How to navigate the process of grant writing

Successful grant writing requires several key elements.
Date Published
10/31/2013

To support nonprofit fundraising initiatives, many organizations rely on grant proposals to reach out to new donors. Without question, sending a written request for money from an enterprise, foundation or individual that a nonprofit entity doesn’t have a previous relationship with can appear a bit awkward from the outset. It’s a bit like making a cold call, only more passive. Too many organizations make the same mistakes in appealing to outside groups for financial support.

According to The NonProfit Times, the majority of organizations resort to polarized logic when approaching grant writing. On one hand, there are those that believe writing proposals is a piece of cake. Holly Thompson, contributing editor for The Grantsmanship Center, was cited by the Times indicating the greatest fallacy perpetuated by nonprofits is believing the money is there for the taking. Many organizations believe if a charitable group simply writes down its philosophy and plans for the grant money, the funds will roll in. But this isn’t the case.

Be targeted and thorough
What’s more, if a nonprofit group hopes to cast the widest net by sending out a form letter to various funders, they’re not going to be met with much welcome. Grant writers must be far more disciplined in their approach to the craft, meaning each proposal must be tailored to a specific organization or group they’re appealing to for funding. Thompson recommended customizing each proposal based on the interests and criteria of the prospective funder.

Similarly, Dahna Goldstein emphasized the need for clearly articulated goals on the blog for PhilanTech. It pays to investigate the particular format or style guidelines a foundation prefers when addressing goals, results and change theories. A theory of change, according to the The Center for Theory of Change, can be a graphic representation of outcomes and preconditions that lead to a long-term goal. As opposed to other ways to present a pathway for improvement, theory of change is largely causal and clearly underlines what resources are needed to achieve the outcome.

Let technology do some of the legwork
Software for nonprofits can help organizations more effectively manage this step in the grant writing process. Because the software allows nonprofit groups to collect, aggregate and analyze data, they’re more capable of presenting funders with a strategy that plainly illustrates goals and objectives based on hard data, including geographic and demographic data. If an organization uses an outside research firm, this information can be electronically integrated into its existing records. With this information, a nonprofit group can develop a sound proposal that will elicit greater interest from prospective donors.

Change minds before expecting change
Most nonprofit organizations are interested in changing the status quo. Another hurdle philanthropic groups must overcome is changing their own perspective on instituting change. Many groups take for granted the idea that individuals and communities recognize the need for change. It’s partially the duty of nonprofit groups to make people see where inequalities exist and why they should care about erasing them. More importantly, groups need to demonstrate how community members can enact the necessary change. Grant writers should be clear when making the case for how they’ll work to transform the perspective of community members who might not see the need for change.

Finally, nonprofits shouldn’t cut communication with the foundations they’ve worked so hard to develop a relationship with. It wasn’t a bank transaction, so organizations shouldn’t treat them as such. The Times suggested nonprofits continue collaborating with funders to better make sure there will be continuing support in the future. Grant writing is part of a larger process, not a one-time action. It’s important for organizations to recognize this crucial part of donor management and act accordingly.

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