Writing grant proposals requires skills in a number of areas, including the use of software programs like Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat, knowledge of funders, and the ability to write compelling prose.
There are several ways to build your skills in these areas. Many options--taking online or in-person courses, for example--cost money, sometimes in thousands of dollars, or require having access to a mentor or tech expert. With money in short supply at most nonprofits, and the right mentor not always easy to come by, below are nine free online resources that can help you create proposals that look better, contain better content, and employ more effective messaging. While some of the items you may be familiar with and have bookmarked on your computer's browser, there may be a few you are not using...and possibly one or two that will surprise you.
- Google Scholar: Use Google Scholar to identify scholarly literature (books, articles, professional association and university resources etc.) that can provide evidence-based support to document the scope of the problem your organization is attempting to solve.
- Google: If you do not have the funds to pay for a donor database, Google’s search engine can be used to identify potential funders for your project. This approach isn’t as efficient as using a dedicated program such as the Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online, but it can be a place to start and will give you an idea of how many funders exist in your area of focus.
- Microsoft: Microsoft offers tutorials on its full range of products, including Word, the program most grant writers rely on. With Microsoft’s large collection of videos and written guidance, if you have the time to spend navigating its website, there is a good chance you will find the answers you need plus expert tips to make your work easier.
- U.S. government resources: Many federal agencies have guidance documents and tutorials that explain how to apply for the grants administered by their agency. You can also find guidance on the site grants.gov, which is the main resource for identifying grant opportunities released by the U.S. government. If you are interested in applying for a federal grant, you should always look at the administering agency’s website to see what you can learn about the agency's evaluation process and to find instructions on how to complete your application. The National Institutes of Health, for example, has a section of its website dedicated to explaining the NIH grant process.
- Pinterest: This may seem like a strange resource to include, but Pinterest has much more to offer than lifestyle photos. In fact, Pinterest has become so popular that the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development recently began using Pinterest to broadcast public health messages. A Pinterest search can uncover new grant writing and nonprofit resources you may not have heard of in addition to providing links to scholarly articles from resources you know and respect. Not surprisingly, Pinterest has lots of content on how to use social media effectively, including social media tips oriented toward the nonprofit sector. Pinterest is also a good resource for guidance on how to create effective infographics. If you search on "grant writing" or "grants" you will find that Pinterest has this area covered too, with many pins on grants and grant writing and writing skills in general.
- National Council of Nonprofits: The National Council of Nonprofits offers several resources useful to grant writers starting with a database of state-based nonprofit associations. Other resources include information on leadership, financial management, and fundraising. Grant writers may find the policy updates on federal grants and the links to external resources on budgeting especially helpful.
- Universities: Universities—public and private—can be excellent resources for information about funding opportunities. Sometimes resources are restricted and require a university login to access, but much of the information may be publicly accessible. While you can do a Google search on a topic (e.g. “how to write a strong NIH application”) to see what university resources pop up in the search results, you can also experiment by going directly to a university’s website. If you are not sure which university, start with your alma mater or a local university. Searching under “office of sponsored research” will often pull up grant application guidance. You can also conduct a more targeted search by visiting the web pages of the academic departments related to your organization's area of focus; guidance to faculty in a particular field may apply equally well to a nonprofit grant writer. For example, if you provide services to the mentally ill, you might look for grant application guidance on the web pages of a social work or psychology department.
- Council on Foundations: The Council on Foundations is a nonprofit leadership association for grantmakers. It has a handful of resources on its website useful to grant seekers, one of which is a list of community foundations located in the U.S.
- David A. Cox’s PC Courses Online: David Cox is a professional technology instructor who offers free, high-quality video tutorials on software for Macs and PCs. On his website and YouTube channel, you can find tutorials on a range of subjects from how to use Microsoft OneNote (or the similar virtual notebook system Evernote) to tips on using Skype and Microsoft Windows. The video tutorials are clear and practical and provide useful introductions to hardware and software. (For problem-solving a particular software problem, other resources, such as Microsoft’s tutorials, might be better.)
Thanks to the Internet, there are countless free resources to help you with grant writing. The only potential negative with using free resources is that it can take some time and dedication to find exactly what you need. On the other hand, if you are luckily, your labors will literally "pay off" in the form of an innovative approach and a successful bid for funding.