured, or a time by which the objective will be met.

7. Don’t Shortchange the Evaluation of Your Impact

When I poll grant writers just beginning their work in the field, one of the most common points of stress in the grant application narrative is the evaluation section.

In part, this is because not all grant-makers provide clear expectations for what meaningful evaluation looks like to them and what they expect is appropriate given the scale of the funding they are providing.

The evaluation section of your proposal, even if not formally guided by such questions by a grant-maker should address the following:

  • Who is responsible for measuring the outcome?
  • What tool(s) is used to measure the outcome?
  • When is the outcome measured?
  • Why is the outcome measured in the manner presented?

You should not overlook or discount the tools that you already use as an organization and the way that you self-collect and analyze that data. A strong evaluation section of a grant application does not necessarily mean new evaluation tools and external evaluators.

8. Ensure That Your Budget Tells Your Story

The budget by itself, tells the story of your application. Looking at the one page budget document can help a grant-maker quickly understand if they are the only supporter of a project or program versus one of many.

It can also help them understand if your program/project is heavily dependent on staffing to be successful or if it is more focused on supplies and equipment.

The budget document will tell a story, that while often formally created by colleagues in the finance department, is one that needs to be consistent in how you share the information throughout your narrative.

Look for alignment between the details of the budget and your budget justifications with the program description and details you are sharing in your application narrative.

9. Don’t Self Edit Your Proposal

While what we have written may read well to us, we as the writer are too close to the work to see where we have made assumptions about our reviewer’s knowledge. We are also too close to the work to serve as an effective copy editor.

Our eyes and brain will see and read what should be in the text, versus perhaps, what might be missing.

To maximize your grant seeking success, you need to identify and engage a strong copy editor within your organization as part of your grant team.

You need feedback that is critical both grammatically as well as of writing style and detail.

10. Create a Mock Review Process for Your Applications

A mock review process is an additional review step for your organization’s applications that takes the review process beyond copy editing and instead focuses on how the written work aligns with the guidelines and review criteria of the grant-maker.

This is indeed an extra step, yet it is one that can dramatically increase the competitiveness of a well-written proposal.

While copy editing (as discussed in the previous tip) is critical to a reviewer’s understanding of the material and their ease of reading, the mock review process ensures that what the reviewer is reading is answering the grant-makers questions thoroughly and in a way that will result in the highest score.

Now let’s get started!

Following these ten tips will put you well on your way to a successful grant seeking strategy and grant writing approach. But be sure that they are implemented together, not individually, to ensure that you are meeting all of the grant seeking best practices.

As you look at how to implement each tip in your own organization, keep referring back to the 5 R’s outlined above: Readiness, Research, Relationships, wRiting, and Reporting to guide your work.

Looking to learn more about how to implement each of these tips in your grant seeking process?

You can learn more details about each of these tips in the recorded free webinar that I recently presented for CharityHowToCheck out all of Diane’s CharityHowTo trainings here.

About The Author

Diane H. Leonard, GPC, President of DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, is an experienced and respected grant professional who has provided grant development counsel to nonprofit organizations of varying size and scope for more than a decade. In addition, Diane is an in-demand speaker and trainer on the topics of grant readiness, grant writing and grants management and regularly provides her expertise to audiences ranging from national conferences to boards of directors for small, nonprofit organizations.

Check out all of Diane’s CharityHowTo trainings here.

For Further Reading

PS: For other idea’s on how to succeed in the grant seeking world, check out this article by our friend at:

Grant Station – Expectations Versus Reality in Applying for Grants