This may surprise you, but grant writers have a lot in common with the Presidential candidates. Like candidates who are competing with each other to get elected, grant writers face stiff competition to get proposals funded in tough economic times. And like the Presidential candidates seeking your votes through compelling speeches and interviews, grant writers are introducing themselves and their organizations to grant makers through compelling written proposals.
But unfortunately the actual writing of the grant proposal too often gets short shrift—and I’m not just talking about grammar, punctuation, and spelling, which should be perfect every time.
Presidential candidates have to make speeches and conduct interviews when they’re exhausted and overwhelmed. And sometimes they make glaring errors and have to apologize. Grant writers have the same problem—they must meet fixed deadlines even if they are exhausted and overwhelmed. But once the grant is submitted….that’s it.
I have a couple of suggestions that might help grant writers (and also Presidential candidates—but it’s not my place!) to increase their chances for success.
Choose your words carefully when writing your proposal. Being politically correct does not simply mean avoiding obvious slurs and insults; it is also important to be up-to-date and appropriate with your choice of words. For instance, “children who are retarded” is no longer the acceptable way to discuss children with “intellectual disabilities”. Using sensitive language is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. It is impossible to know who is reading your proposal and what thoughtless word or phrase might offend that person. And, while you’re choosing your words carefully, stay away from slang, abbreviations, and acronyms. Some grant makers may not mind casual language in a proposal—but, to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to edit out informal words and phrases like “chill out”, “dude”, “cop”, and “kid” before you submit your final draft.
And although Presidential candidates do it, grant writers should never exaggerate, go overboard with adjectives, or make grandiose promises they cannot keep in grant proposals. The program you are proposing is probably not the best and the greatest and the most hugely innovative in the world! It will probably not change the course of history and make the planet a better place! Let your organization’s accomplishments stand on its own merits. Instead of saying it is “known the world over for its fantastic work,” explain in detail why your organization is highly regarded and flourishing and the program you’re seeking funding for is excellent. Data, statistics, testimonials, and facts will convey to funders much more essential information about your organization and program than flowery language and vague, empty promises.
Good luck! I hope you win. I mean I hope your grant proposal gets funded (which is a huge win).
About the Author: Ellen Karsh is the co-author, with Arlen Sue Fox, of The Only Grant-Writing Book You'll Ever Need (Basic Books: Fourth Edition, 2014). She was the director of the NYC Mayor's Office of Grants Administration for eight years, working for Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, and prior to that she developed and wrote grants for the NYC Department of Education.