The Hallmarks of a Good Grant Writer
Thursday, June 1, 2017
by Waddy Thompson, 5/1/17
Just as the stamp on the bottom of a silver vase indicates it is made of first-class materials, the hallmarks of a good grant writer signal to one and all that the grant writer is the real deal. Each step in the grantseeking process has its own identifiable hallmarks. A good grant writer …
HALLMARKS OF GOOD RESEARCH
- Uses multiple sources for information. It would be nice if you could trust every source of information to be up to date, but in relying only on one resource, you risk making avoidable mistakes. Check a funder’s application procedures and guidelines by comparing its entry in an online directory such as the Foundation Center Online with its own website, noting where possible when each was last updated.
- Compares funders’ stated interests with the grants they are currently making. Look closely at grants from the last two years by checking a funder’s 990s on GuideStar or using an online directory. A foundation’s grantmaking might be evolving faster than updates to its website. Be sure to know what interests them now.
- Includes research on the trustees and staff associated with funders. All donations are individual donations, and understanding the background and interests of the decision makers will help you pitch your proposal just right.
HALLMARKS OF GOOD GRANT WRITING
- Follows all of the funder’s instructions. Too many proposals are defeated before they get read by not following simple instructions about length, formatting, and submission procedures.
- Strives for succinctness and to be jargon free. The number of nonprofits has grown much faster than available funding, and foundations of all sizes are swamped with applications. Succinctness will be appreciated and rewarded. Relying on jargon to describe your clients or programs just looks lazy, and your charity’s internal jargon will make your proposal more difficult to read.
- Remains focused on who will benefit from the funding, not the needs of the charity providing the service. Funders’ missions largely focus on the end-user of your charity’s services. Feeding the hungry and housing the homeless are more important to them than balancing your budget. Stay focused on how you will help the funder fulfill its mission by serving the people that it most cares about.
- Provides a budget that answers questions rather than provoking them. Program officers have seen hundreds of budgets for similar programs, and a missing or unreasonable expense will leap off the page at them. Prepare the budget as carefully as the narrative—and make sure the budget and narrative match point by point! Three consultants in the budget? Make sure you mention all three of them in the narrative.
HALLMARKS OF GOOD FUNDER STEWARDSHIP
- Seeks to educate and cultivate funders before soliciting a grant. The growth in the number of grant applications has made it very difficult to get face time with program officers before submitting a proposal, but you still need to try to make a connection. Send a newsletter or an invitation to a demonstration or event. Even if they don’t read the newsletter or attend the event, at least your charity’s name has passed by them.
- Thanks funders promptly upon receiving notice of funding. This one doesn’t need any elaboration, does it?
- Keeps funders informed of the progress of funded activities. It’s common to forget about funders until it’s time to submit a report, but short updates will be appreciated. And if something unexpected has happened to affect the execution of your program, it’s particularly important to let the funder know as soon as possible if you will need to extend the duration of your project or modify your projected outcomes.
- Submits thorough and timely reports on every program to every funder. Receiving a report that is thorough, accurate, and timely is the very least your funders deserve. A well-done report is also the best first step toward additional funding.
Grant writers who possess all of the hallmarks of good grant writing will find their proposals are more successful, garnering the appreciation and respect of funders. With such enormous competition for every philanthropic dollar, grant writers simply can’t afford to fall short by any measure.
The preceding is a guest post by Waddy Thompson, author of The Wise Guide to Winning Grants, instructor at New York University’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising, and managing director of the Authors Guild Foundation.
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