Grant Writing Tips Part II: 10 Ways to Improve Your Grant Application

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Here are some practical tips that can help you with successful grant writing.  (Don’t forget to check out Part I as well!)

  1. Write as if the person reading your proposal knows nothing about your community, your school, or your organization – because most likely they don’t! 
  2. Most Requests for Proposals (RFP) provide a list of criteria the application will be scored against.  Use this list to evaluate your own work.  Even better, ask a couple of colleagues to serve on a mock scoring committee and evaluate what you have put together. 
  3. If others are going to read your work, you must leave them adequate time to do so.  Grant deadlines are often short, so propose a realistic timeline for your work.  Start at the due date and work backward to determine when the final draft must be complete.
  4. Speaking of due dates – don’t wait until the due date to click submit or to drop in the mail.  Plan for glitches and give yourself an extra day (or even better – two!)
  5. Make sure you write clearly and include subheadings and introductory sections that educate the reader when the format allows.
  6. Exude enthusiasm, but be realistic.  Ensure you can accomplish what you propose.
  7. Most grant proposals request the following information.  Some of these pieces can be written before an RFP is released.  Write drafts in advance of key pieces that won’t change, such as the Introduction to the Organization, and modify with specifics for each grant submission.
    • Proposal Summary – Write a brief statement about the proposed project.
    • Introduction of the Organization Seeking Funding – Describe the organization’s history, experience, mission and niche in the community.
    • Problem Statement (or Needs Assessment) – Describe why the funding is needed.  Include relevant statistics and specific information about the community/population that will be served.
    • Project Objectives – Write SMART (Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; and Time-bound) goals that have clear objectives and activities attached.
    • Project Methods or Design – Describe what you are going to do to accomplish the goals and objectives.
    • Project Evaluation – This section varies greatly depending on the grant source.  Some grants require an outside evaluator that you will contract with to do a formal evaluation.  Other grants look for internal evaluative processes where project leaders document outcomes and use staff, community and participant feedback to make necessary changes.
    • Sustainability – Describe how you will continue the work once the grant money is gone.  Most funding sources are meant to be “seed” funding and grantors want to know if you will seek funding from other sources, if the project will become self-sustaining, or other proposed alternatives.
    • Project Budget – Both a budget and a budget narrative are usually required.  The narrative describes how the proposed dollar amounts will be spent.  Be as specific as possible.  For example, if mileage reimbursement costs are in the budget state the number of miles that will be driven and the cost per mile that is reimbursed.
    • Appendices – This section also varies greatly by grant source.  Many funders will ask you to include letters of support from community partners and stakeholders, resumes for key staff, financial audits of the organization, job descriptions of key positions not filled, and/or organizational charts.
  8. If you have questions reach out to the grant officer, but be aware that many federal and state government grant processes have specific question and answer procedures and processes in place to ensure equity to everyone applying.
  9. If you are not funded, don’t be afraid to apply again! 
  10. Some funding sources, especially foundations, have a rolling application deadline – meaning you can apply anytime.  However, most have specific RFP release dates. Keep track of when relevant RFPs are scheduled to be released.  The Federal and State grant systems have e-mail alerts you can sign up for.

Good luck!

Read Part One: Tips for Writing Successful Grants


Amanda Root, Cornell Cooperative Extension in Jefferson County