November 29, 2017

You know the drill: It’s midnight and your grant proposal is due tomorrow. Your assistant left hours ago, and the words on the computer screen start to blur. “It’s not worth it,” you think. And besides, only a few grants pan out anyway.

Grants are a big part of the not-for-profit world. And yet, according to Dennis P. McIlnay’s book, How Foundations Work, less than 10 percent of grant proposals are ever funded. That’s probably why grant writing is often viewed as a lottery with little hope of success.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few pointers to make the grant-writing process a little easier:

Know your organization. In your proposal, you need to prove your organization has a significant need and then come up with a solution to solve the problems. The more information you have at hand, the easier it is to answer questions on a grant proposal. Ask relevant staff members questions about your organization’s programs, and use their answers to help write the proposals. If your employees have trouble providing answers you need, your organization may need to think through its ideas or document its experience more carefully.

Set up a system. The requirements of grant applications are generally repetitive and predictable. Invest some time coordinating and preparing clerical material. You will find that with an efficient system, it’s just as easy to apply for 10 or 20 grants as it is to apply for one or two. And the more organized you are, the easier it becomes to tailor each proposal to the specific grant. Before getting started, contact individual grantmakers for their exact application specifications, Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and guidelines.

Build relationships. Experienced grant writers send a steady stream of information to funders to show that their organizations are responsible and effective partners. Relationships can be cultivated in a variety of other ways, from personal meetings to an invitation to an event sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. These contacts give funders a way to develop a positive profile of your organization and to see that you will use their funds responsibly.

Work steadily. Don’t wait until you’re desperate. Steady, year-round grant seeking lets you gain control over the process. It also gives you the opportunity to carefully select who you will approach as a potential funder and how much to ask for. When you start from a position of power, you come across as a more secure investment.

Learn your craft. Like most skills, grant writing takes time to learn and can be frustrating at first. But keep doing research and writing proposals. Good writing skills are very important. The more you do, the better you become at crafting a good proposal.

The pay-off for the time you spend? An effective grant-seeking system that can speed and enhance your organization’s future work.

© 2017