The Formula for Grant Writing Success

Does this sound familiar? Many beginning grant writers start off by sending the same sample grant template to a variety of different funders. When the rejection letters begin to arrive, they scratch their heads and wonder what went wrong. The reality is that grant review committees are choosy. They are wise to your cut and paste job. And after receiving perhaps a hundred or more applications for a single solicitation, they are looking for ways to kick your proposal to the curb. 

What makes grant reviewers smile? When your proposal tells them (1) that you understand the mission of the funder from whom you are asking money, (2) that you have taken the time to describe in your application how the proposed project is a “win-win” for both your organization and the funding organization, (3) that you care enough to follow the funder’s guidance about how much to ask for, what activities and costs are allowable, and, of utmost importance, how well your project responds to the grant making priorities that the funder has established.

To sum it up, the simple formula for a successful grant begins with a proven need and a fabulous idea. Then, sprinkle some Innovation Pixie Dust throughout the proposal and be sure to have a detailed grant plan. Search diligently for your organization’s unique Superhero of a funder. When your grant proposal is accepted and becomes a funded project, that project should be truly transformational and result in measurable change. 

Ideas are the catalysts of imagination and the beginning of great work. When combined with great detail and a well thought out action plan, one can begin to transform the ideas into a beautiful call to action for funders to flock too. 

What do you need to get started on this formula? Go forth and have an idea.

•    Relate the idea to a specific need or problem that can be associated with it. Is the idea solutions-based? In other words, can you take the idea and attach some specific objectives to it that can be measured? Grant funders love measurable objectives because they provide evidence that their contributions have truly made a difference.
•    Ideas must pass the “so what” test. Does the idea have the potential to make a difference in the lives of real people? What, specifically will change?

To be grant-worthy, good ideas need a sprinkling of magic—what can be called Innovation Pixie Dust.

•    While you don’t have to re-invent the wheel (and in many cases funders don’t want you to), you do have to build a few new spokes. Look for existing models for your idea that have proven benefit in the field. How can you take an existing model in a new and exciting direction? 
•    Research best practices and know what they are, where they have been implemented, and results. Talk to successful project directors locally and nationally for advice, strategies and to identify existing gaps you might be able to fill.
•    Many grant funders like to see cross-disciplinary efforts. Grant proposals that are too insular and don’t show adequate internal and external collaboration can be a red flag to a funding agency. 

Just about every grant proposal requires you to come up with a plan for how you will implement the project if funded. Sketch out the major activities and then plug in the details.

•    Start with the end in mind. What will be achieved? Build in processes along the way for measuring the impact your project is making through data collection. If your project is funded, these data collection checkpoints will provide regular opportunities for you to reflect on what is going well with your project and what aspects may need adjustment.
•    Cross check your timeline against the project budget. Both sections should tell the same story.

Once you have a blueprint for a fundable proposal, finding the appropriate funding partner is key. While you might be the Champion of your project’s cause, an interested and engaged funder is your Superhero—a partner who will fly in and help you get your project off the ground and running (what is sometimes called “seed funding”) or a partner who will expand and deepen the impact of budding best practices. Some tips regarding funders.

•    Carefully read funding guidelines (preferably, more than once) and take good notes. If the funder website contains lists of past grantees, review this list to see if they fund organizations like yours and/or projects that are similar. Take note of any geographic restrictions the funder may have. Read the agency’s annual report so you are aware of their strategic direction and major accomplishments. Take a look at the funder’s Board of Directors to see if you, or any of your colleagues, have networking ties with the organization.

Everyday, there is a right moment and right time for a good phrase to draw in the grant reviewers to your proposal. Dr. Beverly Johnson, a grant writing consultant, has written a great book, Perfect Phrases for Writing Grant Proposals, that can provide you with information about how to present your case for grant money to potential givers. It's an excellent side guide for supplementing one's selling points with dynamic phrases to peak the interest of the donors. This book has hundreds of phrases ready for you to use in your grant writing odyssey.

When you work through this simple formula for success, you’ve accomplished the hardest part of grant writing—developing a sound, innovative, detailed concept with a plan for how it will play out, and the identification of a select group of funders who are the best fit to champion your cause.

Everyday, there are thousands of organizations seeking grant writers for opportunities to obtain funding. This funding is the blood that keeps an organization able to operate it's mission. These steps compose an excellent catalyst for getting on the right track for grant writing. By following these tips, one not only masters the tools of the trade, but also can develop the confidence for taking on grant writing projects.

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About the Author: Barbara is a professional grant writer with over 15 years of experience writing successful federal, state, corporate and private grant proposals. She is a member of Grant Writer Team, a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), specializing in higher education and nonprofit grant writing. Barbara@GrantWriterTeam.com

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