Proposal Writing and Grantseeking

Balancing Data & Drama

Nonprofits are often urged to “use storytelling” to make the case for support. There’s nothing, they say, like a compelling story to drive home the nature of the problem or the opportunity for action. At the same time, foundations ask specific questions and make specific requests for data to make the case: how many, how fast, what metrics, how to monitor and measure and plot your impact.

Proposal as the Tip of the Iceberg

There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved in creating a compelling, persuasive and fundable proposal. No wonder nonprofits put a lot of eggs in that basket. At the risk of a ticket from the metaphor police, maybe we need to spend more time caring for the chickens and ensuring that those eggs are well-nourished. A lot of work needs to be done before, and in preparation for, a terrific proposal. These are some of the important elements of the iceberg which lie below the surface.

Don'ts and More Don'ts

When it’s time to develop and present a proposal to a potential funder, there are a lot of things a nonprofit might do to improve its chances of a grant. Whatever those positive steps for your organization, here are some negatives—things that are a must to avoid—that apply to most organizations seeking funding.

What's New?

Good news: the foundation has given you a grant, you’ve spent the money and now it’s time to submit an application for another award. This is an opportunity to create a “new top” for your story—a new headline, a fresh look at the challenges, a record of what’s been done and how that sets you up for what comes next. It’s also a chance to avoid sounding like “here we are again.”

Lived Experience

It’s a deceptively simple idea, really. The people who actually have an experience are the ones who can best talk about it and reveal its impact. In the worlds of grant-seeking and grant-making, it’s becoming more common for funders to emphasize the “lived experience” of applicants or grantees.

Be Clear About What the Grant Is For

An imaginary conversation at a nonprofit: “Hey, we could sure use some new computers and software. And while we’re at it, we ought to see about new office furniture to replace this old junk.” The development person: “OK, I’ll just write a proposal for technology and other equipment.” Off go the proposals and back comes a big handful of rejections. Why, didn’t they see the need?

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