By Kate Cherry, Managing Director, Midtown Strategy, LLC
An adage in grant writing is that if you’ve written one grant, you’ve written one grant. In other words, every proposal responds to a unique set of questions from prospective grant makers.
There’s a bit of grant writer cynicism in this idea, though; while each grant responds to unique prompts from grant makers, there is a consistent pattern of three questions used by all funders.
What’s the Problem?
The first question every proposal writer must address is what is the specific problem you hope to address with the requested funds? Think of this as context setting and aligning with the interests of the funder.
Maybe the funder told you that they are interested in mentoring programs in your state. Great – describe for the funder how you have a mentoring program in the targeted area, but also why your mentoring program meets a unique need and is especially poised for success. These later considerations help your proposal stand out from the pack.
What are You Going to do About It?
Now comes the part most people think of as grant writing: describing how you will use the grant funds. All funders want to know: what is your solution to the specific problem you’ve identified? In this section of your proposal, you’ll want to be very clear about what your specific goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics will be.
As well, you’ll want to discuss topics that demonstrate that your project is well thought out and likely to succeed, including project management and governance, collaborative partnerships, plans for sustaining the initiative beyond the lifetime of the grant, and systems for feedback and evaluation.
Why Should We Trust You?
The last question is one of trust: what is your capacity to effectively implement your proposed solution and meet the identified need? Grants are big investments, and funders need to believe in the integrity of organizations they entrust to meet community needs. In this section of your proposal, you’ll reassure funders that your organization can execute on its plans by describing your corporate history, successes, staffing, and other resources.
It's especially key to highlight in this section the resources which have the greatest relevance to what you’ve pitched in the overall proposal. For example, if your project involves several community events, make sure you describe your organization’s past successes at hosting such activities.
Once More for Those in the Back
That’s it. Every grant maker wants to know: what’s the problem, what will you do about it, and why they should trust you. They may ask these questions in different forms, and with a multiplicity of sub-questions, but the basic questions are consistently applied across philanthropy.
Now that you have these questions in mind, use them for planning your next proposal from the start, and use them as a litmus test for your final revisions. If you can answer these questions before you start writing, and you see these questions answered after you’ve finished writing, then you’ve done your job as a grant writer and positioned your organization for funding success.
Kate Cherry is a nonprofit planning and development expert from Detroit, MI. Since 2003, she's written many hundreds of winning grant proposals across a broad range of topics, including youth services, behavioral health, the arts, and community development.
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