The Successful Grant Writer
By Phill Weber
Whether you are a nonprofit looking for a grant writer to craft a winning proposal, or are a writer attempting to create a proposal yourself, it helps to know what attributes make a grant writer successful. This article will explain those attributes and show how they are used by grant writers to secure funding from organizations that believe in your nonprofit’s project.
For those new to the field, grant writing is an unmapped terrain. There are so many different kinds of grants, and so many different kinds of grant makers, that there is no single agreed-upon way to write a grant proposal. Rather than relying on templates or recycled elevator pitches, the successful grant writer draws on their intuition to seek out new opportunities. And, having found a potential grant maker, they use flexibility to craft a proposal the grant maker will find hard to ignore.
The successful grant writer must have the foresight to see how their nonprofit’s goals fit into a prospective grant maker’s mission, but they must also be flexible enough to suggest changes to the nonprofit, if and when they are needed, and then communicate these changes in a compelling way to both parties.
It is rare that a grant maker’s goals automatically correspond with the specific aims of a nonprofit. There is usually a general alignment between the two organizations when it comes to broader goals, but the finer points need to be ironed out, with the nonprofit more often than not modifying their goals to fit the grant maker’s vision. This modification process is necessary to arrive at a goal that both the grant maker and nonprofit believe in.
Successful grant writers guide this delicate process of modifying the finer points by storytelling. They use their proposal to create a compelling narrative about the nonprofit and the grant maker coming together to accomplish a shared goal. The successful proposal will clearly explain the steps the nonprofit will take to achieve this goal. Knowing how to create this narrative and clearly defining the steps the nonprofit will take is often a matter of simply asking the right questions. The successful grant writer knows the right questions to ask by reading any available information - such as sample proposals and reports on previous projects the grant maker has funded - and by communicating with key people in both parties.
Most grant makers publicize who receives their grants and will give details on their various sponsored projects. An intrepid grant writer will research these nonprofits and projects, starting by visiting their websites, and make themselves an expert on what the grant maker wants to achieve with their funding. The grant writer will take note of any patterns in the funding, such as whether the focus of the funding has changed over the course of the grant maker’s history, from outreach to health, for example. The successful grant writer will also note the scope of the funded projects, and whether there are activities that are not allowed.
The successful grant writer is also a bit of a detective. They keep their eyes open for any inconsistencies between the prospective grant maker’s publicized goals, and the actual projects they fund, zeroing in on information that warrants further investigation. For example, a prospective grant maker’s website may state that they do not make grants to organizations located in their own state, but an examination of past recipients might reveal that this guideline is a loose one and often circumvented. Finding places where wiggle room exists is an example of how intuition, and a keen eye for opportunity, serves the successful grant writer and their nonprofit.
The successful grant writer gives the grant maker something compelling to read and stand behind if they grant the award to their nonprofit. But merely writing in a compelling way isn’t enough. The successful grant writer also does the proverbial math. One of the biggest mistakes a grant writer can make is telling a story that has no facts, evidence, or internal consistency. The winning proposal will include any and all relevant data and demonstrate the impact that the nonprofit has already made, with or without grants in the past.
The successful grant writer makes sure that the grant maker’s interests and the nonprofit’s interests are aligned before the conversation even begins. This means checking, and re-checking, the facts. The goal the grant writer proposes must be achievable with the material resources that the nonprofit is requesting. The grant proposal must anticipate and answer any questions a grant maker might ask. Depending on the grant maker’s requirements, the proposal may range from a one-page letter, to a one hundred page plus application. The successful grant writer will provide whatever is necessary to make their case.
The successful grant writer will pay extra attention to crafting the proposal’s “abstract.” The “abstract” is a description in plain language of how their proposed project is constructed. The successful grant writer crafts this portion of the proposal so that anyone, regardless of their expertise or education, can understand it. The narrative that follows will provide a deeper dive, utilizing facts and evidence to flesh out the broader statements that the abstract presents.
In summation, the successful grant writer understands what the grant maker wants, and will have a clear vision as to how to match the nonprofit's abilities with the grant maker’s mission. Success in grant writing is a matter of matching a nonprofit’s abilities with a grant maker’s mission and then uniting the two parties with persuasive writing.
I hope I have given the reader a clear overview of what is involved in grant writing, and the attributes that make a grant writer successful. If you represent a nonprofit that wishes to hire a writer with these attributes, I can be contacted at:
Phone: (775) 237-8667