By James V. D’Ambrosio

Building on last column, I’ll delve deeper into proposal writing — details and insights to keep in mind when writing a grant. Again, I’ll draw on learning from The Support Center For Nonprofit Management in New York City: “Writing Winning Grant Proposals,” delivered by volunteer facilitator Pat Richter, an expert proposal writer with 30+ years’ nonprofit experience. She can be reached at PR Quickhelp Consulting,

As you develop your proposal, consider the following to better your chances: 

WHAT FUNDERS LIKE: Well-formatted, interesting proposals | a logical flow between sections | clear, reasonable objectives | reasonable, promising methods given the budget| appropriate costs per client/unit of service | regular communication and thorough reports.

WHAT FUNDERS DO NOT LIKE: Jargon and acronyms | not following directions | careless errors (spelling, grammar, math )| boilerplate proposals | searching for information | methods that are not logical or doubtful | disjointed proposals | surprises in the budget | super-high costs.

TIPS FOR THE INTRODUCTION SECTION: Use quotes from stakeholders, especially ‘happy’ quotes from people who have been positively impacted. Expand on areas relevant to the project; make sure it’s INTERESTING, emphasizing what’s most relevant.

TERMS TO AVOID: ‘Best practices’ | ‘capacity’ | ’empowerment’ | ‘continuum’ | ‘at-risk’ | ‘buy-in’ | ‘diversity’ | ‘lessons learned’ | ‘value-added’ | ‘paradigm’ | ‘replicable’ | ‘sustainable’ | ‘case management’ | ‘grassroots’. If you do use these terms, describe them to provide context.

INCREASING THE ODDS: A personal relationship with funder is the most powerful predictor of success. Try to build a relationship by keeping the funder apprised of positive news your agency receives related to the grant. In addition, an excellent match with funder priorities, no doubts about eligibility, and a positive attitude also help. 

TIPS FOR NEEDS STATEMENT SECTION: Let your clients speak. Use a variety of quotes from different people to resonate with the funder. It’s NOT about YOUR agency — focus on those you serve.

DESCRIBING CHANGE IN PEOPLE: It is very difficult — and expensive — to accurately measure awareness, often involving polls, survey research, etc. Be very careful about promising awareness — many agencies cannot deliver on it.

EASY THINGS TO EVALUATE: Attendance and nuances of attendance (drop out rate, repeat customers, hours of exposure); pre- and post- observations and interviews using open-ended questions; and customer satisfaction/feedback changing program design. Funders like to see changes based on input from service recipients.

EVALUATION SECTION TIPS:  Develop an evaluation plan with staff input, answering the following: a) What data is collected? b) Who collects it? c) How do they collect it? d) When do they collect it? and e) What do they do with it? Check if other agencies have useful data or create your own instrument, i.e., a satisfaction index. Be creative.

SUMMARY SECTION TIPS: The summary is sometimes used as a screening tool to quickly weed out proposals, reducing the number a reviewer has to read. Make it INTERESTING so people will want to read further.

REPORTING ADVICE: Be as thorough as when you applied for the grant — meet progress report deadlines and explain changes in program or budget (never cover up or lie about problems). Good feedback helps build a relationship, plant seeds for continued support, and puts a human face on the support.

DON’T RUSH: A strong proposal takes time to write — developing your message, editing for grammar, spelling and punctuation, including attachments, getting approvals, etc. A reviewer will easily spot a hastily prepared application. Submitting half-baked proposals is a waste of time; only submit polished documents.     


QUESTION TO READERS: What else do you believe increases the chances of a successful proposal?

One Response

  1. Dear Shattima: Thanks for the compliments, I’m glad my post was of use to you. I’ll continue providing relevant content on a regular basis. Best Regards,

    JAMES V. D’AMBROSIO Communications/Nonprofit Professional 438 Atlantic Street E.Northport,NY 11731 (516)819-0528 Blog: Twitter: @Jamesdambrosio

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