Get that Grant! Guidelines for Writing a Winning Proposal

Administering around 500 grant and scholarship funds, the Community Foundations is no stranger to the ins and outs of effective grant writing. We’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly, the incomplete, and the phenomenal.
 
Call it self-interest or civic-service that prompted us to sit down with our Director of Programs, Cristin McPeake to get some pointers, best practices and considerations for writing winning grant proposals. Through various roles Cristin has also written her fair share of grant proposals and confesses to making missteps on more than one. Given those growing pains, her role in reviewing grant applications, and as gatekeeper for the committees that meet to consider them, we figured her tips were worth repeating:
 
Cristin Cringes:
 
When applicants procrastinate. Calling with questions on the due date, waiting until the final hour of the final day or attempting to upload after business hours on the deadline. We’ve all done it, and we all get it – nonprofits are busy, and you are managing many priorities. But so are Community Foundations staff, and our volunteer grant reviewers. Beyond a sense of consideration, there is also the potential for Murphy’s law, which states that anything that can go wrong, will – so if you wait until the last minute and our application portal goes down, we may not be able to help. Running late can also set you up for…
 
Typos and grammar errors. Take the time, check your work. You can even print out or preview your full application with the ‘print packet’ view. This is how the committee will see your application – so be sure it looks good!
 
Asking for an extension. Again, we get it. Everyone’s busy. Please pay respect to our team, and to the volunteer committees who will be generously giving of their time to review the many applications we receive for each cycle.
 
When organizations don’t identify additional resources. We’re thrilled that your program so closely aligns with our grant opportunities – but we also want to see that you’ve spent the time to identify other funding sources and partners.
 
Cristin Cheers:
 
When the narrative strikes a balance. Approach the narrative portion of your application like an elevator pitch – being clear, concise and captivating. A compelling story bolstered by supporting data is ideal. Beware of PITfalls like: Piecemeal details, Internal jargon, Tome writing. Consider that readers may or may not be familiar with you, but are reviewing the merit of your ask not your organization. You may want to share your written narrative with someone outside your organization, and even outside of the nonprofit sector – based on the narrative, ask if they understand what you do, what your need is, and the rationale for why you are asking. Extra gold stars for
           
            Finding balance in showing and telling. Including photos, bids, price quotes or graphics
            can strengthen your case!
 
 
When the math adds up. Not everyone is an accountant, and not all accountants are grant writers – but we do offer a narrative template that can equate to success. This straightforward approach breaks things down and improves your likelihood of receiving funding – both because it demonstrates accountability, and parses out elements of a proposal, which opens up the possibility for partial funding (rather than zero funding). With the number of applications far surpassing our available granting, we will often work with grant committees to identify elements of an application that we can support. (Another good reason to look for additional sources of funding!)
 
When the outputs and outcomes are SMART. We’re all mission-driven professionals, and our intentions are important – but so too are our deliverables. So be SMART about how your organization will assess its goals: Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic, Timed. Outputs are immediate results from an activity or service. A simple example for an output: ‘will hold a series of three, four-hour workshops, which 50 staff will attend.’ Outcomes are the benefits/changes for participants during or after an activity or service. These could relate to a change in knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, condition, or status. An example of an outcome: ‘95% of agency staff will increase their knowledge and awareness of ________ after attending our workshop series.’ Make sure you have the capacity to track your desired outcomes, and that you feel confident in demonstrating them – as we will ask you to report back on your outputs and outcomes.