Tips for Successful Grant Writing

By: Edna Landau

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One of the questions I was asked this past summer when I did a live Ask Edna session at the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival was about tips for successful grant writing.  Unfortunately, the allotted time that day didn’t suffice for me to address that topic but I felt I should dedicate a column to it as the question frequently comes up. The points itemized below have been gathered from various Internet websites and from a workshop that was presented to my class at the Colburn School a few years ago by Melissa Snoza and Adam Marks of Fifth House Ensemble. They have always been DIY types and they have developed considerable skill in this area over the years. Here are some general pointers that should apply to any type of grant application:

  1. Leave yourself a lot of time from when you request an application until it is due. If you do your job thoroughly and take the time to learn from others with experience in this area, you will maximize your chances for success. Seek out people who have written successful grant proposals. They might be happy to show you some samples. There are many sources of information on the Internet regarding successful grant writing. Chief among them is the Foundation Center. Just google “grant writing” and you will discover many hours’ worth of constructive reading.
  2. Read all instructions very carefully. A grant proposal can be rejected simply because the writer didn’t precisely adhere to them or because it was incomplete.
  3. Your proposal should be neat and easy to read. Be sure to submit the exact number of copies the funder requests. If you are allowed to submit supporting materials, try to ascertain which items would be most helpful, rather than assume that you should include every nice letter that was ever written about you.
  4. Make sure your project falls within the funding guidelines of the granting organization and matches their priorities. Also, take the time to check that you qualify for a grant even if you don’t have 501(c)3 status. You might be eligible if you have fiscal sponsorship but some funders won’t give grants through fiscal sponsors.
  5. It is essential to comply with all deadlines stipulated by the funder. Keep a “tickler file” or online timeline of when all materials are due or when you need to complete certain tasks, and update it regularly as you make progress with your proposal.
  6. Inquire about the maximum possible amount of the grant you are seeking and be sure not to submit a proposal for more. It is important to ensure that your budget corresponds realistically to what you hope to achieve. Don’t underestimate your expenses in hopes that a more modest grant request will have a greater chance for success.
  7. Make sure your need and purpose in applying for a grant is well thought out, concise and crystal clear. In this regard, I liked the following sentence which I found on the website:“You should know exactly what you’re planning to do with their money and express it in elegant simplicity.” Be very specific as to what you will be delivering if you receive the grant and make sure that the outcomes are objective and measurable.
  8. At any point along the way, you should feel comfortable calling the funder to ask any questions you may have. In fact, you might want to call even before you start the application process to make sure that your project falls within their guidelines. You might want to ask how applications are reviewed and how decisions are made. It is a good idea to invite them to events you are presenting during the application period. If you do not receive the grant in the end, you can also call them to get feedback that might prove helpful in the future.
  9. In advance of the big moment when you finally submit your proposal, proofread it carefully and have at least one other person read it. Ask them if what you have written is totally clear to them and if they think you have made a compelling case for your project. Double and triple check the numbers in your budget.

If you are feeling squeamish about the prospect of going it on your own, you can always enlist the services of a grant writer. However, it would be prudent to use someone who comes with recommendations from people you know. You might even ask them to show you one or two sample proposals they submitted that met with success. In the end, you might decide to resort to buying Grant Writing for Dummies. Someone I know who has had repeated success with grant applications swears that they learned everything they know from this book. If you go this route, please be sure to let me know if you found it helpful!

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

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