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Grant Writing Tips from the Other Side

A few years ago, I participated in a program designed to expose the needs of the community to local professionals, educate program participants about philanthropy, and connect the participants with nonprofit options for volunteering or donating. The class also had the opportunity to award a $5,000 grant to their funding priority of choice.

I had been working in fundraising for about 6 years at that point, and I never had the opportunity to GIVE the money. I figured that would be the fun part, right?? What I discovered was that giving money is hard. It should be the easy part but when you consider how many nonprofits there are serving needs in every community, it’s hard to decide who is “most deserving.” In reality, there are many organizations who could use the grant money to enact positive change in their community.

Sometimes the first step in awarding funding is weeding out the organizations who don’t fit the criteria, didn’t complete the application correctly, etc. Grantmaking organizations often have limited resources, much less than the total amount being requested by nonprofits. You want your organization to stand out - in a good way - so the grantmaker feels strongly that selecting your organization would be the best investment.

Since my first venture into the world of grantmaking, I have now worked with several grantmaking organizations and want to share a few tips I have picked up over the years to help guide your grant writing efforts…

1. ALWAYS make sure you fit the funding priority!

This should be self explanatory but it might surprise you how many funding requests fall way outside the clear priorities set forth by the grantmaker. Priorities are set for a reason. Don’t waste your time or the grantmaker’s time applying for funding that, at best, is a stretch for your programs and, at worst, is clearly outside their funding priorities.

2. Don’t assume the funder knows about your program even if you’ve received funding from them before.

I once read a grant proposal from a nonprofit that had one sentence describing their program in the narrative section of the application. This nonprofit had received funding for years from the organization I was working with, and each year, the narrative became shorter and shorter. Different people came on and off the grantmaking committee every year, so only people who had been around for a while knew what program the organization was describing. The quality of this organization’s application had been on a slow decline over a few years and while the committee had been willing to make excuses for them and continue funding their very important program, this time the committee just couldn’t accept their application and denied them funding.

3. Make sure you are following ALL application submission requirements.

I like to believe that funders aren’t putting out application requirements just to torture the applicants. We might not understand the reasons behind their requests, but there is a reason for them and they need to be followed. Not following the requirements sends a message that you don’t care enough about the funder’s guidelines to double check before you submit. I know that’s not true, but in the eyes of a funder trying to cut down the list, you could be the first to go.

4. Have someone outside your organization read your application.

When we become immersed in the world of our organization, it can be hard to see that we are writing to an audience who does not fully understand our world. Funders are simply humans trying to make a difference. They may not be up to speed on all the efforts being done in the community, so it is up to you to paint a clear picture of the need you are filling and how their support would fulfill that need. If they can’t understand what you are trying to say, they won’t know the importance of their funding. The same goes for the overuse of acronyms and jargon. And please proofread for typos, grammar, etc. That matters to a funder.


If you’re looking for more in-depth assistance with all things grants, contact me to set up a free 15-minute consultation to get the conversation started!


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Nonprofit Fundraising Consultant Jessica
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