Grant Seeking 101: Writing Your Application

September 5, 2019 Jocelyn Wright

In the last post, we discussed how to find the perfect grant for your organization. This week, we’ll dive into how to write an effective application that will get you the grant.

Since you’ve already done your research and determined that your organization is grants-ready, you should be confident you’re a good candidate for this grant. Now your job is to show the grantor that you’re the perfect match—with a persuasive application. Here are some tips to get you started:

Answer Their Questions

This may seem obvious, but grantors ask the questions on their application for a reason—they need that information to determine if they can give you a grant. Don’t make their job needlessly complicated by skirting around the questions they’ve asked. Take the time to find the information you need to completely answer the questions and be direct and straightforward in your responses. If answering a question directly puts your organization in a bad light, take some extra space to explain your response and show the steps your organization is taking to improve the situation.

Tell a Story

Thread your answers to the questions together to tell a story. These stories add color. Your application will stick in reviewers’ minds and remain a part of the conversation throughout their deliberations.

Let’s pretend we’re grantors evaluating a grant application. Which opening are you most likely to remember?

“We need $50,000 to support a new initiative to provide breakfast to people in need.”

“When Alyssa Jones, a student at City Community College, must choose between eating breakfast and paying the rent, she skips breakfast. She’s not alone—over 75% of low-income students in our city skip breakfast for financial reasons. With the support of the National Breakfast Foundation, we could improve the memory, alertness, and concentration of 2,000 CCC students like Alyssa by providing a free, healthy breakfast each morning.”

What makes the second opening so effective? It presents a story that is specific enough to be memorable, while also illustrating exactly how the funds will be used and how the grantor will be a part of the solution.

Want to try it for yourself? Follow this formula:

  1. Start with a story about one specific person or individual circumstance.
  2. Add statistics that demonstrate the universality of this story.
  3. Show your organization’s plan for fixing the problem.
  4. Present the grantor as the hero who can solve this problem by partnering with your organization.

An effective application demonstrates your organization’s successful track record in fixing similar problems and partnering with other grantors. Use your financial statements to back up your responses. Demonstrate the impact of your past programs and the projected impact of the proposed program, as well as the associated costs and risks. Your finances should complement your narrative, adding depth and credibility to your application.

Be Clear

Effective writing uses clear, precise language. Avoid vague statements and words like good, bad, or challenging. Instead, push yourself to show how something was good. For instance, “We connect 1,000 at-risk youth in our city with mentors who help them graduate high school and start successful careers.” This explains precisely what the organization does and how they do it.

You have limited space, so make sure you use it effectively. Show, don’t tell. Let’s compare two sentences:

  • “We implemented the new reading program quickly.”
  • “We implemented the new reading program in just 2 months—half the time it took us to implement our writing and math programs.”

The first sentence provides little detail. (“Quickly” can mean something very different, depending on context.) With the second sentence, the grantor not only learns exactly how long it took you to implement the program, but also sees how that implementation measured up against your normal time to complete projects.

Choose the best words, not the biggest words. A bunch of flowery language doesn’t contribute anything but extra noise that detracts from your key points.

Read back through your writing to ensure you’ve gotten rid of extraneous language that doesn’t add to your story. Be aware of your crutches—those words you reuse out of habit, even when they add nothing to your application. More often than not, these crutches weaken your writing.

Edit Your Writing

Have a plan in place for how you’ll edit your writing. Ideally, after writing your application, you will:

  1. Take some time (a few hours, or even a day) to step away from the finished application so that you can look at it again with fresh eyes.
  2. Reread and edit the application for clarity and precision. (This is a great time to get rid of all that unnecessary language!)
  3. Check to ensure that the language and voice are consistent throughout the application—especially if multiple people have worked on or edited different sections.
  4. Run a final spelling and grammar check to get rid of any glaring errors.
  5. Solicit feedback on the completed application from at least two other people.
  6. Send the finalized application to an editor before submitting it.

Not every organization will have a professional editor on staff. But at a minimum, every grant application should be read by at least one other person and reviewed for spelling and grammatical errors. Typos, incomplete sentences, and bad grammar make you look careless and unprepared—the opposite of what you want a grantor to think about you!

Once you have a perfectly worded application, don’t bury its beautiful language in a single grant application! Reuse and recycle the content you worked so hard to create in your case statements, social media posts, newsletters, and annual reports.

Remember, your written application isn’t the only part of your grant application. Next week, we’ll turn the tables and learn how to think like a reviewer to ensure every part of your application is effective.

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