5 tips to focus your proposals
Most grant applications follow the same basic structure. That said, you don't want to send the exact same proposal to everyone. Because each granting body has a unique set of guidelines, it's important to tailor your answers to fit exactly what's being asked.
Use the following tips to focus your proposals and increase your odds of success.
1. Target your needs
Let's say you need a network of computers for your after-school arts program. Instead of hitting up your current volunteers and donors for the funds, brainstorm all the ways this need might be filled. Look at options municipally, regionally and nationally. Does your city have a technology-for-start-ups fund? Are there federal technology grants geared for nonprofits working in the arts? Chances are — yes.
By first identifying your needs and then working outward, you open the pool of potential resources.
2. Put more irons in the fire
Apply widely, then even more. Cultivating diverse streams of support will keep you from becoming overly dependent on any single source of funding. Simply put: if you want to win more grants, you must apply for more grants.
In general, aim for a combination of:
- Local, state or federal grants. The largest federal and state grants are generally prestigious. In the U.S., state funds are typically transferred to county governments or other local government entities, who then issue and administer the grants. Drawbacks may include lengthy applications, detailed metrics and strict financial reports. On top of this, local, state and federal grants tend to be highly competitive. In some cases, you may be competing against hundreds of similar organizations across the country.
- Foundation and private grants. Though they often can't award as much as a federal or state grant, foundation and private grants tend to have shorter applications and fewer restrictions and requirements for tracking and reporting metrics.
3. Focus on what funders want, too
Although it might seem counterintuitive, think about your application from the granting organization's point of view. What's their ultimate goal? How do you or your organization fit into that picture? Scroll through their website, noting what seems to matter to them. Where do you overlap? Write your application from that place, focusing on your shared goals and dreams.
4. Need what they can give
As you research grants, you're bound to come across one that sounds appealing but barely overlaps with your organization's mission. Before writing it off entirely, consider if any of your needs align with what the funding source is able to give. Although you must remain true to your mission, thinking broadly and unconventionally may open a whole new range of partnerships and opportunities.
5. Cultivate the relationship
Whether you're awarded grant funding or not, submitting applications on a regular basis is an important part of building positive relationships with granting committees. Nonprofit funding is always competitive and there's some truth to the adage "money follows money." Winning a grant gives you a metaphorical stamp of approval that may pique the interest of other committees in the future.
So keep applying. Strive to remain polite and positive. Send thank you notes. If you're turned down, ask if the organization would be open to a reapplication in the future. Ask for and accept feedback graciously — and use it as a tool to improve your proposal for the next round.
Purdue Online Writing Lab: Introduction to grant writing by Dennis Koyama and Stacy Nall (2015)
eCivis: Federal vs. foundation funding — embrace them both embrace them both by Sherie Sanders (2016)
Grant Training Center: 10 errors that will disqualify your grant by Mathilda Harris (2015)
Nonprofit Information: The dos and don'ts of grant writing by Megan Hill (2013)
Indiana University: The dos and don'ts of successful grant-writing
GrantSpace: What should be included in a letter of inquiry?
National Institutes of Health: Grants & Funding: Develop your budget (2016)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Developing and writing grant proposals
The Balance: How to prepare a grant proposal budget for a nonprofit by Heidi J. Kramer (2016)
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Grant proposals (or give me the money!)