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Writing a Grant? Tips from Someone Who Has Been in the Trenches

This topic may be a little off-course from my other rights, but there’s a reason – my mind went blank on a tribal leader topic, basically writer’s block kicked in (when you don’t have anything or can think of any good topic to write about).  Everyone has run into it at least once.  I’ve ran into this a lot of times though being a professional grant writer in my past which got me thinking on how I wrote grants and I how was successful at that.

I’ve written over 300 proposals grants over a 15-year period with a success rate of 75%-85% (my last estimate of the value of the grants which I wrote and were awarded is over $100 million).  I have also had the opportunity to serve as a grants reviewer for various agencies to conduct peer reviews of some grants written on behalf of other entities.  Both writing and reviewing have allowed me to develop some quick tips on writing a good grant (mind you there are a lot of tips from people out there, but these have served me well over the years).  I have a number of tips focusing on various parts – beginning to end – but I’m going to focus on three that I use overall.

  • Choosing Your Battles.  This simply means identifying the grant with the best opportunity for your entity and sometimes leaving other ones behind.  Let’s say you have two grants before you:  both require equal investments of time but one is for $25,000 for one year and that other is for $100,000 for three years. Off the top of your head it seems that the $100,000 grant would be the best opportunity and it may be, but have you considered what you believe your chances of success are with each one or if one is more competitive than the other.  If your chances are slim to none on the big grant, why would you invest a lot of time into that and get nothing versus getting the smaller grant with a better chance of success.
  • Know the Weighted Value of Sections.  Read through the proposal and write down for each required section the page limit and the value/points assigned in relation to the entire grant.  This is very important because I’ve seen people invest large amount of time and effort into a project summary and then realize that is 2-3 page too long and have to gut it to make it fit or others that have developed a summary that is outstanding but it only represents 5% of the score.
  • Creativity and Appearance Do Count.  I’ve heard a lot of people say that it’s not the appearance it’s the content that counts.  This only partially true because you may have the best idea in the world but if your proposal looks dull, unprofessional, or haphazardly put together it is going to reflect on the abilities of your organization and whether you are truly capable of managing a program.  It doesn’t take to look to format sections, add page numbers, add some creative elements, etc. that will improve your proposal’s look and trust me after reviewing a number of grants it really does make a difference.  Great project ideas do stand out but so do the ones that include design elements – so why not have both a good idea and a creative/professional looking document.

For me if you are writing a grant just remember that you are trying to convey a vision and goals of a proposed program to people that may have no idea who you are or where you organization is from.  Never assume that anyone nothing anything about you and write from that viewpoint.  I’d be interested, though, to hear from anyone else on some tips that use to help them in writing, especially grant proposals.

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