Fundraising is the holy grail for many nonprofit organizations; without it, many aren’t able to survive, thrive or further their cause. Unfortunately, having only one fixed source of funding leaves many organizations vulnerable, which is why a commonly asked question is “how can my organization expand our grant program past core funders?” The answer lies in writing a compelling fundraising grant proposal. However, we know that approximately a frustrating 75-80% of first-time proposals get rejected. That’s why in this episode of the Strategic Nonprofit podcast, our host Trista sits down with Catherine Ashton to discuss her six top tips for writing a compelling fundraising grant proposal that inspires, engages and captivates your prospective funders.
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7 Tips for writing compelling fundraising grant proposals
You’re ready to start expanding your grant program past core funders, so what do you do? You apply for every possible opportunity you can find. Not only is this a suboptimal, time-consuming strategy, but by spreading yourself so thin you’re likely to end up with a fundraising grant proposal where the main message is “we need money, please give us money!” If you’re guilty of this approach, read on below to discover Catherine’s seven tips for writing a compelling fundraising grant proposal that engages, inspires and captivates funders.
1. Ensure you’re grant ready
The first thing Catherine advises organizations to do regardless of the maturity of their organization and regardless of the maturity of their programs is to make sure they are “grant ready.” Especially if you have been winning grants but can’t win new grants and feel like you’re skating on thin ice with the funders.
What does “grant ready” mean? Well, you need to determine whether your case for support (also known as a statement of need) actually says what you’re doing and what problems you’re addressing -or does it just say “we need money!”?
Ensure first that you’re articulating your work and how your work is changing the problem that you see. Then what qualitative and quantitative data can you bring in to prove that your work will have the desired impact?
Next, take a look at your goals and objectives and evaluation metrics. If they’re not displayed in a way that funders can clearly understand, funders will have a hard time seeing your plan for success. So really making sure that there are clear goals and objectives, even if they’re output-driven, is a great way to show funders that you will use their money wisely.
2. Be organized
Next, do you have documents or a template that includes your core programs, your history, mission, vision, and your case for support? One that also includes how many people you serve and the expected outcomes of your work? If you have a template that you can quickly pull key information from, you’re going to save so much time by not having to rewrite proposals from scratch every time you sit down. Having that template is how you can start systematizing your grants program.
In fact, when Catherine teaches grant writing courses, she says it’s 25% about being a good writer and 75% answering the questions – which means having the time to pull and reference all the required attachments, whether they’re financial attachments, board lists, theories of change or logic models.
So being organized, knowing what you have planned for next week, next month, and next quarter is also a great way to build a grant program.
Try asking yourself daily questions such as:
- Do you know what grants are coming up?
- Have you talked to the funder about their funding priorities?
3. Talk with funders
It’s essential to have real conversations with funders about their initiative and their deepest funding priorities. However, before you can talk with funders, you need to start making your grant or prospect pipeline full of qualified grant leads. Often Catherine says, organizations start applying to any funders without taking the time to review what the funder is looking for – so your first step when looking for prospective funders is to ask yourself:
- Are we truly aligned with their funding priorities?
- Are we looking at the location – do they fund nationally? State-by-state?
- At what level are they funding?
Ultimately, make sure that you understand what’s important to funders and if you’re not sure, call them. Find the program coordinator and ask them for clarification. This will save you so much time.
That will reduce your prospect list quite a bit, but it also means that your likelihood of getting funding is higher.
4. Write like a human being
When writing your fundraising grant proposal, you need to craft your message so that anyone can understand it. You don’t know who will pick up your grant proposal, so you need to ensure it’s universally understood. This means articulating your mission, cause and value in simple terms – that’s why you should lean towards talking like a human. Even if it seems informal, you can always go back and revise your proposal to make your language a little more formal where necessary.
Some other general grant proposal writing best practices you should follow are:
• Be clear and specific
• Don’t use jargon
• Don’t use acronyms unless you need to repeat the term several times. (If you do, write the words out in full and follow it by the acronym in brackets)
• Try not to put more than three ideas or points in one paragraph – keep information bite-sized and easily digestible.
Remember, your grant proposal is not an academic thesis. Too many people think of grants as being very stodgy, academic and formal. But if you write that way and you don’t actually have a clear statement, it’s just word vomit and it’s not going to get funded.
5. Answer the question
If a funder asks you a question, they need the answer. While it’s tempting to copy and paste your boilerplate without reading the questions, this is detrimental to your fundraising grant proposal and, frankly – is a waste of your time. If a funder asks you a question, they need the answer. That’s why you need to be able to set aside what you think you should say, or perhaps what your ego wants you to say or what you said in the last grant and answer the questions in front of you to achieve a strong grade.
6. Keep it simple
Building and growing a grants program is an exercise in patience – so remember to keep it as simple as possible. Of course, you want to clearly articulate your theory of change, your impact, and all of that, but don’t try to bring in a bunch of jargon or metrics that don’t apply. Your fundraising grant proposal is not the only grant they’ll be reading because many grantors get hundreds, if not thousands, of applications and to go through all of those is laborious. So ultimately, focus on making it as easy as possible for someone who doesn’t intimately know your program to digest it.
7. Learn to take rejection
As mentioned earlier, around 75-80% of first-time proposals get rejected, which means it’s likely yours will too – so how do you deal with this? The solution is first remembering that funders have rubrics, metrics and funding priorities they’re looking at. Second, make sure that you’re not putting all of your eggs in the proverbial grant basket! Rejection is unfortunately just part of nonprofit fundraising, so the sooner you learn how to handle it with grace and prioritize your energies elsewhere, the better your other fundraising grant proposals will be.
More about Catherine Ashton
Catherine Ashton is a non-profit fundraising consultant, coach, keynote speaker, and entrepreneur who founded and is CEO of fundraising consultancy Giant Squid Group. They believe that a good cause needs a great mission, and so they help start-ups and small non-profits to achieve their funding goals to become strong, sustainable organizations thanks to their innovative Grant Writing Crash Course.