Grant writing can seem like a daunting undertaking, but it is a skill anyone can learn. Once you know the basics, you can work on ways to improve your grant-writing skills.
Some nonprofit leaders may come to the organization with strong backgrounds and knowledge in fields such as business, social work or psychology but need to learn about how nonprofits function. This includes grant writing, said Mark C. Germano, an instructor for Nonprofit Executive Programs at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and expert in grant strategies.
“They understand specific areas, but they don't understand when they get to the executive director or the CEO, president level, about fundraising, about how you write a grant,” Germano said.
The specifics of every grant application are different, but they do share some basic principles – and most award committees will ask for some of the same information. Before you begin writing, it’s important to carefully review the application requirements and guidelines, which must be followed in order for your proposal to be considered. Skipping a page or paragraph could mean missing vital instructions and oversights that eliminate your proposal from consideration.
It’s usually best to have a specific, well-planned project in mind for a grant proposal. For example, a food bank might reach out for funding for a major expansion, while a recreation group might ask for help building a forest trail. Keep the project in mind as you prepare these basic components of a good grant proposal:
The Need: Establish the need and desire for the project. Demonstrate how residents and community members will benefit and the impact if the project is not funded and the need is not addressed.
In an effort to win grants, some organizations make the mistake of seeking out funding sources, then developing projects and writing grant proposals to fit the criteria. You’ll be more successful if you first develop projects that benefit the people you serve and align with your mission, and then seek funding to support them.
Not every grant proposal will be funded. Foundations often receive multiple deserving proposals that match their priorities but the need exceeds available funds.
“When you're talking about grant proposal writing, it is very much relationship oriented. Funders want to know what kind of social return they will get on their investment (Social ROI). That's not necessarily a big issue in the for-profit world because the bottom line is proof of ROI. So, we in the nonprofit sector are measured very differently because our ROI is more difficult to assess,” Dr. Hardy said.
You may not be able to control everything that influences grant decisions but you can give your proposal the best chances of approval by clearly communicating your organization’s mission, the need for the project and your passion for what you are trying to accomplish.
Winning proposals depend on your ability to make a compelling case for funding and for the committee to clearly envision what you’re working toward. Your proposal should give the grant committee confidence that the investment will produce a good return.