You see the importance of grants in your organization’s funding mix, but does the thought of writing a grant proposal make you cringe? Perhaps you’ve never written one before and you imagine it’s an overwhelming process. Or maybe you’ve written grant proposals in the past and found the process to be too time consuming.
There’s no question that completing grant applications take time – successful fundraisers are no strangers to late night proposal writing – but with the right research and preparation, as well as realistic expectations, writing a grant proposal may not be as daunting as you think.
Research and align
The first critical step in writing grant proposals is ensuring you have properly researched and qualified prospects that align with your organization’s cause. If your organization offers programs for at-risk youth, why waste your time applying for a grant from a Foundation that has indicated they only support environmental initiatives? No matter how well you write your proposal, if your cause does not align with the funder’s grant making priorities, it will be rejected immediately.
Write and personalize
Once you’ve found the best funding prospects, it’s time for writing – and there are no short cuts here! Time is required to stand out from the hundreds of other proposals received by the funder. In a survey of Grant Connect users, 80% of fundraisers reported they need a minimum of 6 hours to complete a grant application, with some taking more than 50 hours, and some taking only a day to complete the job.
Be wary of solutions that offer the promise of making fundraising easy through document generators or “experts” who suggest sending a form letter to all of your funding prospects. There is no consistency from funder to funder. Each have different requirements for their applications; some want a short letter instead of a full proposal while others may want you to call before applying, and most now ask applicants to use their online application tool (and yes, using it will likely be frustrating when it rejects your preferred font and styling, and character limits will cause you to pull your hair out). In the end, a document generator or form letter will place your proposal right in the trash bin. Personalization is necessary if you want a shot at winning that grant.
“In our work, we have to say a lot of really hard ‘no’s’, times where it is devastating to not be able to get behind the group and their work,” says Ana Skinner, Program Manager at the Laidlaw Foundation. “Usually its an issue of limited funding, but that is no consolation. Getting applications that are generic and don’t follow the actual application questions are the easy ‘no’s’ in a sea of tough decisions. There are so many people who take the time to share their goals, aspirations and why they feel their work is a fit, and these are the applications that will get our attention.”
Ask the experts
Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone! There is a wealth of resources at your fingertips including GrantSpace and The Grant Helpers Blog, as well as books on grant writing that you can purchase or borrow from your local library. We recommend Grant Writing for Dummies and Prospect Research in Canada! Tips and sample applications like the ones found on GrantSpace can be sources of inspiration to help you strengthen your ask, and can be applied in a personalized way for each funder so you can ensure you’re adhering to the application preferences they have outlined.
Apply and apply again
Finally, be prepared for rejection. Grant writing is a lengthy and ongoing process, and even the most successful fundraisers know that for every success there are 2 or 3 rejections they need to plan for. Stay positive and try to turn a rejection into a learning experience. If the decline letter does not specify the reason your application was not approved, try reaching out to the funder to see if they can offer feedback that may help you with future grant applications.
In the end, if you are convinced that grant writing is too time consuming, or perhaps no one at your organization has the necessary research or writing skills, you may want to consider hiring a professional grant writer or consultant, at least for a limited time. For an overview of the pros and cons of hiring a professional grant writer, check out Find out If You Should Hire a Professional Grant Writer.