How to Write the Best Grant Proposal

Grant writing is a special form of the craft, very different from writing a compelling essay or informational blog post. The content of a grant application should be targeted at the sponsor it is targeting, briefly describe the work the money will be spent on, and stand out from hundreds, if not thousands, of other applications.

Grant writing is a skill too, and the more you do it, the better you will be. Over the past five years, I have written my own grants and reviewed others’ grant applications for approval. Along the way, I have compiled a few tips to help newbies get off to a good start.

Find what works for your job

In my earlier work with financial sponsor Fractured Atlas, I found that many grant applicants assumed there was a list of potential sponsors ideally suited to their proposed project and all they needed was access to it. Unfortunately, such lists do not usually exist, and the search for funding sources is a complex process. Before you start, make sure you are ready for the task. Most people can use the foundation resources offered by Candid (formerly known as the Foundation Center), an online directory of sponsors ranging from small family foundations to large government agencies. If you have money to spare, you can purchase a “Basic” membership to the service for $ 49.99 per month or $ 758 for two years. Otherwise – once the pandemic is over – you can personally go to any of the official Candid offices to browse their database for free. Look for the opportunities that best suit your job. Each sponsor seeks to support something different: for example, the Harkness Foundation only supports art, in particular dance projects. Others focus on the humanities, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, while others, such as the Ford Foundation, tend to spread their focus more widely. Fractured Atlas reports :

Take a look at their websites, their mission and the past 990s. See who they’ve funded in the past. By researching sponsors, you can get a real sense of whether your project is truly something they can support.

Some possibilities may not be 100% the same as your job, but still fit the fundamentals of what you are trying to achieve. It is very important to remember that you should not try to change your work to fit the pattern of any one sponsor. It will never work – neither for your project, nor for sponsors, who can always tell when your project is really not meant for their organization. Correct fit means that your mission and vision are in line with theirs and that you meet the eligibility criteria. For example, I once wrote a grant to the New York City Arts Foundation for a web series that featured women in front of and behind the camera and targeted a specific opportunity aimed at women in the media. This application was successful because the mission of the organization coincided with mine, and my work spoke directly about what the sponsor was trying to support.

Content should be clear and concise

Even after you’ve found the right opportunity, writing about your work can still be unnerving. First of all, tell the sponsor exactly what you are doing, avoiding flowery words and jargon. If you are leading a youth choir, please state this specifically on your application. Don’t start rhetoric about “the importance of singing in the modern age” right away before saying that you are leading a choir; it will only confuse readers and obscure your message. Try to explain things in layman terms – grant reviewers may work in your field, but only you have your own unique experience. “Explain why there is a problem you need to solve and provide evidence to support your claim, then connect it to your project and then to the sponsor’s priorities,” advises Vanessa Ramalho , former director of development for the Philadelphia Asian Art Initiative … … “You need to connect the dots for the reviewer to justify why they should fund you.”

I like to think of it as teaching someone who has never made a sandwich how to turn peanut butter, jelly, and bread into lunch. You can’t guess anything: you have to tell them where to get the jar of jelly and peanut butter, what tools are used, and how you put them into a sandwich. If their experience lies elsewhere, otherwise you might end up with a very strange sandwich.

Request the exact amount of funds

There is a delicate balance between asking what you really need and understanding what the sponsor is willing to give. Typically, a sponsor is only willing to support about 30% of your project’s total budget. Sponsors usually do not want to be the sole sponsor of a project and prefer to know that your work is supported by other sources. For example, the New York City Council of the Arts (NYSCA) states in its guidelines for individual artists in the film category that applicants must “take into account that NYSCA will not cover more than 50% of the total project cost”. Knowing this will help you create an accurate budget and establish a reasonable request amount that suits your needs and sponsor’s guidelines. This is where an analysis of past 990s sponsors – tax forms that nonprofits must file with the IRS – for information on past donations comes in handy. You can see how much the sponsor usually gives and you can base your numbers on their past behavior. Asking for too much is a problem, but asking for too little can also cause anxiety. If you go to a sponsor who usually gives large sums (say $ 50,000), but your request is much less ($ 10,000), they will find your project too small to fund them. It’s important to be as honest as possible. Make a budget for what you really need and estimate how much you can raise from all the sponsors you apply to. Based on their funding habits and your needs, you will be able to select the ideal amount to request.

Reread and rewrite with attention to detail

After you have completed a sentence, reread it out loud and make any necessary corrections if the language sounds awkward or unclear. Ask the other person to read it, as this will help you get an outside perspective and identify any gaps in the supporting information, as well as any typos or grammatical errors. Ramalho offers further details on what to consider after completing the first draft:

  • Is the writer too close to the project and the narrative to be judged objectively?
  • Is the story clear or confusing to read?
  • Can it be scanned?
  • Can you find the criteria for evaluating and prioritizing sponsors?
  • Does it flow / read well?

“On average, I consider a proposal in at least 4 or 5 projects before it’s ready for submission,” says Ramalho. Take this into account when planning your application deadline. The first draft is likely not the last, so give yourself plenty of time to think and edit. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.


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