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6 GUIDELINES... For Grant Proposal Writing

Six Guidelines for Proposal Writing

1.   Carefully match your project with an appropriate funding source
.  The primary difference between successful grantwriting and inefficient proposal submissions is the amount of time invested in the strategic identification of appropriate funders.  Ilene Mack of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation offers this advice: “…the very first step and one that is most important prior to writing anything is doing research on the foundation you wish to approach.  The buzzword is homework.  Do it well and thoroughly.  It is more efficient and in the end more beneficial to send appropriate requests to fewer organizations than to send a shower of appeals in the hopes that one may land in the right place”.  (This quote has been borrowed from the always brilliant Foundation Center).

2.   Explicitly follow application guidelines.  With proper research, you should know the deadlines, funding priorities, proposal format, required content, desired attachments, and page length restrictions of the targeted funder.  If a foundation’s annual report or web site indicates that a cover form much be completed and an audited financial statement is required, they obey these instructions.

3.   Customize proposals for the targeted funder.  Far too many new non-profit organizations develop a generic master proposal that describes current services and requests general operating support, then use the “shotgun approach” to randomly send the document to every known foundation in the region.  An easily recognized shotgun proposal rarely even receives the courtesy of a rejection letter.  Successful grantwriters adjust each submission to meet the desired format, priorities, funding type, and grant amount of a carefully chosen foundation.

4.   Condense with rich detail.  Sometimes the harder part of grantwriting is converting an organization’s grand vision into concrete language with the benefits quantified and the objectives measurable.  With each draft, tighten the language and let details convey the project’s worthiness rather than depending on empty adjectives.  Each component – from the need statement through the budget – must be specific.

5.   Respect the expertise of the foundation.  Program officers with long histories at a particular foundation have become experts in their targeted funding areas and interact regularly with grantees.  For example, assume that a funder interested in childcare advocacy has an intimate knowledge of related legislation, political issues, model programs, and national movements.  Or if a foundation has funded every other homeless services agency in your city, assume that the staff will know whether your proposed project actually provides an innovative approach to address a gap in the continuum of services or merely duplicates programs already in existence.  Similarly, the family that establishes a small foundation and participates actively in grantmaking decisions quickly becomes aware of state-of-the-art trends in their favorite charitable endeavor.  Respecting expertise forces a proposal to set realistic objectives, identify specific geographic-based needs, and acknowledge the contributions of other non-profit organizations – but should never provide an excuse for obscure jargon or obsolete acronyms.

6.   Recycle proposal text.  Although each proposal should be customized, paragraphs, from previous grant applications should provide the building blocks for future submissions.  Develop varied versions of standard grant components – mission statement, service description, organizational history, and Executive Director biography – in two-sentence, one paragraph, and one page formats.  This pre-approved boilerplate text will make the preparation of massive applications much easier, because less time will be required for basic organizational descriptions.


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