I often meet nonprofit executive directors and development professionals who insist one must be “creative” when writing a grant proposal in order to grab the attention of the potential donor and to secure funding.
This, compounded with a flood of advice provided online by communications experts – which is sometimes misconstrued to apply also to grant writing – means there is a disconnect with reality. Yes, storytelling is an important aspect of nonprofit communications, but use it sparingly when it comes to writing grants.
A well-regarded grant professional I know in Texas once remarked when we discussed this quandary,
Give me the facts. Get to the point. I have to read hundreds of grant proposals. If I cannot understand what you need and why, and fairly quickly, I will turn my attention to the next proposal.
One of the earliest articles on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, “Grant Writing: A Reality Check,” is also one of my most read. I note therein that I heartily endorse securing formal grant writing training (as I have done), but my mantra in the article is that one must follow instructions (and each potential funder is different). But at the same time, be flexible in your thinking.
This is not generally the case with government grant writing, but it certainly is when it comes to writing grants for private sector foundations, corporations and for individuals. Listen and respond as requested, rather than simply following the preset format you may have learned during a grant writing seminar. After all, you are approaching a unique donor for support. You must respect their inquiries and the way in which they prefer to receive information.
Professional grant training does provide good, solid advice and general guidance, and I recommend many of them! But once you encounter a donor, things may change and you need to be mentally prepared. As a grant writer myself, I am observing that grant proposals are becoming shorter these days. That means there is less “space” to tell a story, and hence you must focus on the facts at hand and why you need financial support.
I wanted to share a few insightful links by other grant writing experts that might be of help to those reading this post.
- Sukey Blanc of the American Association of University Women, “How to Write Grant Proposals: 8 Tips from an Expert” (September, 2014).
- Kathryn Pauley of Nonprofit Hub, “Finding Your Perfect Love: Grant Writing Tips for Nonprofits” (n.d.).
- Jake Seliger of Seliger + Associates, “Never Think Outside the Box: Grant Writing is About Following the Recipe, Not Creativity” (January, 2010).
I also enjoyed a somewhat unusual resource, an article by Catherine Clifford for Entrepreneur, “8 Writing Strategies for People Who Say They Can’t Write” (2014).
When you sit down to write a business pitch, a grant proposal or a speech, be sure that you have done your research and know precisely what you mean to communicate. If you’re struggling to write, it may be a sign that you are confused about what you want to say. Condense the main nugget of what you are trying to say into just a short phrase or sentence and you’ll have a better shot at composing a tight, organized piece.
Last but not least, I first began Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, a number of email inquiries I received concerned how to clear one’s mind in preparation for writing. If you are concerned about how to focus, follow this link to, “Dealing With Stress.” I believe adequate rest, healthy eating habits, and regular exercise positively affect how your brain functions. Taking good care of yourself is often the best preparation.
If you have more questions about grant writing, use the secure contact form on this blog to reach me. Many have, and I am always happy to respond.