Grant Writing: 6 Easy Steps to Get Started
A local recovery group uses the term “live in day-tight boxes”, meaning finding a way in which to get through just 24 hours without taking on everything that needs to be accomplished. Below is my effort to translate that idea into some grant writing tips from the field. Think of “function-tight boxes” to help your brain stay focused on a particular process that will enable you to accomplish small portions of grant writing at a time.
As I work with widely varying nonprofits, the following tips are basics that have worked across agency mission, size, programs, and staffing. Let us know if they help you in the comments section at the end.
1. Start Early
Obvious? Yes, but you will be amazed at what happens to reduce your stress level once you schedule as little as 15 minutes a day to work on the proposal. One client who tried this now schedules each step directly on her calendar. And, if those 15 minutes get eaten up by other urgent priorities, at least she only has to reschedule 15 minutes.
2. Collect all the Attachments the Funder Requires
But doesn’t that usually come at the end, you say? Yes, until you realize two things:
a. You will have accomplished a part of the proposal that takes time and effort, even if it doesn’t involve writing. Your 501(c)3 documentation, agency budget, program budget, and audited financial statement are likely easily available. One client even addresses the envelope if it is a snail mail submission.
b. There may be something that needs attention, and you will still have time to do it. One client needed a Board-approved agency budget and realized that that approval had not happened at the prior Board meeting because they didn’t have a quorum. But, because he had started early on these items, this was easily remedied by taking it to the next Board meeting, which was only a week away.
3. Know Your Audience
No, really, who are they. Whether you are writing a grant request, a solicitation letter, or a business proposal, you need more than a cursory reading of “requirements, interests, focus areas.”A nonprofit asking for operating support for their youth program from a particular foundation learned from reading a business publication that the foundation’s founder was a big supporter of business start-ups. The nonprofit, as one component of their youth program, helped kids learn how to set up a lemonade stand using proven business methods: market research, costing of materials, staffing, location, and communication pieces. They not only received the funding but also got the attention of people who wanted to help them accomplish this portion of their mission.
4. Promote Your Accomplishments
Did you get an award from the local fire department for your efforts to support fire safety for seniors? Brag about it, even though it may seem hard, given the penchant of Minnesotans for downplaying accomplishments. Now is not the time to be modest. Take a picture of the award, photocopy the wording used at the ceremony, ask the fire chief to provide a letter of support. By sharing the accomplishment, you tell a well-rounded story of who you are and will differentiate you from your competition.
4. Talk Directly to Program Staff
Use the actual proposal questions to start the conversation about the services, evaluation, and demographic data, participants, challenges—then use your best listening skills. You will find a richness that simply isn’t available at the administrative level. In one nonprofit, copies of previous grants had been provided to guide the next proposal. It was the staff person who noted that a certain focus area of the program had recently been phased out due to funding cuts. Whew!
So what about the actual grant writing?
Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle. The ideas above will put the initial pieces in place, providing the “border”or foundation from which to launch your story. You will then have a clearer picture of what you want to say. When you start putting some of the pieces together, the writing is an outcome and flows more easily. And remember, grant writing is about the people who will benefit and the passion you have for your cause. Let that message shine through and grant writing will become one useful more tool to help achieve your mission.
Strategic Consulting and Coaching offers grant writing expertise to nonprofit organizations.
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