5 Tips For Writing Better Grant Proposals


by Mehron Price

Did you know that on average, less than 35% of grant proposals are funded each year? The question on every nonprofit’s mind is "How can I become one of them?" Let's take some of the guesswork out of the process by exploring 5 ways to write better grant proposals.

1. Be Clear  

Clarity is one of the most important aspects of a strong grant proposal. Why do you need the money you're applying for? What specifically do you plan to accomplish, and by what date?

Funders like to see that you have a clear plan for their investment. When I'm first getting started with a proposal, I ask my clients three questions: Why this? Why you? Why now? If you can answer those questions clearly and concisely in your grant proposal, you’re off to a great start.

2. Be Specific

Lack of specificity kills grant proposals from even the greatest nonprofits. Even if you have the greatest idea in the world, if you can't translate that into the nuts and bolts of what specifically you will do, you're not going to perform as well against competing requests for funding.

A big part of this is writing a grant proposal that's lacking numbers entirely. Here’s an example.

Proposal A: “The ABC Nonprofit will help youth participating in our after-school program succeed in school.

Proposal B: “ABC Nonprofit proposes to serve 450 youth over the next 2 years and maintain at least a 75% retention rate in our after-school program.”

Proposal B is much more specific in describing how it will serve youth through its after-school program. If I’m reviewing a grant proposal and don't see numbers jumping off the page at me, I often take it back to the drawing board.

3. Be Reasonable

In grant proposals, be sure to avoid hugely general, sweeping claims that you can't deliver on. Pro-tip here: Don’t claim credit for things that are largely outside of your control.

For one example, there are many factors that go into high school graduation rates. Instead of claiming that your nonprofit will “raise high school graduation rates of the class of 2018,” focus on what specific impact your organization will have. It’s much more detailed and reasonable to propose to improve things like participation rates, improvement on diagnostic scores, and other measurable, trackable things that you can show your organization had a direct hand in bringing about.

4. Remember: It’s a Relationship

Imagine that someone you didn’t know approached you with a sheet of paper with everything they hoped to do in the next 5 years and then asked why you hadn't opened your wallet yet. How would you respond?

Why do we think it works any better with grant proposals? Remember, Foundations are made up of people. Just like with anything in life, building up a personal connection wherever possible is key.

Before you send off that grant proposal, have you tried to reach out to a Program Officer? Make sure that wherever possible, you have attempted to make some sort of personal connection before sending off your proposal.

5. Seek a Second Opinion

An often-overlooked invaluable resource is asking for in-person feedback. Sometimes being so involved in the day-to-day operations of your nonprofit means you lose sight of where someone unfamiliar with your work might get lost.

Take the key elements of your proposal and verbally explain it to someone (ideally someone who is unfamiliar with your work). Do they understand what you're pitching? Or did you lose them somewhere? Seeing what works (or doesn't work) on someone who's unfamiliar with the program I'm describing has often helped me write stronger, clearer grant proposals.

What do you think are other ways to write better grant proposals? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Mehron Price is the Founder of Grants on a Mission, LLC. Grants on a Mission provides nonprofits with high-quality support in developing exceptional fundraising strategies. Our vision is to see a well-resourced nonprofit sector that is able to make strategic decisions based on their missions, not on the next funding cycle. F or more information, visit www.grantsonamission.com.

The content of this article originally appeared in StartingBloc’s July 2016 newsletter issue, “Stop Writing Crappy Grant Proposals.” Reproduced with permission.