What's The Secret To Writing Successful Grant Proposals For My Organization?

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Answered by: Jennifer, An Expert in the Writing Grant Proposals Category
For most nonprofit organizations, a healthy revenue mix includes grant funding. Writing successful grant proposals is not difficult, but if you've never written a grant before, the prospect can be intimidating. There's no need to stress, however. Whether you are entirely new to the process of grant writing, or you just want to improve your skills, these tips will have you writing successful grant proposals in no time.

Step 1 - Plan. This is one of the most important steps in writing successful grant proposals. Before you write a word, ask yourself these questions: Which of your programs needs funding? How much money do you need to raise? Who will write the grant? What resources do they need to do the job? Do you have the infrastructure in place to manage reporting requirements? If you don't have these elements in place, it's wise to get them in place before you seek grant funding.

Step 2 - Research. You'll need to learn who might be interested in funding your program, and the best place to learn that is the Foundation Center. The Center holds the most comprehensive collection of information on grantmakers and philanthropy in the country, including an online database (subscription required, but you can use it for free at any of their five locations), daily email blasts with current RFPs (requests for proposals) and classes on grantwriting. Visit them at www.foundationcenter.org. You can also do some limited, simple searches for free while you're there.

Once you've done your research and identified a list of potential funders, you can move on to...

Step 3 - Study The Guidelines. This is critical. Nearly every foundation publishes their grant guidelines on their website. The guidelines are your bible, so read them carefully. Pay close attention to the funder's areas of interest, geographic range, grant award range, exclusions, and types of projects funded in the past. Make sure your organization and project are a good fit. Note their deadlines: some foundations accept grants on a rolling basis, others take submissions only a few times a year. All of this information will help you narrow your focus to only those funders who seem most likely to support your work.

When you've got your list down to your highest rated prospects, try to speak with a program officer if you can. Many foundations offer the opportunity to speak with a program officer before you submit your proposal; some highly encourage it, and there are even a few that require it. The program officer can tell you if your project sounds like a fit for them, give you feedback on your ideas, help you determine the best time to submit your proposal and advise you on the amount you can request. Some will even offer to review a draft of your proposal before you submit it. Take advantage of these opportunities.

Step 4 - Gather Information. On the foundation's website you will also find instructions for submitting your grant. The submission instructions will give you an outline for the content of your proposal as well as any technical specifications such as page limits or margin sizes. If the foundation requires forms or attachments to be submitted with your grant, you'll find that information in the submission instructions.

Many funders have moved their entire grant proposal process online. Some systems allow you to preview the entire online form, others won't allow you to skip forward without completing all sections. If the online system doesn't have a preview function, call or email the foundation and ask for an outline. Most funders are happy to provide one.

Once you know what content your proposal must include, start gathering the information you need. You'll probably need some background data on the issue or population you serve, so get online and do your research. Talk to the program's staff or manager for specific programmatic information. Connect with your accounting department for any required financial details. Locate and start compiling supporting documents like your IRS letter, most recent audit, board of directors list, etc.

Step 5 - Write. All the preparation you've been doing now brings you to this point. When you're writing your grant proposal you will draw on all the previous steps. Write clearly and concisely. Most funders will give you an outline for how to order the sections of your proposal, but if they don't, follow this standard order:

* Introduction/Executive Summary - An introduction and brief summary of your proposal (hint: write this last!).

* Organization Description - An overview description of your organization, history, all programs, any notable accomplishments.

* Need Statement - Describe the issue or problem your program addresses and the conditions that contribute to it. Include data to support your argument, preferably data that is specific to the geographic area you serve.

* Program Description - Describe the program for which you are requesting funding. Include information on who will be served, number of participants, and the specific activities you will be carrying out. Make sure to tie it back to the need statement.

* Goals & Objectives - In this section, you describe what you hope to achieve with your program. Goals and objectives are often confused with each other, but it's important to know the difference because this is one of the most important elements of writing successful grant proposals. Goals are broad, very general statements, sometimes a bit lofty. ("Eliminate animal abuse in Alameda County.") Objectives are specific, measurable statements that describe what you will do to attain the goal. ("Spay or neuter 400 cats in the next year.")

* Evaluation - Describe how you will measure whether you've met your goals and objectives Who will be responsible for program evaluation? What systems do you have in place to help track this information (database, case files, etc.)?

* Conclusion - Wrap up, reiterate why you're a good fit for the foundation and mention the impact you hope to create with the funding.

While you're writing, refer back to the submission instructions frequently to ensure that you hit every point required, and answer every question thoroughly. Review the grant guidelines and your notes from your conversation with the program officer. If you noticed any key words repeated over and over (e.g., "pathway out of poverty," "at-risk youth") make sure you include those naturally in your proposal.

Step 6 - Put It All Together And Submit. Once you've finished your first draft, you might consider having someone else read it over for you to make sure it makes sense. Make your edits and then SPELLCHECK your document before you call it final. Compile your proposal, forms and attachments and submit! If you're submitting by snail mail, make sure you allow enough time for the package to arrive. If you're submitting online, allow for delays due to overloaded servers or other technical difficulties. You don't want to miss a deadline by just 2 or 3 minutes.

Now you know the steps to writing successful grant proposals. Follow these steps faithfully and with luck, the acceptance letters letters will start arriving. Happy grantwriting!

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