Back to School - Grantwriting Basics

Back to school

If you've been on social media at all this week, you've probably noticed something: pictures of kids in clean, pressed clothes, posing (sometimes patiently) for their parents' obligatory first day of school photos.  Or, if you're a parent, perhaps you've taken (and posted) one yourself.

All of this back-to-school-ness has gotten me thinking about getting back to basics.  In elementary school, kids learn the three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic (or 'rithmetic, for those really focused on alliteration).

What does getting back to basics in grantwriting look like?  For me, it's the three Rs of grantwriting: research, relationships, and writing:

  1. Research.  Good grantwriting starts with good research.  A really compelling grant application requesting funding for an animal shelter will never be successful when submitted to a funder that only supports education reform.  While that's an extreme example, less egregious examples abound: grantseekers submitting requests to funders whose priorities have changed without confirming the funder's current interests; grantseekers not thoroughly reading guidelines before submitting a request and being denied for not adequately meeting the requirements; grantseekers spending significant resources to apply for a big-name grant they are unlikely to receive, at the expense of smaller grants that are a better fit.  Another facet of research is being selective about which grants to apply for and which to skip.  Grantseekers are always looking for new funding.  But not every grant is a good grant or a good fit.  Some aspects of that relate to funding priorities and ensuring that the program, project, or initiative for which you are seeking funding fits within the funder's interests, but it's also important to calculate the net grant value (discussed in this blog post) before applying for a grant.
  2. Relationships.  Relationships are a key part of institutional fundraising, just as they are a key part of individual fundraising.  While grants are awarded by foundations, corporations, government agencies, or other types of organizations, the decisions are made by people.  Establishing and building relationships with those people is critical to grantseeking success.  When approaching a new funder, try to get to know the people.  It's beneficial in a number of ways: it helps the grantseeker gain a better understanding of the grantmaker's interests; it helps the grantmaker better understand the organization applying for the grant; it helps the grantmaker feel more valued in the process.  Grantmakers sometimes feel like they're treated by grantees like ATM machines: grantees are only interested in the check.  There are much more meaningful relationships that can and should be built with funders, not only because it helps the funder feel more valued, but also because both parties have much to learn from each other and can help each other.  Funders and grantees are all focused on addressing issues.  There is an immediate alignment of interests in that realization.  Connecting with funders - not only during the application process, but on an ongoing basis - can help inform both parties about what is working and what isn't working in addressing the issue or issues they both have in common.
  3. Writing.  Of course, a key part of grant writing is the actual writing.  As a grantseeker, take a moment to put yourself in the shoes of the person who will be reading your grant application.  Is yours the only grant application they will be reading?  How much will that person know about your organization before reading your application.  What do they need to know to evaluate whether your organization is going to be a good fit with their funding interests?  How will they be able to determine that your organization and your application stand out from the others?  Simply put, good writing is paramount.  When reading many applications, one that is poorly written can be easy to dismiss, regardless of the quality of the program the grant would support.  And persuasive writing is critical.  How are you making the case that the grantmaker should allocate some of its limited resources to supporting your organization?  Every decision to support your organization implies a decision not to support another organization.  Have you crafted your proposal in a manner that is sufficiently compelling for the funder to make that decision?  Have you used a good combination of qualitative and quantitative information to make your case?

What do you think?  What are your back to school tips for grantwriters?  What other grantwriting elements are fundamental?

Grant writing software can help manage all facets of the grantseeking process.

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Image from http://img14.deviantart.net/bcdc/i/2012/239/3/f/back_to_school_by_textuts-d5cml39.jpg

 

Author: Dahna Goldstein
September 11, 2015, 10:55 AM

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