Writing a proposal is like trying out for the Olympics. Research and planning take months, maybe even years; hundreds of competitors vie for the same grant dollars, and rewards are heart-shatteringly few. And, last, but certainly not least, your proposal might be the greatest, most eloquent piece of compelling prose you’ve ever written – that doesn’t get funded.
Tossing your organization’s hat into the grant arena is tough but sitting out the competition is out of the question. Not every proposal you write will be funded and it may take several tries before any dollars come your way. But if you keep trying you will eventually win, because winning grants is not based on luck. It is based on your approach. And, as the adage goes, the devil is in the detail.
Without further ado, below are three ways to write better proposals and increase the odds of winning your next grant.
- Read the funding announcement
I know, I know. You’ve read this tip before. But it’s as true then as it is now. Scour that funding announcement inside out. Note the terms the grantor uses and incorporate their language into your proposal. Very frequently the grantor will embed suggestions in the sections preceding the questions. Do not overlook these. They are NOT suggestions.
I recently worked on a proposal where, in the middle of the announcement, there was a sentence that mentioned the statement of need could include information on subpopulations. While the question itself did not ask to detail subpopulations, I knew that scoring well meant incorporating as much information as possible on subpopulations. Why? Because an approach should not be a one-size-fits-all solution. The grantor wants to know that YOU know your community.
- Complete a thorough needs assessment
Here is where details become critical. Needs assessments should be complex, lengthy and turn up several issues. These issues will be the basis for your approach. No matter what grant you are going after the funder wants to know that your approach includes data-driven activities.
What do I mean by that? Say you are applying for a grant to build a homeless shelter for war veterans. Not only will you need to answer why a shelter needs to be built right now, but you will also have to address your population’s underlying causes of homelessness. Why is this population susceptible to homelessness? Are there any underlying behavioral and mental health issues? How will you address these issues while war veterans are in your care? More importantly, what solution does your assessment turn up for long-term success? No needs assessment is complete without knowing how clients discharged from your program will be reintegrated in the community. The funder will want to know how your organization will ensure clients live happy, healthy and productive lives long after they complete the program.
- Show don’t tell
Repeat after me: I will never use a “lack of” statement in my proposal ever again.
This one is simple. Winning proposals never use “lack of” statements. To illustrate the point compare the next two paragraphs.
- The majority of teens living in Sunshine Village spend their evenings watching TV because there is a lack of afterschool programming to keep them engaged in pro-social activities.
- There are three providers of afterschool programs in Sunshine Village that serve 1,000 teenagers per year. There are 3,000 teenagers in Sunshine Village, which means that 2,000 of them are left with unstructured time in the afternoon. Youth risk behavior surveys administered through Sunshine Village High School indicate that 75% of teens spend three hours or more per day watching TV because, as one teen noted, “there is nothing to do.”
Which proposal do you think is more likely to get funded? While these are very basic examples, the point is that you will make a more convincing case with accurate, detailed information about your community, its population, and its needs.
Writing proposals is a gargantuan task and requires thorough research. But with adequate planning (and about five hundred cups of coffee) you will be able to compose quality proposals with data-driven approaches. Good luck!
Melissa Manzone is Founder and Writer at The Grant Gal, which helps non-profits strategize and write proposals for federal grant competitions. Melissa holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from The Ohio State University and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Kingston University London. In her free time, Melissa loves to read everything from biographies to historical fantasy and her favorite book will forever be Jane Eyre. She also is an aspiring author and is working on her first book about a warrior princess, which she hopes to publish next year. You can find her at www.thegrantgal.com and contact her at Melissa@thegrantgal.com