Grant Writing 101: Your GPS to Success | npENGAGE

Grant Writing 101: Your GPS to Success

By on Apr 22, 2013


Wanna know a secret?  I once ran my own grant writing business.   I loved focusing on one thing and doing it well—a welcome break from the “many hats” conundrum in which development professionals frequently find themselves.   Success in this area, however, requires adherence to a well defined, logical process.  Master this and you, too, can be a grant writing phenom.  Here’s my primer:

1. Seek support for a “fundable” project:  Grants are usually awarded to projects, not to unrestricted annual support.  Funders will want to measure the project’s success, not that of the organization.   And, just because a foundation believes in your mission doesn’t mean they are going to say yes to your request.  Identify projects based on your organization’s goals and objectives that align with the funding priorities of local grantmakers.

2. Identify suitable funding prospects:  Having a board member that sits on XYZ Foundation doesn’t ensure funding success. And, if the “fit” isn’t right, it might put that board member in an awkward situation. Capitalize on connections you have, but take care to match your project to funders who support similar needs.  Most states, often in partnership with the Foundation Center, publish comprehensive funder directories.  Typically available online, these are excellent sources of grantmakers and their priorities. .

3. Focus locally first:  This increases the likelihood that you will find a connection to champion your efforts.  And, there is less competition for these dollars.   Finally, a smaller local funder may have a simpler submission process than that of a national profile one.

4. Follow the directions:   Make sure you submit the right information to the right person by the right deadline.  Don’t give the funder a reason to eliminate you from the consideration process before they even read the proposal.  Consider how you evaluate cover letters and resumes:  Misspellings or missed deadlines make it easy to trim your list.  Grantmakers will do the same.

5. Write, re-write and proofread:  If you are not a good writer, find someone on your team who is.  Proposals have to be well written.  This goes beyond just correct spelling and good grammar.  You need to clearly articulate your project in a sincere and compelling manner.  This is the quintessential sales job—and you want the reader to buy what you are selling.  All of the clichés hold true: tell a story, paint a picture.  At the end of the day, you want the funder to invest in your organization.  They aren’t going to do that if you haven’t touched them.

6. Submit required reports:   Every funder has reporting guidelines.   Do not overlook this step!  Mark your calendar, gather needed information and do not ask for an extension on the due date.  Most funders will be open to ongoing relationships with organizations they have funded.  Don’t close this door because you missed a deadline.

While individual donors will always be your organization’s funding bread and butter, with the right projects, grant support can be a viable adjunct.   And, about that secret.  I keep my grant writing skills under wraps because it’s such a treasured commodity.  So, make yourself invaluable—become a grant writing all-star today!
Have other grant writing tips?  Share them!  Post a comment at this site or email me at


Laura Worcester, senior consultant at Target Analytics, joined Blackbaud in 2001.In her current role she advises nonprofits on utilizing screening results in identifying and evaluating best donor prospects. In 25+ years of fundraising experience, Laura has served as the chief advancement officer for numerous organizations and managed her own consulting business, providing grant writing services to arts, educational and health care organizations. She’s presented at development conferences and has been a regular contributor to Blackbaud’s blogs with selected posts being reprinted in journals such the NonProfit Times. A traveler since her study abroad days in Denmark, Laura’s committed to passing this enthusiasm on to her teenage daughters. Her family’s travel adventures were just featured in a neighborhood magazine in her suburban Milwaukee community. Contact Laura by email.

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