Proposal Writing and Grantseeking


Hardly anybody remembers John Venn, a British mathematician from the late 1800s. But everybody has heard of Venn diagrams, maybe used them in charts to explain how one group of characteristics “overlaps” another, and to name and define the stuff in the place where the groups overlap. Circle A represents tall people, circle B represents athletes. When we overlap the circles we’ve got tall people who aren’t athletes, and athletes who aren’t tall—but in the overlap, we’ve got tall athletes.

Proposal Writing Skills: Transferable?

Let’s say you’re an experienced development staffer, or a consultant, and you’ve been submitting grant proposals to support the organization’s mission. Let’s also say you’ve gotten good at it and have helped your organization win funding. But you’ve lately gotten very interested in a different field (arts, environment, housing, e.g.) and you think maybe you can take your skills to a nonprofit in that new field that will be glad to have you. Can you? Will they?

What to Do with Leftovers

It’s not common, but sometimes a nonprofit comes to the end of a program grant with some money that is unspent. This might happen if the program didn’t start on time, or the nonprofit has raised money from other sources (e.g. individual contributions) and uses that money for part of the program, or things didn’t cost as much as you thought they would—unlikely but sure, it could happen.

Handling Rejection

You’ve done your research and submitted a very well-written, well-documented proposal for a grant. You’ve prepared a reasonable budget, attached all the required forms, asked for the right amount of money and submitted well before the deadline. In short, you’ve done exactly and fully what is necessary to win the grant. But you don’t.

Storytelling Tips

There’s evidence to suggest that telling a story is an effective way to engage funders. Turning dry statistics into lively, compelling narratives about real people in real situations is a good way to make a proposal spark a response. Are there ways to tell a story besides “once upon a time?”

Many Types of Proposals

The proposal is an appropriate way to submit a request for funding, but it’s important to make the right kind of request—matching the format of the proposal to the ‘kind’ of funding you’re after. Some charitable dollars are “fungible” – money given by an individual donor, e.g., and can be used for many different purposes within the organization. But foundation grants are intended for specific purposes and proposals need to match the donor’s intentions.

What Are the Odds?

One request for a grant, one lottery ticket: which has a better chance of winning? A false equivalence, for sure, because there’s a lot you can do to improve your odds with a proposal—even a single request. But with lottery tickets, all you can do is buy more and more of them in the hope that one might hit it big. Still, it’s on the minds of most who write and submit proposals.

Five Elements of a Compelling Proposal

Are there really essential pieces and parts of a persuasive proposal? Things you absolutely need to include: no matter the subject, no matter the funder? Experience suggests that the answer is yes, there are basics that can’t be ignored. The Grantsmanship Center 's Model includes 8 essential parts for a successful proposal. And of those eight, here's the five that too often are neglected: