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Grant Writing Tips

While grant writing can be challenging, the hard work will pay off if you learn to do it well and your organization receives a grant. We have provided some practical tips and strategies below that can help you write a strong, successful grant proposal.

Information courtesy of Alice Ruhnke, President of GrantStation

Know Your Audience

Grant reviewers may be volunteers or staff members. Make their job of understanding and scoring your application as easy as possible.  

  • Assume that the reviewer knows nothing about your community or organization, the needs you address, what you do, or how you do it.
  • Avoid jargon and excessive acronyms. Explain unique terms and concepts and spell out all acronyms on first reference. Write in a simple, conversational tone that is easy to understand.
  • Carefully proofread and watch for grammatical mistakes.
  • Be interesting! Write your proposal in a way that will make it stand out from others. Include a story to capture the heart and mind of the reader.

Follow the Funder's Directions

Following the directions provided by a funder will show them you are ready to accept the responsibility that comes with a grant and follow-up reports.

  • Be mindful of due dates and times. Most funders won’t accept an application turned in even one minute past the deadline. Give yourself extra time in case technical issues arise.
  • Answer questions in the order they are listed.
  • Use the funder’s headings, terminology, and formats.
  • Complete the forms provided

Highlight Your Strengths

Funders want to hear about how you affect change, your impact on the community, and solutions to community challenges.

  • Be solution-based and demonstrate your ability to affect change.
  • Paint a picture for the funder that you are worth an investment.
  • Present solutions and show the impact you have had and will continue to have.
  • Describe how you have developed relationships in the community and how your program will build on what already exists.
  • Include a powerful example, story, quote, or endorsement to engage the reader into wanting to know more about your organization.

Create a Writing Schedule

When applying for a grant, make a list of all the documents that need to be submitted, tasks that need to be completed, people responsible for each task, and a due date for completing tasks.

Most funders require you to attach certain documents to your application in addition to the project narrative and budget. Be sure to allow time in your grant writing schedule to collect these attachments, which may include:

  • Nonprofit incorporation letter
  • List of board members
  • Most recent audit (if applicable)
  • Tax forms
  • Resumes of key staff
  • Job descriptions
  • Support letters

Follow the 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule states that 80% of your time should be spent planning for the grant application and only 20% should be spent writing. Without planning, the narrative can get confusing, the information may not connect to form a coherent story, and the process can become frustrating.

Illustrate the Need

One of the most important sections of an application is where you demonstrate the community need in relation to your project. You should clearly describe the community, define the condition or status of the people you serve, and explain why that condition or status exists.

  • Use data and statistics that are local, relevant, and up to date to paint a picture of your community and the geographic area. Be sure to note your sources.
  • Discuss the condition or status of the population you serve and any root causes.
  • You may want to compare local data to state or national data if the problem is “worse” in your area than other places.
  • Don’t assume the reviewer knows anything about the geographic region or the challenges facing the people you serve.

Describe Your Program

When tackling the program description, think about where you are spending the money you are requesting. This section should mirror the budget — not in financial form, but through a descriptive narrative that explains how the funding will be used to achieve your outcomes. Everything in the budget should be explained here and the information should match seamlessly.

Consider these questions:

  • What actions can we take to facilitate the change we want to see?
  • How can we involve all stakeholders in the design of the program?
  • What will we do to encourage engagement, commitment, and enthusiasm for the program by partners and participants?
  • How will we achieve our outcomes and indicators?
  • What actions will we take to address the reasons behind the need?
  • How will we spend the money requested in the program budget?

The program description section may also request information about evidence-based practices relating to the program, a timeline, description of key staff and volunteers, or an explanation of partners and their roles. 

Show Sustainability

Funders will often ask a sustainability question regarding how the program will be supported after the grant period ends. Some ideas to build sustainability into your programs include partnerships, diversifying funding sources, and developed earned income streams. Partnerships can help defray costs, build on community assets, and use what already exists to support your program.

Create a Detailed Budget

The budget and the project description should mirror one another. In the description, write a narrative of how you are going to spend the money. In the budget, demonstrate in financial form the money you need to carry out the activities in your description.

Click here to view a sample budget.

  • Include a cost for everything in your project description.
  • Numbers should add up flawlessly.
  • If applicable, use the budget form provided by the funder and the same headings and terminology.
  • Include a budget narrative describing how you arrived at the costs in your budget and any necessary justifications.
  • Make sure the numbers in the budget narrative and forms match.
  • List possible sources of “cash match” funding, which are funds that support your project from other sources. These may include organizational funds, donations from individuals or fundraisers, or other grants.
  • You may also include “in-kind match” funds, which are third-party, non-cash contributions that have been tracked and can be proven. In-kind match funds may include donations of resources or services, or discounts. Volunteer activity also has a monetary value and can be included, provided the hours have been tracked. As of April 2023, the estimated national value of a volunteer hour was $31.80. However, estimates vary per region, so be sure to use your state’s estimated value, which can be found on the Independent Sector website. If volunteers are providing professional services, you can use the actual per-hour rate they charge as an in-kind donation.

 

If your nonprofit organization frequently seeks and applies for grant funding, you may want to consider purchasing a membership to GrantStation.com. The site provides searchable databases, strategic planning tools, and step-by-step writing tutorials to help you find grants, build your programs, and write award-winning proposals.