Recognize common pitfalls
If your grant application has been rejected, you might be left wondering if you really put your best foot forward — especially if you're certain that your mission and services were a good match for the grant. Here, we'll cover frequently asked questions, common pitfalls and how to revise your application for the next round.
Spot common grantwriting errors
Grantwriting errors often fall into one of the following categories:
Failing to follow directions
Study your proposal with a critical eye. Did you follow the application rules to the letter? Evaluate font, pagination, level of editing and structure. Pay attention to required specifications, such as education, language study, research and citizenship. Have you met or exceeded every single criteria? If you have questions about requirements, get in touch with the organization before applying again.
An unfocused or confusing mission
Grant proposals often require a significant investment of time and paperwork. It's easy to get lost in the details and forget the reason you're actually writing the application in the first place: to convince the granting organization that a serious problem exists — and that your organization has the ability, imagination and experience to address the problem.
Lack of research, data or field experience
Granting organizations are making an investment in the future of your work. Once you've clearly identified the problem you hope to solve, take time to compile supporting research — or even conduct your own. Do you have any preliminary data results, such as responses from surveys, polls or focus groups? Explain how your experience in the field, or a closely related one, uniquely qualifies you to take on this project.
Revise your proposal
Revision is an essential — though often overlooked — part of the writing process. Strengthen your proposal by:
Reframing your needs
Describe your work in terms of the societal need you're addressing, not in terms of your organization's needs. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, an effective needs statement:
- Describes the community issue to be addressed and the target populations you'll serve
- Relates to your organization's purposes and goals
- Includes qualitative and quantitative support for any assumptions
- Is written in a compelling manner, using both facts and human interest
Reorganizing with purpose
Bring in an outside eye to overlook your work. Could you present your case and data in a more readable way? Ask fresh readers to point out gaps in your case. Have you inadvertently left out any important details? Should your data be shifted around?
Imagine someone opening the proposal for the first time. What do you want them to see?
Reapplying with new information
Resist the temptation to simply copy and paste your first application and submit it a second time. Any reapplication should be updated with new, relevant information — including statements, references and work samples.
Focus your energy on these key areas:
- The budget. It pays to be as specific as possible in your budget estimate. A thoughtful estimate will show that you take your work seriously and will dole out funding responsibly.
- Your experience. Have you provided concrete examples to illustrate your capabilities? For example, instead of writing "I'm an excellent public speaker," focus on what that means for your organization: "My public speaking skills will enable me to present our mission to large groups of people and train participants to confidently deliver their own stories."
- Your growth. Include information on any new or completed training, partnerships or initiatives.
Though you don't necessarily need to reference your first application, ask your team to reflect on what they've learned — and build your revised application from that place.
Purdue Online Writing Lab: Introduction to grant writing by Dennis Koyama and Stacy Nall (2015)
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!)