1. Understand the needs of the grantors. Behind every foundation grant is a philosophy, intention or basic principal. These principles not only determine how grants are funded, if you pay attention, they will also tell you how to approach the foundation and what areas of your proposal are the most important to the foundation. Before you even start writing the grant, you need to: Find out about the granting organization and understand the reasons they are offering grants Determine what they want in return for the funds —positive publicity, leverage of funds, provide vehicle for in-house volunteers? Discover who actually will be reviewing your application — is it the director, a funding or grants committee, bureaucrats? If the information isn’t available on their Website, ask for examples of recently funded projects, and also for some that have been rejected.
2. Develop your proposal to fit the application. You have a great idea, you've identified a need, and you've got the tools to make it work. And you have found a grantor who shares your goals. But you still have to make sure that your project matches the funding guidelines of each potential funder. Make sure the major budget items in your project are clearly eligible for funding. If only part of your project is relevant to a particular funding opportunity then find other way to fund the rest of the project, and let them know (this not only shows them how resourceful you are, it will ensure that you have enough money to actually fund your project). Use the restrictions and guidelines of the grant opportunity to make sure that you’ve thought your project through and have planned for all contingencies. If you don’t understand what the funder needs or wants, the ASK — don’t make assumptions. Look at your project through the eyes of the grant reviewer. Where is your project weak? What are it’s strengths? Are you duplicating services? Do you have the capacity to carry out the work? If you’ve got any doubts, now’s the time to address them.
3. Make sure that you understand and can comply with the eligibility requirements and regulations you must comply with. It's a waste of everyone’s time and resources to apply for grants whose requirements are beyond your resources. Be certain you understand what you’re getting into — including grant deadlines, scope of work, reports, etc. Can your organization commit to the contract and other legal requirements? If the application process takes a long time and funding is not for six months to a year, will your project still be relevant and ready to go?
4. Get a second opinion, and ask for help when you need it. Often people don't flock to help with fundraising activities. (I don’t know why!). But, if you’re new to proposal writing and you’re taking on the grant writing job for your organization, once you’ve done the research and know what it’s going to take to put together a winning grants package, ask for the help you need from others in your organization. Get someone else to proofread your application, and make sure that it’s clear and compelling. A confusing application will end up in the discard pile. When possible, ask someone who knows little or nothing about the project, because if they can understand the need, urgency and goals of the project, you have a better chance that so with the grant reviewer. The budget is one of the most important parts of your application. If you don’t understand them, get help from your accountant or someone who does. Don’t be afraid to ask the grantor for help. Don’t expect them to write the application, but they can answer specific questions and even help you to brainstorm ideas.
5. Bring your own resources to the table. Even if you’re not applying for a “match grant” every funder wants to get the maximum “bang for their buck”. Identify partners, associated projects, volunteers, supporters, donors, resources, etc. You want to give them the sense that you are able to stretch the resources you receive to the maximum amount. Provide documentation that you have more time, resources and expenditures invested into the project than the amount you’re requesting funds for. Funders want to fund projects that are important and valuable. Show that you have resources from a variety of places; the broader the support the better. This will demonstrate that you’re a good risk.
6. Show the public support for your project. Every project can benefit from grass-roots support and involvement. Document the support. This can come from a record of volunteers, testimonials from clients, newspaper clippings, letters of support, etc. Go beyond support from the “usual suspects”. Think outside the box — who else in the community would benefit from your project, or support it? (Think of corporate volunteers, other organizations who are in a similar line of work, or who have similar issues, your local city council members or other politicians, youth or church groups, etc.) Provide ways for volunteers to help with your project, even in the beginning stages. Keep track of the hours spent, take pictures, get letters of support.
7. Make your application come alive in the minds of the grant reviewers. Help them to see your project. Use words that paint a picture of what you want to accomplish. Let them feel your excitement and passion for your work. If they are conducting a site visit, have clients attend. Prepare a short slide show, or put together a photo album. Put pictures on a Website. (And by the way, don’t forget about new marketing tools such as blogging. There are many free blogs now, and you can post pictures, invite comments and provide interaction. You can let the funders know about your blog before you send in the application, or include the url with your contact information. Know your audience. Don’t assume they know technical jargon or acronyms related to your project. State your goals and objectives clearly and concisely.
8. Make sure that every sentence in your application counts. Say what you need to say, but make your words convey exactly what the funder needs to hear to be able to say yes. Don’t waste their time or try their patience. If you don't have a good answer for some of the questions, be honest and say so. Use bullets, or bold-face type, or a list of key elements to convey the high points of your project, and don't bury them in paragraphs of verbiage. If you're invited to do a presentation, practice first, and stick to the point. Make the grant easy to read; use a reasonable-sized font and leave enough blank space. Don't include voluminous attachments, unless you have a very good reason clearly stated in your application. Make every word convey an important point to the grant reviewer; if it's not relevant, leave it out. If allowed, use pictures, diagrams, plans, or maps instead of long, confusing descriptions. The history and war stories of your project are vivid and important to you, but a grant reviewer may not care; keep your background and history brief and focus instead on the project.
10. Give them what they ask for. If you can't provide the information requested, call the grantor to be sure it is alright to send in without it.
Cheryl Antier is the President/CEO of Dream Weaver Enterprises, a business and fundraising consulting company that helps their clients to "weave their dreams into reality" by helping them consistently find the funding they need to succeed.