How to Increase Your Chance of Success if You've Never Written a Grant Before

With the start of the new year, you may be spending time thinking about your personal and professional goals for 2016. If you haven't written a grant before, maybe you've decided that this is the year you'll take the plunge and submit your first one. Or, if you've written grants in the past but not seen success, you may want to adopt a new approach to grant writing in 2016.

No matter which group you are in, totally new or relatively new to grant writing, you can benefit from the following five strategies to turn your project ideas into a funded grant proposal:

Increase Your Chance of Getting Funded by

Taking these Five Steps

  1. Partner with an Established Organization: Whether you work for a newly launched organization or one that has been around for a while but is new to grant funding, partnering with an established organization on a grant application can be very beneficial. If you do not know of any organizations you could approach about a partnership,  local community foundations or nonprofit resource centers can connect you with organizations in your community and area of work. If you find an organization to partner with that has been successful in winning grants, you'll benefit in a few ways:
    • Partnering with an experienced organization provides an opportunity to "learn the ropes." To get the most out of the partnership, see if the more established organization will let you sit in on a few of their planning meetings for the grant proposal so you can experience how the process works. You may also want to inquire if the organization has resources or tools such as proposal checklists that they would be willing to share with you.
    • Joining a well-known organization on a grant application raises your organization's status and gives it legitimacy. The seal of approval from a established organization can help your organization gain recognition by the donor community.
  2. Study Successful Organizations: Every successful organization, just like every successful business, has an origin story, the story of how it grew from nothing to something and cultivated community and donor support for its work. Learn that story, and don't stop with what you find on the organization's website.
    • Research the organization online and see if you can find articles about the organization's founders and its initial projects. If the organization is local, try to connect with someone on the staff (ideally someone who has been with the organization since its beginning). On its way to success, the organization probably did many things wrong, but it obviously did many things right and made good decisions at crucial points. Try to find out about these key decisions that helped the organization reach its current levels of success.
    • Learn what has and has not worked for the organization. Did they start seeking grant funds immediately or did they start with individual donations and pursue grant funding only after they were established? Did they immediately start meeting with funders?  If so, how did they gain introductions to funders and how well did this strategy work?  If you can find a local organization to study, you may also learn about community resources that helped them succeed and could help you too.
  3. Learn about Funders' Interests: One of the secrets to success in grant writing is  realizing that it isn't about you (the organization). It's about them (the funder).  Funding agencies fund organizations that can help them realize their philanthropic missions. As you start looking at funding opportunities, read up on the funders. If you see a foundation or government agency that appears to offer funding opportunities related to your organization's mission, find out more about them. Try to find out everything you can about the funder's direction, interests, and priorities. Through your research, you'll uncover key themes you'll want to make note of and incorporate into your proposals.
    • Research the funder. Review the funder's website and its annual report, read about the program areas it funds, and look up recent grantees (and per #2 above, see if you know any of the grantees and meet with any you do).
    • Get to know the funder's staff. Look up articles written by or about the key staff at the foundation/government agency that may give you insight into the funder's priorities. If you have a chance, take advantage of opportunities to meet with program officers in-person to introduce them to your organization.
  4. Develop a Brag Sheet: Keep track of your accomplishments. Even though you may think you won't forget them, the details of even your greatest accomplishments can fade quickly. Additionally, staff come and go, so if you don't have a system to capture your successes you risk losing them from the organizational memory when staff depart.
    • Create a template to track your successesThis could be an Excel spreadsheet, a running list in a Word document, or an entry in an online database. Whatever system you use, you'll want to note as many details as you can about the accomplishment including what the objective was, who was involved, how many people benefited, the dates of the event or project, where things took place, and the names of any partners.
    • Keep track of the money you've raised over time and from various sources. Each grant you win, each financial contribution you receive through a fundraising event or individual donor, is a vote of confidence. Funders like to fund organizations that have a demonstrated ability to raise funds and manage grants. If you have a system in place to document the financial gifts and grants you've received and what they funded, you'll always be prepared to share your funding history with a potential donor.
  5. Practice Your Writing Skills: Writing skills do matter when it comes to winning grants. If you don't feel confident in your writing skills or comfortable writing in English if it is your second language, make it a priority in 2016 to develop your skills. Strong writing skills won't guarantee that you'll start winning grants, but will increase your chances of success. What does it mean to be a strong writer and how can you grow your skills? Being a strong writer includes writing clearly and persuasively and having a logical flow to your ideas. You don't need to be a grammarian. Grammar rules are designed to aid clarity. If your thinking is clear, it will help you write clearly as well as grammatically correct, so make sure you allot enough time to refine your ideas before you start writing.  Another thing that will serve you well is embracing the concept of writing as an iterative process. That is, good writing emerges over the course of several drafts. Your first draft may have some good pieces that you'll want to retain. However, you may end of tossing most, if not all, of your first draft. While it's difficult to throw out a piece of writing you've labored on for hours if not days, reviewing and rewriting your work is an essential part of the process. To strengthen your writing skills try one of the following:
    • Write daily. Writing in a journal, writing letters, writing summaries of books you've read,  or trying your hand at writing fiction--it doesn't matter what kind of writing you do, so as long as you write on a regular basis. As you write more, you'll find that you can write more quickly. Additionally, as you write more, you'll develop your own distinctive style of writing. Watching your style develop can elevate writing from a chore to an enjoyable form of self-expression.
    • Read more. Reading high-quality writing such as literary classics and respected journals and newspapers known for their well-written content will increase your vocabulary and expose you to different writing styles. Read more, read better things, and your writing will improve.
    • Take a writing course. Options for courses include taking a course through a local community college or adult education program or taking an online course, either self-paced or live. Resources for online courses on writing include Udemy (which offers more than 300 courses related to writing), lynda.com ( 15 courses), or Skillshare (251 courses).