February 14, 2020
As a team of professional grant writers and institutional fundraisers, we’re no strangers to the sometimes-puzzling language of grant writing. After working with hundreds of nonprofit clients over our lifespan as a company, and securing millions of dollars for their programs from public and private funders alike, we’ve learned a thing or two about what constitutes a winning grant (and the mistakes to avoid).
Below are five crucial pieces of advice we’ve gleaned over the years in our work as grant writing professionals. These tips will help you avoid common grant writing mistakes, create a plan for writing and submitting your first grant, and make the strongest possible case for funding.
Even when you’re the only person at your organization writing grants or doing fundraising, you’ll still likely need to collaborate and work with other people at your organization at various stages along the way – including deciding on strategy, gathering information about your programs, editing, compiling the necessary attachments, and gaining final approval before submission. To that end, it’s important to establish a clear process internally, so everyone involved is clear on who’s doing what.
What your exact process looks like will depend on your organization’s specific setup and circumstances, though we do walk through some examples of what a common division of labor might look like in our free webinar on How to Write Your First Grant.
Will you be requesting funding for a new program, or an existing program? Especially if the request is for a new program, make sure to build in extra time to develop any new language and get it approved by the right people. Similarly, it also doesn’t hurt to budget extra time to consult with your program team before you start writing. Talking through the specifics of the work that’s going to be done with this new program is a great way to make sure you’re all on the same page before you’re too far down the road of writing the proposal.
Specifically, look for the list of funder requirements up front. Do you meet ALL of them? Grant requirements are exactly that – If you meet all but one, you’re ineligible. It’s important that you check off all the requirements, and similarly, keep an eye out for any specific submission instructions. This could include things like mailing printed copies, any character limits or length requirements, or whether the deadline is a postmark deadline or a receipt deadline. One careless mistake here could disqualify you.
The biggest thing to remember here is to only include the attachments that are required! As tempted as you or your Executive Director may be to throw in an extra brochure or a great video that really shows off the impact of your programs – unless the funder has given you the explicit option to attach program support materials, they do not want you to include them.
Follow the guidelines, and start your attachment planning early to build in as much time as possible. (At Elevate, we often recommend our Grant Writers start attachment planning before they even start drafting – especially if you need to coordinate with others to gather all the pieces.)
Every piece of your proposal should bolster your credibility as an organization, and create the impression that would be a reliable grantee. You have a number of opportunities to make the right impression – including submitting a nicely presented and well-developed proposal, painting a clear picture of exactly how you’ll use their funding, pointing to any external signs of legitimacy that indicate you can deliver on your commitments (i.e., awards, news articles, publications, strong outcomes, etc.), and demonstrating a good reputation in your community. The more you can showcase these qualities and make the case for your credibility, the better.
If you’re looking for more detailed guidance about the anatomy of a grant, what to include in each section, and what funders are looking for – join us for our free monthly webinar on How to Write Your First Grant!
In this FREE one-hour training, we’ll walk you through basic do’s and don’ts to help you write your first grant with confidence. By the end of this webinar, you’ll understand:
This webinar is ideal for anyone who’s new to fundraising and grant writing for nonprofits. It’s also helpful for grant writing professionals looking for a refresher, volunteer grant reviewers, anyone interested in exploring a career in grant writing, and those interested in learning a marketable fundraising skill.