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Ten Tips For Grantwriting

By Zimmerman Lehman team member, Judy Kunofsky, grantwriting specialist.

It is good to learn from our own mistakes; it is even better to learn from the mistakes of others! Here are some tips on writing grant proposals, as you seek financial support for your important work:

1) Pay more attention to describing your program than your philosophy. Funders want to know what the problem is, what you are going to do about it, and why you are the best ones to do it. In my experience, groups usually have developed wonderful language about the problem they address and the kind of organization they are, perhaps because these are the same for every funding request. However groups are often weakest in describing what they plan to do if this particular grant is funded (how many clients you will serve, or who owns the land you want to buy for a preserve, or how you will staff your program, or what is a credible timeline). Describe what you are going to do in sufficient clarity and detail that the prospective funder can tell that you are serious and intelligent about your work.

2)Make it easy for the foundation to see that your program matches their priorities by telling them that it does: "Our program matches all three of the ABC Foundation's interests because it is (a) preK-12 education targeting (b) children/youth at risk with (c) a focus on literacy."

3) Echo the foundation's language. Read through the annual report to learn preferred phrases. For example, use the phrase "pre-K education" or "infant and toddler education", whichever they use. Use "conservation" or "environment," whichever they do.

4) Echo the foundation's orientation. As Bob Zimmerman writes in Grantseeking: A Step-By-Step Approach, "When I served as director of development for a national legal program working on behalf of children and youth, I had the opportunity to correspond with grantors of various political persuasions. When writing to someone of a conservative political bent, I highlighted the importance of combating juvenile delinquency. When introducing my program to the representative of a progressive foundation, I waxed eloquent about empowering youth." This is not dishonest! Persuasion involves using arguments that are effective with the other person, not what is compelling to you.

5) Use the foundation's full name. While you may informally talk about (for example) the Bison Fund, you want to demonstrate the care you take with your work by using their full name in your letter and proposal: the Richard & Rhonda Bison Fund.

6) Spend much more time on the budget than you think you will need to and don't wait until the end. At the last minute, you are likely to forget (or underestimate) some categories of program expense and skimp on the kind of budget explanation that funders like.

7) Round your budget numbers to the nearest hundred or thousand dollars, depending on the size of the proposal. Most private funders are not interested in knowing that staff benefits will cost $1724.66.

8) Have the lead staff person or Board chair sign every letter of inquiry or proposal. Even if a development director or grants assistant does the research and writing, the letter should be signed by the person at the top of your organizational chart. If you like, say "Please contact so-and-so on my staff at (phone number) for more information" in the last paragraph of your letter.

9) Don't wait until the last minute to pull together the attachments you will need for all full proposals and some LOIs. You can be slowed down close to a deadline unless you already have current information on your Board of Directors and Advisory Council members (names, addresses, phone numbers, brief biographies).

10) If you are writing a proposal in-house, ask someone not involved with your organization to read a draft. It will be easier for them than for you to see what important details may be missing or not described well. It's worth your time cooking dinner for a spouse or good friend to get this kind (free) assistance. We hope you find these Ten Tips useful. Following them will help you make the most persuasive case that the problem you address is real, that your organization is the best one to do what needs to be done, and that a funder can be confident in awarding you a grant.


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