A few weeks back I wrote a post on this blog about issues your team should consider before you start writing a proposal in response to a funding opportunity announcement. So, you have outlined your intentions and considered the intended impact. You have determined the types of projects or programs you can masterfully conduct and have found a grant opportunity that fits what you do best. Now it’s time to start responding to the grant call. Here are eight tips for writing a winning response.
1. Jump in early.
Be on a constant lookout for grants. This will give you plenty of time to prepare for the beginning of grant cycles. If you find a grant suited to you on February 1 and the deadline for proposals is March 31, you don’t want to start writing your proposal on March 15. Successful grant proposals usually require several drafts, and you want to get your grant application in with plenty of time to spare. And I mean plenty of time—weeks ahead if possible. Don’t send your proposal electronically at 11:45 p.m. or by Express Mail on the deadline day. Many grant funders will take last-minute submissions as a sign that your organization will not be a responsible steward for their funding. Also, not all funders keep proposals sealed until after the deadline; an early peek at your proposal can work in your favor.
2. If the grant opportunity has a webinar, attend it.
Shortly after their initial opportunity announcement, many grant funders schedule a webinar for interested organizations. Be sure to make time for it. These sessions can be extremely helpful when it comes to learning in detail what the funder believes to be the ideal grant proposal, along with the mix of proficiencies and capabilities they envision in the eventual winner. These webinars not only give you an opportunity to ask any questions you might have, but other participants may ask insightful questions that you have not yet considered. The session also provides opportunities for you and your organization’s name to be heard personally by the administrators in association with the grant, so come armed with a thoughtful question or two (but not 10!).
3. Be thorough but not superfluous.
If the funders ask a question on the proposal questionnaire, answer it. There may be some questions that are less easily answered, but make sure you answer each one as completely as possible. On the other hand, anything more than enough is too much. Don’t make up your own content areas. If they don’t ask a question, don’t answer it on your own. Also, if they ask for a piece of documentation, send it. If you have other documentation you want to send that they haven’t asked for, don’t send it, even if you think it might bolster your case.
4. Follow instructions and pay attention to detail.
Many grants have detailed specifications for page margins, type size, typeface, word limit, page length and more. Make sure you follow them because they have reasons for this, and they may immediately disqualify you regardless of your content. You are not only making something work for their system—you are being judged on your ability to follow their directions to the letter. They’re not being overly picky—this is one of their tests of your capacity to be a good steward of their funds over the long run.
5. In every section, exude confidence.
If you haven’t read the first blog post on this subject, taking the steps I recommended there before writing will help your proposal convey a more confident air. Know in detail what your capabilities are before you write. This will help you confidently convey your capacity and expertise to faithfully and effectively exceed the funder’s expectations. This, in combination with following tip #2 may also help you find a “hook” that makes your proposal stand out from all of the others.
6. Get a new set of eyes.
When you think you have your proposal ready for submission, get a new set of eyes on it outside of the team of people who put it together. You want to accomplish two goals here. First, have someone with an eye for organization go through your proposal carefully and compare it to the grant proposal guidelines to determine if you have included everything that should be in the proposal. Next, have a good editor go through to edit and (especially) proofread the final version before it goes out.
7. If you get a “no,” be thankful and try to get feedback.
If your proposal is not accepted, write a letter expressing your appreciation for their consideration and tell them you look forward to applying when the opportunity is presented again. Call the administrators and ask them if they would be open to you applying in the next cycle, and if they say “yes,” ask them what they would suggest to help you create a stronger proposal next time. If they offer critiques and suggestions, accept them all graciously and quietly without comment or correction. Your protestations will not help you at this point and could hurt you in the future. Use this as a learning opportunity and act on it in your next proposal.
If they say “no” to your request to reapply next time, politely ask why you were disqualified, and graciously accept their critique, thanking them for their time.
8. If you get a “yes,” be thankful and try to get feedback.
If your proposal is accepted, write a letter expressing your appreciation. Call the administrators and ask them if there is anything that was not addressed in your proposal that they would like to see included in your project or program, and assure them you will be updating them regularly on your progress.
Overall, there are many opportunities throughout the proposal process for touchpoints that can help make a potential funder more comfortable with your organization. Look for these opportunities in the process (without going overboard), and take advantage of them. And best of fortune in your fundraising ventures!
Lee Reeder has extensive grant writing, proposal development and grant management experience with clients and also as an executive director and associate director of non-profit organizations.
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