Five things you need to know about writing a successful grant proposal

Naturally I was thrilled that my first four grant writing efforts for a new client were 100 per cent successful.

I’m happy my client5416821. I believed in what they were  doing, and since I signed a confidentiality agreement I can’t tell you what it  is, but I can say that I found it exciting, visionary and most of all,  completely do-able.

Most importantly, I learned a lot.

I learned,  despite what others opine, that being an experienced writer helps one do a good job when preparing a grant application. I’ve read some blogs where the writer insisted that good writing style was irrelevant when it came to preparing a proposal to ask a funding body for grant money.

Au contraire: an experienced writer can simplify the project, and then to sell it to the Committee of the Blessing of Grants, instead of leaving them scratching their heads because what they were reading was either too technical, too convoluted, filled with gaps, ungrammatical and/or just plain did not flow in a sensible and logical fashion.

So lesson one is: make it simple. I can’t stress this enough. Your job is to explain, not to confuse. Take the time to write the proposal well. Make sure it flows smoothly, that one point flows logically to the next, and take out the twenty dollar words. Let’s face it: the easier it is for the granting committee to understand a proposal, and then like it, the better are your client’s chances of actually seeing any money.

It also helps to believe in the client’s objectives, but isn’t absolutely necessary. When I did, it showed: I filled the project description with enthusiastic flair ­- without being unrealistic.

So lesson two, for me, at least, was this: believe  in the proposal, and if you have moral qualms about it: walk away.  You don’t want your wagon hitched to a tainted star anyway.
By all means, do a careful review of the client’s business plan, and once you’ve identified your questions, follow up with a careful interview.

Which brings me to lesson three: ask lots of questions. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has to either approve the grant or toss it in the round file. Assume they know nothing about the project. Anticipate every little hitch, empty spot, or unforeseen eventuality, and then go even further. Take careful notes, because if you decide  to go ahead, the client will invariably add something later that they haven’t quite gotten around to putting down in writing. Guaranteed, it will turn out to be information that should go into the grant application.

If, after doing this type of extensive drilling, you are  left with an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, or a feeling of  “straining to believe,” or a need for major tweaking, it could well mean that the client’s objectives aren’t clear enough, they haven’t done their homework to the point where they can justifiably ask for development money, or, perish the  thought, the thing has a bit of odour.

In the latter case, run.

Lesson Four. Only use the granting body’s approved forms (an absolutely must, don’t try to create your own). If they don’t have any, make a friend at the funding organization and ask which format they prefer. Then use it. Don’t try to guess.

Here’s where I learned something else (we can call it lesson five): make friends with the people at the funding body’s office. They know their application forms inside out and backwards; after all, they developed them.
They have money. They want you to have money. Their job is to not have it left sitting in the trust fund/bank account. Depending on where the application is headed, the people on the receiving end have a mandate to either lend or give a certain amount away  to develop your new business, build your non profit, or help people with a specific need.

So staff at the foundation, corporation or wherever, want you to succeed. If your client’s work doesn’t quite fit the  boxes provided for a specific question, ask for a work-around. They’ll often help you with the wording.

I went even further: I ran a few paragraphs past  them for one specific and important chunk of information. Was I on the right track (I wanted to know)? Was this the sort of thing the committee would want to know  about?
Fortunately, it was, and this answer gave me the confidence to dig right in and do the best job I possibly could.

The thrill was not just in getting paid – although that was nice, of course – it was laying out a case and a vision for others to  believe in and support, a case that could someday make a very big difference in people’s lives.

Please feel free to build on this blog. I’ll tweet constructive responses.

About Jane Carthew Davidson

As a former senior public relations specialist with a large publicly traded multi-national chemical company, Jane Carthew Davidson produced the company’s award winning annual report for several years. Later, she was media relations specialist for Ontario’s Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), where she wrote speeches for the executive team, trained spokespersons across the province, and developed talking points and strategies designed to clarify the role played by property assessment within the municipal taxation system. Jane is a former business reporter for the Globe and Mail Report on Business, and the Toronto Star’s Business Today. Her articles have appeared in the Toronto Star, the Medical Post, the Anglican Journal, the Financial Post and most recently, the Globe and Mail’s special supplements on subjects as wide ranging as organic farming and new investment regulations. On several occasions, Jane’s media savvy and quick research skills enabled her to win broad media attention and investment queries from Canada, the Unites States and Europe, for a unique medical device start-up venture. Following Peterborough’s Flood of the Century in 2004, Jane handled media relations for the City of Peterborough, developing and implementing the communications plan for the city’s media outreach to afflicted citizens, concerned insurance companies, city staff and other government stakeholders.
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