How to Write a Successful Grant Proposal by Blending Research and Emotion
If you’ve ever worked for or supported a nonprofit organization, you probably are very familiar with the constant need for funding and all the work involved with securing it.
There are countless ways to finance a nonprofit but one of the most popular tactics is to seek grants. These awards often entail significant sums of money that can make expensive projects a possibility and have the advantage of not requiring repayment as a loan would.
Best of all, there is plenty of funding out there. In the United States, more than $66 billion of grant money was awarded in 2017 alone and this figure grows every year. And as the nonprofit journalism model continues to gain momentum, it’s reasonable to expect more and more news organizations and individual journalists will be applying for grant funding.
However, this “free” money is often only given to a select few (or even just one) recipients, so the competition can be as daunting as the workload. Nearly every grant will require a written application, or grant proposal, to serve as the single document to represent your organization and argue your cause.
Because this first impression is often the only impression, it is critical to make your proposal as polished as possible to stand out among the other applicants.
The Research Phase
Before you begin finding grants and writing proposals, the crucial first step is to develop a clear mission plan:
- What is the project that needs funding?
- How much money is needed to make this happen?
- What are the most important aspects of the project and where can compromises be made?
You must be knowledgeable about every factor of the project to present an effective argument.
At this point, it is a great idea to keep notes about the intricacies of the project, such as known expenses, impact on your business, examples of past success, and a timeline if possible. The more information you can gather now, the stronger your case will be when you write the proposal.
Once you know the project like the back of your hand, it’s time for the next essential step: identifying relevant grants and familiarizing yourself with the organization offering them. This often will be a private organization specializing in providing grants or a government agency.
You should search for a grant that fits your project rather than changing your project to fit the grant. Try to find an organization with a goal/mission statement that aligns with your own – birds of a feather fund together.
These are just a few of the available sites that can help you find relevant grants:
- Knight Foundation Grants
- Poynter’s list of fellowship and grants
- International Journalists’ Network | Opportunities
Once you’ve decided on the grant, be sure to take advantage of any public information you can find to develop a profile of the organization:
- What does the organization do?
- Why is it offering the grant and what does it hope to accomplish?
You also should pay close attention to the awarding of grants in the past and look for any common aspects among the previous winners — if possible, try to find copies of past proposals. Perhaps the organization has a soft spot for applicants that highlight human interest, or maybe it appreciates detailed tables and figures.
Creating the Proposal
It’s important to remember that the individuals reviewing your applications (often referred to as grant program officers) are likely fielding many other proposals and may not have the time or intent to read every nook and cranny of your work.
Take advantage of data visualization to express your argument at a glance – if the reader can grasp your needs and financial situation before they even dive into your writing, they will be much more likely to stay interested and consider your argument. Use data to explain the needs you hope to address with the funds.
Make sure your details are specific to the project at hand and thorough enough that the grant program officer could describe your project themselves. Consider referencing a proposal template to get an idea of an effective structure.
This is a great opportunity to review what you have composed so far, anticipate any questions the reader could have, and address them accordingly. Try to put yourself in the perspective of an outsider (if possible, ask a colleague who is not familiar with the project to review your proposal and encourage them to ask questions or suggest clarification). It can be all too easy to miss common pitfalls when you are so close to the subject matter – what is obvious to you may be confusing to a layperson.
Keep in mind that these grant program officers, just like you, are people with emotions, preconceptions, preferences, and ideals. A successful proposal will acknowledge this and not depend entirely on facts and figures. Persuade the reader with appeals to emotion or community. After they have finished reviewing your proposal and moved on, they likely will not remember your quarterly expenses, but they will remember a testimonial from a real person.
Lastly, don’t be discouraged if the funding goes elsewhere – most of the applicants will be in the same boat as you. The key is to keep trying and be diverse in your search. There are billions of dollars of grants out there, it’s only a matter of time before you find the money with your organization’s name on it.
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Thomas Nicholson is a Customer Content Specialist with PR Newswire and science aficionado with a love for all things nerdy.