Grant Writing is both an art and a science. At its most basic it is all about getting the right message to the people who review and score your application. Sounds pretty straightforward. But at its ideal—particularly (but not only) when applying for Foundation Grants— it is about meeting all requirements while telling a compelling story about lives being transformed. And the “ideal” is more likely to win grants…
That can be intimidating — not to mention exhausting, exhilarating and potentially highly rewarding. Did you know over $40 billion was awarded in 2010 for Foundation Grants alone?.
Fortunately the basic steps you must follow are easy to understand. Beyond that, you have options for writing winning grant proposals, each with its own level of effort and time required – and each with its own costs.
At a minimum follow all the requirements in the grant package (which you must read thoroughly!). This is absolutely critical regardless of how unnecessary or irrelevant (or downright silly) you may think they are.
Always, always use spellcheck. And be sure to get names right—never rely even on a recent annual report or a website that may not be completely current.
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If you are writing — or trying to write — a grant proposal/application for a nonprofit, be aware of some of the misconceptions some people have about grant writing for nonprofits. One of the most critical is the mistaken belief that grants are different from other kinds of fundraising. That’s actually not true according to the author of Write Foundation Grants Fast — and someone who has both given out and applied for grants. Like any kind of fund raising, a big part of what matters is your relationships. Realize the importance of creating and cultivating relationships with fund managers and program officers — discover more: check out our review of Write Foundation Grants Fast!
There are many levels of Grant Writing, depending on how large a grant you are going for and where you are applying for a grant. Some non-profits have people who specialize in writing grants and are basically self-taught. Others go to school to learn how to write grants. And still others - such as those competing for grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH) for researchers - go all out and build entire marketing campaigns around applying for grants. According to the Wall Street Journal, at the University of Pittsburgh scientists attend boot camps on grant writing (and they can earn bonuses up to $50,000 depending on how much grant money they bring in front NIH.)
Don't be intimidated! You can learn the basics and follow the rules for writing a grant application. If you do so, you may stand head and shoulders above those who don't know what they're doing and don't think the instructions are important.
It can definitely be useful to know what are some common mistakes people make when applying for a grant. According to a report by the Chronicle of Higher Education, these are often “non-scientific” mistakes. These include a failure to connect the project to be funded with the main goals and vision of the grantmaker; writing a summary page that is not specific enough as well as not making sure your proposal matches what you say in the summary page; going it alone rather than including cross-disciplinary participants in your project; exaggerating what you’ll actually be able to do or — as bad or worse — not planning to do enough; including too much technical detail; not presenting a project that is innovative or significant enough; and being too wordy. Try to get your points across in a concise way — reviewers and judges have a ton of work to do!
There are good arguments for and against two main approaches to writing grants: Do It Yourself or Hire Professionals. The answer depends – on your skills, your available time, and your resources.
Do It Yourself
Grant Writing: A Valuable Skill Do you work for a non-profit, or are you considering doing so? Learning more about grant writing could be great for your career. Many managers of non-profits are not business people and have not learned the importance of focusing time and effort on developing multiple sources of income for the organization. There have been many instances where staffers have taken the initiative to learn about grant writing and searching for grants their organizations could be eligible for. With some time and effort, they can become very valuable to the non-profit because they are good at attracting more funds to support their cause. You might even be able to get your organization to pay for you to get some official training in this much in-demand skill.
Are you interested in becoming a grant writer yourself? There is usually lots of demand since so many people are looking for grants and it’s a very competitive field. As of the second half of 2017 grant writers earn an average of somewhere between about $60,000 to close to $75,000. Requirements to become a grant writer typically include at least a bachelors degree with a related major such as English, Marketing, Communications or Journalism. It could be tough to get your first job since employers are usually looking for experience. But you could get a foot in the door by volunteering for a non-profit group or working as an intern and getting some initial experience.
Take a Free Training Course: A surprising number of organizations offer free training courses in grant writing. Some of them are online and allow you to work at your own pace. These could be very useful if you are planning to tackle the writing of an important application yourself! One example is the Advanced Writing Seminar at MIT no less. Here you can learn about writing styles and have access to a number of lectures. One of them is all about writing grant proposals. Definitely worth a listen! And there is also a tutorial on this topic offered by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and Purdue University. It includes examples of grant and successful applications which you can compare to the “mock” proposals you write.
Purchasing a good book to guide you is a wise idea. A very thorough book we recommend is The Only Grant-Writing Book You'll Ever Need: Top Grant Writers and Grant Givers Share Their Secrets. It can be a bit overwhelming but if you have the time to read and absorb it you will be a top-notch grant writer.
Writing proposals yourself typically requires a much smaller outlay of money. You may invest in an online directory to aid in your search process, and you may also want to purchase a good book or two to guide you in your writing. This is the time you may also be exceedingly glad that you had that strict, nitpicking English teacher in high school!
Another approach to doing your own writing is an excellent system that provides the essence of what you need to know, and the specific steps to take, in a very streamlined format. It is called Five Days to Foundation Grants and is the best we have seen to get you quickly on the road to winning Foundation Grants.
If donations to your organization are slipping or if you’re in rough times, remember that there are alternatives to grants. You might consider finding a local church or group of churches that are service oriented and very active in community outreach. If your goals support theirs, perhaps they would consider “adopting” your organization and providing some funding. You might also be able to find some fee-for-service contracts with private enterprises in your community. A side benefit would be that when you do apply for a grant, the ability to show partnerships and other sources of funding can carry a lot of weight in giving you a stronger and more competitive grant application.
Your greatest expenditure writing your own grants will be your time, which can be considerable. There are thousands of grants out there and it will take time both to find the right match(es) for your organization and for your project. It also takes time to pull together the information you need to provide to potential grantors, but you have to do this whether you write the application yourself or hire others to do it.
If you have the time, determination, basic writing skills and excellent guidance such as that provided in the resources recommended above, writing your own proposals may be the best way to go. See our Grants Process page for an overview of the grant application process, and Writing a Good Grant Proposal to see the proposal elements necessary for a success.
If you are a good writer and you feel drawn to the whole area of grants and grant writing, you might want to consider getting certified as a grant writer. A number of excellent schools and universities offer such courses online. And a lot of non-profits in particular could use a lot of help winning the grants that make their missions possible. You might want to check out Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Busines and consider taking their course, which is available online. San Diego State University also offer such a course, as do others. Take a look — you might start a new career!
If you have the necessary financial resources, and particularly if you are new to the world of grants, hiring an outside professional who has (successfully) travelled this road before could dramatically increase your odds of winning a grant.
This option can be quite expensive in terms of both money and time. You will pay a fee, of course. And you will also have to devote time to managing the client-vendor relationship, gathering the information about your organization that the professionals will require, and monitoring the entire process. When considering professional help, be sure to check out several vendors, get someone who has experience with the type of grant you are looking for, and always ask for and check references.
Update August 2019 Successfully winning a grant is not only in the grant writing but also in applying to the right places. Consider some creative ways of finding hidden or less known sources of potential funding. Go and talk to city and county development agencies to see if their’s any public money you might get through a grant or contract. Be bold and call your governor’s office and see what is available at the state level — they’re not always the best at publicizing things! Don’t be shy — while you’re at it contact your representatives in congress and let them know about your venture and how more funding would benefit the community. They might know about federal dollars that could go your way.