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The Basics of Grant Writing for Nonprofits: How to Get the Money

Apr 25, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 2 Comments

Doing good work isn’t as easy as it looks.  Nonprofits must compete for funding from grant making agencies with limited funds, and not every worthy project gets funded.  If you’re just starting out on the grant writing process, here are a few tips to keep in mind for writing an effective proposal.

Take a class

A lot of time and effort goes into writing an effective grant proposal, and there’s more to the process than we can cover here.  If you really want to improve your grant writing skills, it’s not a bad idea to take a class in grant writing first.  You can find grant writing classes online that allow students the flexibility of learning while working full-time and grant writing courses for non-profits.

Assess your needs

Most funding sources prefer to fund specific projects, not general operating budgets.  To make yourself attractive to a funding source, you’ll need to assess needs in the community or population group your nonprofit serves—and how your organization can address those needs through a special project. 

Once you’ve found a need in your community to address, you’ll need to design a program to address that need.  You’ll need to assess the resources your nonprofit already has and the tools it will need to implement this program.  You’ll have to provide an accurate assessment of cost, feasibility, measurability, and timetable.  Be realistic in designing this program; if you win the grant, you’ll have to carry it through.

Select the right grantor

Choosing the right funding source is crucial to whether or not your proposal is chosen.  It’s usually best to find a grantor that’s looking to fund something as close to your nonprofit’s program as possible.  Some offer a number of different grants for different types of projects, so you’ll need to review these carefully and make sure you apply to the right one.  The more closely your project matches your grantor’s funding objectives, the more likely you are to win the grant.

Read the rules carefully

Not every grant will fund every aspect of your project; many have limits on what items they can and cannot fund.  Be sure you read the grantor’s guidelines carefully before drawing up your proposal.  This way, you won’t waste your own time or the grantor’s by asking for money to pay for items they can’t fund.

Start with outcomes

One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make in grant writing is not making their desired outcome absolutely clear.  Your grant will start with a summary of your proposal, which is rarely more than a page long.  This is where you’ll outline the high points of your grant.  It’s crucial to be clear about the outcomes you desire to see from this project from the start.  You’ll need to match your outcomes as closely as possible with the goals of the funding source.

Find solid research to support your claims

Grantmakers like to see research and statistics that prove the program a nonprofit is proposing will have the desired outcome.  It’s often a good idea to find statistics from similar programs that other nonprofits have implemented that suggest your program will have equal success.  Programs that have a proven record of success in other areas often take precedence for grant funding over programs with no track record to back them up.

Make yourself accountable with an assessment plan

Your grantor will expect you to monitor the progress and effectiveness of your program with an assessment plan.  When writing your grant, you’ll need to tell the grantmaker exactly how you plan to assess the effectiveness of your project.

Format matters

Illustrate your idea with formatting that makes your concepts easy to read and understand.  Include graphs and charts where applicable; use bolded subheads and bullet points; and make sure your document is easy to read and understand.  The more you make it easy for agencies to understand your concepts at a glance, the more your ideas will shine through.  In addition, make sure you’re following any formatting guidelines the agency puts forward.

Write clearly

Watch out for another common grant writing mistake: unclear writing.  Remember, you’re not writing to subject matter experts here; you’re writing to grantmaking agencies with employees who may or may not understand your jargon and technical terms.  Make sure your language is well-organized and easy to understand; and that your grant’s headline is both descriptive and catchy.

Not every project gets funded.  Many nonprofits miss out on funding because their proposal-writing skills are lacking.  If you learn to write effective grant proposals, your project has a much better chance of being one of the lucky ones. 




Miranda Ward Over a year ago

I have been looking for tips on grant writing for awhile and this really has helped me understand the basics! Thanks for the information! Bookmarked

Marjorey Over a year ago

Thank you for providing us this helpful information. Its help me a lot enhancing my knowledge in grant writing. I will applying all these tips to have an effective writing proposal. :)

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