One of my best friends is a professional grant writer. He started out of university working as the manager of a small theatre company, from there he moved on to event planning and grant writing for a local non-profit organization, and from there he got a job as a grant editor at the Office of Research for a university. His grant writing skills secured him this university position and, more broadly, grant writing skills are a huge asset for anyone with an interest working in academia or the non-profit sector. Put it this way: a grant is monetary aid and grant writers have the ability to solicit that aid.
Before writing, a successful grant writer needs to do the right research and answer the right questions:
- Which grants should you apply for?
Where are the guidelines for the grant?
What are the guidelines for these grants?
- What types of projects will they fund?
When are applications do?
What are the application components?
- What, according to each foundation, makes a successful grant?
Are there successful examples of funded grant proposals?
Is there anyone with whom one can discuss the criteria for successful applications?
A grant will be immediately dismissed if it breaches the guidelines set out by the funding body. This is why collecting successful examples of funded grants, reading those examples, and researching why they were successful is so important for grant writers. A successful grant writer will make contacts with funding bodies, ask for advice, make contacts, and network in order to write the best grant possible. Not every grant you write will be a success, in fact, most probably won’t. But don’t be discouraged. My friend the grant writer told me that most of what he learned about grant writing was the result of rejection. He would receive a rejection letter and then follow up with the funding body. They were always happy to answer his questions; like so many things in life, we learn from our mistakes.
I’ve posted previously on writing an effective business profile, why self-editing is difficult, and how to effectively self-edit. But I’ll expand and refine some of those points in the context of grant writing. In terms of the audience, imagine that you’re a grant reviewer and you have to read through stacks of proposals to decide who will receive this grant. As that reviewer, you don’t have time for inefficient grant proposals. So, grant writers, get to the point! Be straight-forward, effective, and—based on your research—ensure that you’ve answered the key questions set out by the grant guidelines.
Similarly, and (again) based on your research, pay attention to the verbiage used in the granting agency’s guidelines. If the guidelines ask for a mission statement, a methodology, and a budget, don’t label your subheadings “Our Vision,” “How we’ll do it,” and “Where we’ll spend this money.” Remember that grant reviewer? She doesn’t have the time to read each grant proposal in depth. Grant reviewers are ostensibly scanning these proposals and making a yes pile and a no pile—grants in the yes pile earn a more thorough reading. Using the verbiage from the grant guidelines will immediately catch a reviewers attention, showing them, most importantly, that you’ve followed their guidelines.
A well-written proposal outlines ideas in a clear, linear, simple manner. So also ensure you’ve had your grant proposal proof-read by a few people so, although they’re not familiar with the guidelines, they can point out disjointed sentences or lapses in logic or reasoning.
Ethos is the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution. It’s your mission, your vision, and your values all rolled into one; it’s how you present yourself. You want to demonstrate a responsible, professional, and knowledgeable ethos to grant reviewers—why else would they give you money? So, aside from following the guidelines, demonstrate your research in your proposal. Show them that you’re aware of who they’ve given past grants to, who has worked on similar projects, how your project will sustain itself when grant funding runs out, and how you’ll prove the tangible and measurable benefits of your project.
Grants are monetary stipends and therefore require a budget. My friend the grant editor says that one of the biggest red flags for grant reviewers is when the budget doesn’t add up. If a grant applicant can’t even take the time to balance their budget, how can a granting agency trust them to achieve the goals set out by their proposal. Again, this is your ethos—if you present yourself as someone incapable of doing basic math, well . . . Yet, similarly, your budget needs to make sense. Sure, you can easily balance a budget; but are your projections realistic. So, for example, let’s say you’re proposing to build an computer laboratory for an underfunded local library. Your budget, although well balanced, explains that the lab will cost $500. A grant reviewer will see the fault in your logic right away, and question your research rigor (it would be the same if you proposed a $50,000 lab.)
Aside from demonstrating your attentiveness and research, your grant proposal still has to explain how you’re going to make a contribution to society. So demonstrate awareness of the major political, social, cultural, environmental, academic, or scientific issues that your grant proposal speaks to. You need to show that you’re solving an important problem, and doing so in a replicable, sustainable, effective manner. Therefore, your grant proposal should outline how you’ll disseminate your ideas, who you’ll work with, and what your strategy is for achieving these goals.
Believe it or not, there are college programs available on just grant writing; but, as my friend would say, the best way to learn is to try it. Is there a local non-profit organization that you’re interested in helping. Approach them and ask if they’re looking for a grant writer. There are also a lot of resources online, and when you’re writing your early grants, the Internet will be an invaluable resource for researching the funding organization.