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Grant Geek

How To Stand Out: 5 Elements of a Winning Grant Proposal


Grant Proposal, Grant writing

While you may have only one grant proposal to write at any given time, those who review grant proposals regularly may have dozens to review.

Just as recruiters go through multiple resumes for an open job position, grant proposal reviewers have a limited amount of time to sift through an enormous pile of applications. They must triage applications quickly to narrow down the pool of those most worthy of further consideration. Just as a poor resume will quickly be discarded, a poorly done grant proposal will as well.

Great grant proposals stand out in clearly identifiable ways and almost always share common themes of careful attention to detail and strategic alignment of the requestor’s and grantor’s priorities and goals. Here are five factors that distinguish winning grant proposals from those that fail to secure funding:

1. They are meticulously thorough and address all the grantor’s requirements.

Often, the problem with an ineffective grant proposal isn’t the quality of the writing, the reputation of the requesting organization, or the worthiness of its stakeholders and community. Instead, what often diminishes a proposal’s effectiveness is a failure to thoroughly address the expectations of the grantor. Many proposals do a wonderful job of demonstrating the value of the organization doing the asking but fail to address specific requirements set forth by the granting agency or are not adequately tailored to speak to their specific audience.

While it can be smart to use templates to repurpose key messaging and information, it is critical to make sure each grant proposal thoroughly addresses specific requests and concerns outlined by the potential funding agency and is customized to speak to that specific agency. Create a spreadsheet listing every requirement set forth by the funding agency and make sure your proposal addresses every single one of them.

2. They focus on opportunity and capacity to build a better tomorrow rather than on the bleakness of any given present.

It’s tempting and seems appropriate to convey the direness of whatever situation you’re seeking to remedy, but it’s not the best way to approach a funder. While you naturally need to show where the pain is for the community you serve, it’s even more important to show how you would use the grant to provide concrete, quantifiable improvement.

Present yourself as a problem solver first and a messenger second. Funders need to see concrete ways their money will be put to use more than they need you to “make a case” for your community. Instead, show specific ways you will allocate the money in programs, services, and other offerings and demonstrate clearly how your efforts will create more desirable outcomes.

3. They establish how your organization is specially equipped to meet the community and the funder’s needs.

Never assume your good reputation follows you and your potential funders will be familiar with your organization’s mission, the scope of activities, populations served, and unique programs. Whether you do a concise (very concise!) “about us” section at the beginning of the proposal, or you instead weave specific information about your organization throughout the proposal, your brand and your value must come through.

More than likely there are many organizations very similar to yours. Make sure your proposal shows how you are different – and most importantly how that difference translates into better results. For example, if you have an innovative program or service that is far outpacing your competitors, showcase it–obviously, without drawing attention to your competitors.

4. They know exactly who they are talking to.

Always do your research. Know your potential funder intimately. Again, use the HR analogy. Just as you would never send in a sloppy resume or cover letter that doesn’t speak directly to the position you’re applying for; a poorly targeted proposal showing little knowledge of its audience and speaks in generic terms is doomed. Align your goals and mission with theirs – of course, within reason. Highlight the synergies between your mission and goals and theirs. But beware: there is a fine line between modifying your approach and solutions to speak to the funder’s needs and desires and obvious pandering. Use your message in a way that shows your organization’s natural fit and alignment with the funder. Do not appropriate their messaging and make it fit your needs. Your funder wants a trusted partner, not an acolyte.

5. They are thoroughly vetted and reviewed before submission.

Just as you would your annual report, letters to donors, or any other communication that leaves your organization and lands on another’s desk, establish an editorial review process. Grant writing isn’t like other types of persuasive writing. It has its own language and “rules.” Have someone – or many people – work with you during the production of your proposal to ensure the final product is as near-flawless as possible.

When your drafts are done, have an editor or team of editors who are experienced with grant proposals review and fine-tune your proposal. Don’t trust yourself to review your work, even if you are a professional editor. It may be tempting if you’re in a crunch – but it’s never worth it. Always have a second set – or several sets – of well-trained eyes.

Grant writing is a high-stakes activity that can sometimes feel like a shot in the dark. There is no formula to automatically produce a winning proposal. However, following the best practices above – while not guaranteeing you a bullseye – certainly will get you closer to the dartboard. If you don’t have the time to write a grant for yourself, or if you would like an experienced team of grant writers to review your grant, We are here to help. Get in touch with us and let’s work together to produce proposals that stand apart, get noticed, and get funded.

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