Turning Words Into $, Volunteering to Write Grants

You’re volunteering with a nonprofit. They have asked for your help with grant writing. Even thought you are willing to help, you are a bit overwhelmed by the prospect. How might you begin? What should you do? The following tips will help you to prepare your first successful request.

Choose The Right Grant Donor

  • Matching your needs with a donor’s interest is fifty percent or more of grant success. Be selective. What makes a good donor? Someone who cares about your cause, knows about your work and believes in your future.
  • An ideal first grant is for a grant donor who provides you a list of the questions they want answered in a proposal. A difficult one is a donor who provides no guidelines of any sort.
  • If possible, select a donor from whom the nonprofit has sought funds in the past. If the nonprofit still has the documents from the previous application, you will have a template from which to work.
  • Federal and state grants are time consuming and competitive. If you find a program that offers technical assistance for first-time applicants, then the program makes a reasonable initial grant request; otherwise set these opportunities aside for later.

Prepare the Application

  • Allocate plenty of time. Ten hours over five or six days is not too much for a letter request. Plan for 25 to 30 hours, again over several days, for a 10 to 15 page application.
  • Note the deadline and if the grant must be in the donor’s hands or postmarked by that day.
  • Before you write, read all the instruction materials. Select a specific activity for which to request funds that meets the donor’s goals and all restrictions.
  • If possible, ask someone else to gather the application’s attachments. These often include a board list, a recent budget and IRS 501(c)(3) statement.
  • First fill in all the answers you know in the application. As the blanks give way to filled paragraphs, you will garner a sense of progress.
  • Return to the questions you left blank. The most common reason for not knowing how to answer a question is lack of information. To solve this challenge, identify your different information sources. For example, you can: 1) Ask the grant donor for example answers,2.) Interview key personnel at the nonprofit, or 3.) Create answers based on your best guesses. It is not uncommon for a writer to best guess new projects.
  • Once you have a start on the narrative, draft the project budget. This budget will be a list of expenses for the project you propose and the income for the same. In the income include the grant dollars you’re requesting. When complete, the income and the expenses are equal.
  • For electronic documents, start by copying the questions into a word processing document. Draft and polish your answers. Then, copy and paste them into the electronic submission.

Preparing For Send Off

  • After you draft the grant, re-review any evaluation criteria provided by the donor. Adjust your proposal as necessary to respond to them.
  • Have several people review the document and suggest places for greater clarity, ideas to make the request stronger and to catch grammatical errors. If you receive lots of suggestions rejoice. Your goal is to make the grant as competitive as possible.
  • As a final writing activity, to make sure they are consistent, , review any numbers used in the grant. Compare the ones in the budget with those in the narrative.
  • As you prepare the grant packet, pay special attention to the submittal guidelines. If the guidelines cite no bindings, this includes the ones the accountant used for the audit. You don’t want the application to fail because of a font size or other technicalities.
  • In your packet, place the grant documents in the order requested by the donor, then copy the final packet to create a complete copy for your files. To prepare for the next request, take a few minutes to make notes about the process and any helpful hints you discovered doing it.

After Submittal

  • Most grant donors respond in about three months, however some take up to year. Donors often provide their timelines in their material. Note when you expect to hear from the donor on your calendar. Also, note when you can re-apply in the nonprofit’s grant plan.
  • While your goal is to answer all the questions a grant donor asks in your grant submittal, additional questions are a positive sign. Many funded projects are often the result of successful negotiations that take place after application submittal.
  • If you hear back from the donor and it is not the answer for which you hoped, wait a week and then contact them to request feedback. Thank the donor for their time and seek to learn what you might have done differently. If you learn something, no matter the outcome, your work has been a success.
  • If your proposal is successful congratulations. Remember to thank the donor often and check to ensure they receive any needed items, like reports, on time.

Thank you for your efforts to obtain funding for a mission you care about. Winning grants is competitive. It is universally true that if your organization doesn’t ask, it won’t receive funds. With your efforts, your organization has taken a critical step toward gaining new funds