Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some thoughts about grant writing

When I wrote my very first grant, I had no idea what I was doing. I leaped at the opportunity to write a grant so I could have that experience under my belt. At I can honestly say that I probably didn't do all that great of a job...I got the money...but I saw several typos and upon reflection, realized I had made numerous mistakes. I thought I would share some of my lessons learned, so maybe you won't repeat my mistakes :)

  • Proofread, proofread again, and when you think it is perfect, proofread one more time.

I can't tell you how often I see grants with typos, errors, etc. My first grant had some, and it's likely yours do too. It's very difficult to get every single typo in a 10-20 page grant, but you should try, and proofreading is the best way to help avoid all those typos.

  • Don't wait to the last possible minute to write the grant.

I have done this, as have most people. Waiting until the last minute guarantees you will be stressed as you rush to get your grant done in time. You won't be able to proofread it as well or as much, people will be less willing to help you, and it overall won't be as good as it could be. Plus, it doesn't look that great to the funder when you call them the day the grant is due with a question about the application requirements.

  • Use other staff.

I often find that the grant writer (or whichever development staff person that gets stuck with/volunteers for grant writing) is a lone pillar. They write the grants on their own with minimal outside help. Often times they are using templates from past grants. Please try not to do this. While it is completely ok and often good to use templates/past grants when writing a new grant, don't just copy and paste. Make sure to talk to other program staff. Sit in on your organization's programming. Attend the class or day program. Experience it first-hand. This will make you a better writer. Plus, having an ongoing relationship with the program staff ensures that you have the most updated information on that program. Programs, especially new ones, tend to slightly alter themselves as they grow and develop continuously getting better. Last year's grant may not have the most updated and relevant information.

  • Finally, use updated research!

Some organizations don't use research period. You read their grant and they make their case, but don't really back it up. Others do back it up, but don't have the most relevant or recent research. This is important - particularly incorporating evaluation information. Funders want to know why your approach works, why it is best, and why it is needed. Including statistics like "One in three teens currently get no education about birth control at all, and of those who do, many do not get it when they need it most—before they start to have sex." when writing an application for comprehensive sexual education, or "Children whose parents read to them tend to become better readers and perform better in school" for a family reading program, they can help build your case and demonstrate the need for support. But don't only use this sort of research, use internal research and evaluations. Include evaluation information from your program, for example 90% of program attendees increased competencies after attending X program as evidence by pre- and post-test results (for this, you would need to be evaluating your programs).

If you have your own lessons learned or tips, please leave them below for others to learn from!


Scott said...

Make sure the gap in service really deserves funding before agreeing to write the grant.

A lot of ideas are not gaps in service because there maybe no need for the service in the first place.

I have made this mistake of thinking I should try and write grants for anything when I first started. You find out in your research that there is no true gap.

Nonprofit SOS said...

Great suggestion. A lot of people/nonprofits decide to start a new program without doing research. They often are just duplicating another program/service that already exists.

Trina Willard said...

I agree with Scott - don't write a grant just because money is available. Make sure it fits a legitimate need of your service population AND that it is in alignment with your mission. Also, do get help from others on creating an evaluation plan for inclusion in the proposal. The ability to demonstrate how you will assess impact is becoming a true competitive tipping point. Many grant writers and service providers aren't trained in the evaluation research field, and review points are often lost in this area.

Kim said...

This seems so simple but follow the RFP directions. If a foundation wants sentences or set-up structured in a certain way- give it to them (i.e. "if-then" statements, word/page limits, logic models and narratives, etc).

Once you're finished with a grant, go back over the check list of attachments that are required. As a committee member of a women's fund, I've seen numerous applications that either don't follow precise directions or they are missing an essential attachment.

Though it may seem like a small slip up, it can make all the difference in whether or not you get funding. Remember, you are basically providing a complete manual explaining your program/cause/service to strangers who know nothing about your agency and what you do.

kxyooj said...

great ideas. things to consider are content strategy. a marketing term and concept, but it's pretty much about how and where to place certain paragraphs and sentences to create some impact for the reviewer/reader.

it's important to be descriptive. don't just say, "the purpose of this grant is for children." but ask yourself, what kind of children, what are their circumstances, etc? instead, you'd want to say, "the purpose of this grant is for at-risk youth, between the ages of ____ living in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods who need ____, __."

don't be afraid to get a second opinion from another writer or coworker to critique your grant proposal, if you have time.

if you're writing a lot of grants, make sure to make a schedule of grants you have to write for the month.

if your working closely with accounting and budgets, make sure you will be able to apply for grants for a particular purpose/program/project before writing.

make sure to always communicate new grant opportunities and work closely executive staff on teh grant so that they could possibly set up face-to-face time to discuss the grant opportunity and how your organization fits well as another strategy to secure and solidify the proposal for approval. in all, it would be best to take a strategy in writing the proposal and meeting with grantmaking staff in person for a higher chance to secure funds.

...more later.

Nonprofit SOS said...

Trina- Great points, particularly about getting help with an evaluation plan and including it. Another thing I have seen some nonprofits do is go after a large program grant (sometimes as big as 30-50% of their annual operating budget) for a new program, that they don't really have the capacity to do (staff, infrastructure, etc). Programs should never be created just to get a grant.