Grant writing is a skill much valued in the nonprofit world, yet often performed by people whose skills lie in the field, rather than in writing. For example, a social worker in a community organisation will be called upon to write a grant application for their project. They know their field in a practical sense, but writing about it is not their strength. Hence, their applications often fail.
I’ve got professional experience in the nonprofit and educational fields, yet I’m also a writer, which results in a nice combination for grant writing in these sectors. I’ve written dozens of successful grant applications for community organisations, schools, and research programs.
In this post, I give some pointers for writing successful grants, whether in the nonprofit, health, education, or most other fields. Some of these are about the grant process in general, and some are about the writing itself. None of these are rocket science, yet they are usually ignored.
- Match the Program and Grant
I’ve written plenty of grants where the project is a square peg being shoved into the round hole of the grant program. The project manager has seen a pot of money and wants some of it, even though the program really only ticks two of the eight aims of the grant program. There are several negative consequences of writing a grant with a bad project-grant fit. Here are two:
- if the application is unsuccessful, money and time is wasted on writing the grant application, especially if you are using a professional writer;
- to persuade the grant organisation that your project fits their aims, you’ll have to change your project to fit. If the application is successful, the project workers suddenly must change what they are doing, with resultant stress, resentment, and program drift.
I recommend finding grants with a good fit, and then researching whether your project is a likely candidate for success. You can do this by:
- Calling the grant organisation and speaking to someone who is managing the particular grant you want to apply for. Explain your project and see what they think.
- Looking at past grants the organisation has made. Does your project generally lie in the ball-park?
- Read current grant priorities. Most granting bodies have very generic grant aims, like “support disadvantaged communities in Australia”. But each year they usually prioritise particular groups or projects, for example, people who have a disability or young people in rural areas.
- Keep a Calendar of Grants
In order to keep on track with grants, keep a calendar of grants and regularly consult it, so that you can be prepared for the research and writing of the application.
To populate your grant calendar, join up to mailing lists and philanthropic peak bodies who can notify you of grants that are coming up. Some of these cost, but others don’t. For example, I’m a member of the Funding Centre, which costs, but I also get emails from FRRR, GrantGuru, my local council, and state and federal grant programs.
- Explain HOW You’ll Achieve Aims and Objectives
When reviewing and editing grant applications, the main failing I see is a lack of specific detail about HOW your organisation will achieve the aims and objectives of your project.
It’s not too difficult to match your aims and objectives with those of the grant organisation, especially if you’ve followed my first piece of advice. The hard part is explaining exactly HOW you will achieve these.
My experience is that most grant applications include a bunch of blather about how much the community organisation believes in/loves/is committed to “empowerment”, “community development” etc. But grant organisations want to know HOW you will achieve these things.
In essence, you need to give details and examples: the grant assessor should read your application and see a picture of what the program looks like in real life:
- use case studies of past programs
- actual planned activities in the program
- statistics and short stories that describe your target community or demographic
- a schedule of the activities and events in the project
- a project plan showing how the project will be implemented and evaluated
- Make Your Writing Readable
Here is where most non-writing workers in the nonprofit field slip up. They fill their applications with jargon from their field: they pile up the buzz words into impenetrable paragraphs.
You want the grant assessor to read your application easily. If they have to read sentences and paragraphs twice to get your meaning, then it’s likely your application is headed for the recycle bin.
Here are a few things you can do to improve the readability of your application:
- Say only what you need to say: Don’t assume that more information is better. Most application templates have specific questions. Give specific responses that answer the questions, rather than taking the opportunity to ramble about your project.
- Explain the jargon: salting your application lightly with jargon can communicate that you are a professional, but the key word is lightly. If you do use a piece of jargon, explain it with an example. Your grant assessor is most likely NOT a professional in your field, though they will have a general knowledge of it. Don’t make them feel dumb.
- Use dot points and short paragraphs: long documents need to be broken up into readable chunks. These applications are not academic essays; they are more like a technical document that explains your organisation, its aims, and how well it can do its job.So, use subheadings, dot points, short sentences and short paragraphs. These break the text down so that the grant assessor can find their way to the important information in the application.
If you practice these four tips, then your grant applications will have a much greater chance of success.
If you’d like assistance in researching, writing, or editing your grant applications, then get in touch for a conversation about your needs. I’d love to help.