Successful Grant Writing for Beginners

Grant writing is time-consuming, but there is no need for it to be difficult. When it comes to writing grants, take a step back and put yourself in the shoes of the funding source. While grant funders look for many qualities, the top questions they are looking to answer are:

  • Are you capable of doing what you say?
  • Will you handle money well?
  • Will you have a Social Return on Investment (ROI)?

While you can easily say yes on paper, you need to be able to demonstrate it with proof to the grant funders. Therefore, before submitting your grant proposal, ensure you read through these top questions and clearly answer each one.

Starting Your Grant Proposal

Before you get started, you will need to gather the basic information and attachments. These documents include:

  1. 501(c) tax-exempt status letter 
  2. Your mission statement
  3. Two years of financials
  4. Your organization’s overall budget & its budgets for each program
  5. A list of board members & roles (expertise, experience, and diversity)
  6. Staff resumes
  7. Job descriptions for key staff
  8. Written strategic plans (similar to a business plan, but for nonprofits)
  9. Past successes and stories
  10. Support letters/collaborations
  11. List other funding sources

Once you have acquired the necessary information and documents, it is time to move on to the grant writing portion. The key elements of grant writing include following directions as outlined by the funding source, as well as validating the need for funding.

10 Key Elements of Grant Writing
  1. State the need/problem
  2. Define the target population
  3. Outline previous collaborations
  4. Give your program description
  5. Provide your agency’s capabilities & history
  6. Include unique & innovative answers
  7. Include your budget; track your volunteer hours (use the volunteer base rate in your state), track your donations, and record in-kind services
  8. Detail the number of volunteers you have
  9. Give measurable SMART outcomes
  10. Include an evaluation

Grant applications vary in size and requirements. Typically, a foundation or corporate grant application can take up to 20-30 hours to complete. So, it is important to not rush the process and to take your time answering each question the best you can.

If the funding source only requires an LOI, this saves you the trouble of doing a full proposal, as it only needs to be about 2 pages in length. So, it is important to plan and allot time for each section of the grant proposal and not put yourself in a position where procrastination makes you rush the process. Each question asked must be fully and completely answered. An LOI or letter of intent takes the same amount of thought and planning. It is basically a mini-grant proposal with all the same sections written in summary form spanning about 2 pages in length.

After you have completed your first draft do a very careful review. Read it through the eyes of the funding source. See if your application can demonstrate the qualities often found in a winning proposal. You need to ensure your program (or service) includes sufficient evidence to increase your chances of being funded. Meanwhile, your organization should also demonstrate reliability and sustainability.

7 Qualities Your Program Should Demonstrate
  1. Measurable outcomes (specific, measurable statements that let you know when you have reached your goals)
  2. Best practices
  3. Good use of resources (in-kind, collaboration, volunteers)
  4. Qualified staff (that are running your program)
  5. Success rates & stories (your experience and history)
  6. Evaluation (your follow-up on your program and the impact it will have)
  7. Innovative piece (what makes you unique)

GrantWatch recommends that your organization make a good best attempt at writing its first grant application. Additionally, gathering all the information and working through the questions will get you ready if you decide to pursue hiring a grant writer.

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