This blog begins a series of five blogs that address basic aspects of successful proposals that are often overlooked. To start, I’d like to addresst the notion that writing is the primary ingredient in a successful proposal. Not that writing quality is unimportant—poor writing can sink a great idea—but it is even more crucial for the proposed project itself to appeal to the funder. Creating a compelling proposal is not a writing task as much as it is a programming and planning task.
|Proposal Development requires more Planning and Research than writing.|
Notice that I avoid using the term “grant writing.” Our role as Grant Helpers, in addition to finding potential funding sources, is to guide and assist grant seekers’ planning and research. Though we do write a lot of solid text, we do so after helping organizations generate ideas and projects worth writing about. Below are three main areas to work on in developing an exciting project plan.
1) Develop projects that funders want. You are no doubt aware of what your organization wants and needs. But actually securing grants is primarily about what the funding organization wants. One of the most common complaints among grant reviewers is getting proposals that don’t fit their funding priorities.
|Overlooked Basic: Propose something the funder wants to fund.|
As fundamental as this concept seems, you must propose something the funder wants to fund, something that furthers their goals. Usually, this is a specific project. General operating costs are not popular funding items. It takes time and effort to create a plan and its associated budget. No quality of prose can replace the planning required to develop a solid plan. The weak vs. strong comparison below is exaggerated, but not as much as one might think:
- Weak plan: We do a lot of good things, so please give us money.
- Stronger plan: We want to leverage our proven impact with a specific initiative that will accomplish X and Y.
2) Build specific programs for funding. The best time to position your organization for funding is early in your organization’s program planning cycle. It’s easier to revise activities before they are underway. Your project must include specific steps and outcomes happening at specific times. Here some examples of ways to build specific programs for funding.
- Food bank: Add a nutritional/informational component along with the food you hand out. Food bank funders increasingly want projects that promote better health overall, not just fill empty stomachs.
- Park District facility: Propose a youth fitness program for a new facility or expansion. A targeted program is more likely to align with funders’ goals than a general facility. Reaching out to at-risk populations can further increase your project’s appeal to funders.
- Public garden: Add an outreach component for aging citizens, and partner with local senior centers. You may attract funds from age-related organizations as well as gardening groups.
Two related notes here. First, in order to plan ahead for grant funding, you must be aware of what’s being funded, which is a research project itself. The Grant Helpers can expedite your research and help position you and your projects for higher-probability funding. Second, the shifts you make in your program must serve your mission. It is unwise to chase money in areas outside your purview just because the money is there.
3) Think through the details. The more you can present a feasible, well-considered plan, the stronger your proposal will be. If you don’t have time to plan a project, spending time on a proposal is probably not a good time investment. We’ve seen many initial drafts of grants that ask for money to plan a project. These will not rise to the top of the reviewer’s stack when compared with others spelling out more clearly what the funder will be supporting.
In the coming months, we’ll present more overlooked grant basics. All of them deal with areas typically not considered strict “writing” tasks. Here’s what we plan for this series:
#1: Planning a Fundable Project
#2: Justifying Your Grant Request with Hard Data
#3: Demonstrating Value and Impact
#4: Developing Good Collaborators
#5: Proposal Value Beyond Grant Dollars
Photo Credit: GotCredit