How to Write a Winning Grant Proposal: A Nonprofit’s Guide to Securing Funding

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Grants, which are funds awarded by an outside source and typically earmarked for a particular use, are incredibly valuable for nonprofit organizations to achieve their missions. In fact, it is not uncommon for organizations to rely on this type of funding to cover operating expenses, pay workers, and launch initiatives.

Common sources of grants include public and private institutions, including government departments, family trusts, foundations, and the like.

Because of the competitive nature of the grant process, it’s important to know how to write a grant proposal, how to evaluate which opportunities are worth pursuing, and how to effectively communicate your organization’s intentions.

What Is Grant Writing?

Grant writing is the application process required of an organization seeking certain financial awards. Crafting an impactful grant proposal takes compelling communication, clear language, and an understanding of the funding landscape. To start, it is useful to differentiate between funding sources and the types of grants they offer.

How to Write a Grant

These six steps will help you create a strong grant proposal, increasing your chances of achieving the funding and recognition that can drive your organization forward.

1. Prepare

Dedicate ample time to analyzing your needs, including what areas of your organization will benefit from grants, exactly how much funding is needed, and realistic outcomes. You will want to thoroughly explore opportunities you qualify for, and allocate resources — time and personnel — to thoughtfully write your grant proposal.

2. Know what sets you apart

Grants are often highly sought after, so you’ll need to be well-versed on the ins and outs of what makes your organization unique and deserving. Conduct thorough research about your field, including the needs you serve and the impact you can make with grant funding. Share specific stories, testimonials, and experiences that stand out to you and the community at large that you serve.

3. Utilize facts and figures

Data will help prove your organization’s worth. Consider providing financial insights, information about existing partnerships, and budgeting outlooks. Use numbers to show the needs of populations you serve and project how beneficial grant funding will be, including plans for allocation.

4. Communicate clearly

Be highly sensitive to each and every requirement. These will vary by grant and must be followed. You’re the expert in your field, but your reader might not be. Write your grant proposal using clear, concise language without industry jargon if it’s not well-known. It’s important to also abide by any word counts or length requirements.

5. Fact-check and proofread

Get another set of eyes on the application to ensure nothing was overlooked, preferably someone with grant writing experience. Spelling errors, misrepresentations, and room for interpretation could all sway a grantor from accepting your proposal.

6. Educate yourself

For those interested in learning the latest nonprofit grant writing practices, USD offers a 100% online course focused on the step-by-step process of grant preparation, organization, and detailed evaluation. This course is best suited for nonprofit professionals and volunteers of all levels, including CEOs, executive directors, grant writers, and fundraising coordinators.

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Grant Writing Do’s & Don’ts

It’s probably clear by now that there are certain actions that will improve your chances of obtaining grant funding or quickly eliminate you from consideration. Here’s a simple breakdown of some of the most common habits to consider (and to avoid) when grant writing.

DODON’T
  • Make a compelling argument.
  • Use complicated language (explain industry language if necessary).
  • Prove (with facts and figures) that you can provide measurable outcomes.
  • Rely solely only on a heartwarming story to prove your value.
  • Present a reasonable timeline in which you can reach your goals with grant funding.
  • Be vague about how long it will take to see results once grant funding is received.
  • Describe how your results can be sustained after grant funding is expended.
  • Paint a picture of limited results that leaves room for interpretation.

FAQs

How do I know if I should apply for a grant?

Start by taking a close look at your organization’s circumstances — financial and otherwise — to evaluate exactly what areas need support. This will allow you to seek grant opportunities that are the right fit, also helping to ensure that you’ll stand out from other applicants.

Where do I find grant opportunities?

Resources like Grants.gov, Candid.org, and the Council on Foundations have searchable databases of grant opportunities. Consult your local network as well to learn about any community resources that might be available.

What are grant writing best practices?

Being prepared with facts and figures to prove your organization’s needs is important. Communicating clearly, knowing the latest industry trends, and setting yourself apart are also best practices when it comes to grant writing.

Where do I learn how to write a proposal for funding?

Courses such as USD’s online Nonprofit Grant Writing are incredibly useful to stay up to date on the latest, most effective methods. Students learn how to identify grant opportunities, step-by-step processes of grant preparation, how to integrate budgeting, and more.

What makes a grant proposal stand out?

Get specific during the grant writing process about how you will use grant funds and what beneficial outcomes are imminent. Make the grantor connect with your cause, even if this is the first time they’re learning about what you do. Include standout stories and examples to paint a clear picture of your circumstances.

What are some common mistakes in grant writing?

All too often, grant proposals include unrealistic asks, industry buzzwords that lack real meaning, and too much room for interpretation. Instead, it’s best to be as straightforward as possible and make clear what good you will be able to achieve with grant funding.

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