A few days ago I calculated that I have read over 150 grant proposals and letters of inquiries in the past two years. In that time, some grant proposals have left me in awe of the work of local non profit organizations while other proposals leave much to be desired. Honestly, some applications should have been classified as works in progress. This does not mean the projects were not worth funding, they simply were not ready for review. Over time, some themes have emerged and I would like to share them with you. Below, you will not find a secret formula for winning a foundation grant but I do provide  5 often overlooked tips that will certainly make your organization’s grant proposal stronger.    

1. Read and follow all of the grant application directions. Before you begin writing an application, read the directions. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to call or email grantees because information was missing from their application. Not only does it hold up the review process, it makes it difficult to understand an organization’s funding request if information is missing.

2. Research and understand the funding organization’s mission. I cannot speak for all funders but many prefer to give to organization that they can help. Hence, if you are looking for environmental conservation funding, do not apply to an education funder. One way to understand what programs the funder supports is to look at their previously awarded grants list.

3. Pay attention to the details! Think of writing your grant proposal like making a  lasagna. As the Grant Goddess explained, you have to write a grant in layers, like making nice lasagna. There’s the needs section (layer), the program design section (layer), the project management section (layer), the sustainability section (layer), the evaluation section (layer). And while each section/layer is distinct – there’s also a little bit of intermixing of ingredients/repeating of information.

4. Your grant proposal should have a clearly defined funding request accompanied by a detailed budget. Nothing is more irritating than receiving a budget that is not grounded in reality. If your organization needs a specific brand of product, software or service, explain why or lest be be prepared to have someone suggest otherwise (read: cheaper option)

5. Proofread your grant proposal before submitting it. Then have someone that was not involved in writing the grant read it. If he or she cannot understand what you organization is requesting, find out why and correct it before you submit the proposal.

Hopefully these tips help demystify the grant application process a bit more. To find even more detailed information about writing grant proposals, visit the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s website and Foundation Center.


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  1. All great points! Numbers one and four are key! As a grants administrator for a hospital I see mainly applications for medical research but the points you address are applicable.

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