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Write a Winning Proposal in Four Simple Steps

  • Posted on Mar 18, 2016
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Step 1: The Readiness Phase

So you’ve decided that you want to take on the challenge of writing a grant or funding proposal for your company or charitable project.  Hats off to your big, brave step!   However, certainly, you realize that the proposal process is not for the faint of heart,  but  the possibility of getting the funds  far outweighs the process.   There are four basic areas of planning to write any grant or proposal , which we refer to as  the Four R’s of Writing a Proposal:

  • Readiness 
  • Research 
  • Relationship 
  • Responding

This post focuses on the Readiness Phase and mistakes you should avoid.  Whether it’s your first time writing a proposal, or you have submitted one in the past been denied, you may be confused, frustrated and anxious all at the same time. You are not alone.   Hopefully, our blog series on how to write a winning proposal in four simple steps, will help calm your fears.  This series is a quick overview of our nearly twenty years of winning grants, designing and evaluating projects and programs and writing successful proposals. 

If you are stressed out, while spending long hours researching and writing lengthy submission questions or dreading the process, keep reading.  In this post, we will cover one of the three mistakes novice writers make and over the next few weeks, you will learn:

  • Three mistakes that new applicants make and how to avoid them
  • Common parts of a grant application and how to respond to get funded
  • Five places to find less competitive funding opportunities
  • The new rules of grant writing and how to adapt to them

This blog post is going to walk you through Common Mistake #1

 Listen as Linda Hembry shares Tip #1: 

Mistake #1:  Not Taking Time to Get to Know the Funder.    

When you are writing a proposal or responding to a grant application, it’s tempting to just start writing or responding to the questions with little thoughts about who your audience is.   Every writing project must be approached with the question, ‘who is my audience?’  Before you dive in and start writing, you need to know, who’s on the other side of the page.  Find out as much information as you possibly can about the funding agency, the program officer and their overall funding process.  In most cases, you are not going to know the funder personally, so you will need to do your research considering the following:

  • What projects have they funded in the past?

Knowledge about a funder’s previously funded projects will help you in determining if your project is one that is in line with their priorities.  Thankfully, online resources have helped tremendously in learning about funded projects.   A visit to the funder’s website will often provide information about who they have funded or who won their last request for proposals or grant programs.   In addition, press releases, business or trade newsletters/blogs, funding events, promotional literature and word of mouth are also viable sources of information. 

  • What is unique about the projects or proposals they have funded and how does your proposal compare?

Let’s say that you are interested in applying for a grant to fund your creative project, like a film, documentary or theater production.   During your planning process, answering questions like, which funders have funded projects like mine, is a good starting place.  Knowing how the project compares in size and scale is relevant in the assessment process in determining if your proposal has a chance of being funded.   Though you may get a list of who was funded, it is necessary to go a little further to uncover, what specifically did the agency fund and what, if any, ,stipulations are applied to the funds.  For example, did they fund 100% of the project or only half?  Is the grantee or contractor required to match a portion of the funds or provide funds up front before being reimbursed?  These are critical questions to know, as you prepare for opportunities.  Maksing sure your operating income is sufficient, prior to applying for cost-reimbursement grants is key to your success or failure if you are funded.     It is best to develop a spreadsheet with the name of each funder you are targeting and put these questions across the top to make sure you answer these questions prior to beginning your writing phase.   

  • What is important to the funder?

If you are applying to a foundation, there may be several areas of funding that is important to them.  For example, The Walton Family Foundation is the largest funder in the area of  youth education, arts and culture project, funding over 2.2 million dollars.  However,  they are specific about what type of art projects they fund as well as, the geographic location and who the funds must benefit. 

It is always important to find out what their funding goals are.   In other words, what inspired or demanded the need to issue funds?  Was the foundation started to address local issues or was it established to address a national catastrophe, such as victims of Hurricane Katrina? Who are their decision makers and what causes do they support?  Learn as much about the decision makers as possible.  This will help you to understand the culture of the funder’s organization or funding agency. Even though many funding opportunities are rated on a computerized system, humans are still involved in many and the  familiar practice of people doing business with who they know, like and trust  still carries right over to the funder environment.  If you can get to know the funder and let them know that you are familiar with their projects, become well liked through your commitment to your mission, which must be in line with their priorities, you will become a trusted source and an attractive applicant.  

  • How much is available for the funding request? This is a very important process of knowing your funder.  It is a waste of yours and the funders time to submit a proposal beyond the amount of the funding availability.  Some funders do not release how much is available, however, it definitely helps to find out the average amount they have issued to applicants.  Beginning with their website,  you can gain information about funding limits. However, to obtain more detailed information, there are several databases that you can subscribe to or access at no charge that will help in your research in this area.  We also list a few in our free guide on our website called Get the Grant-How to Get Your Nonprofit Funded (see link below).  

With a glimpse into avoiding one of the common mistakes that many new proposal and grant writers make, you should be equipped with a few tools to complete your first step in getting to know funders prior to writing the first sentence.   Our next post will provide insight on how to position your company to stand out in the eyes of funders.   If you need quick access to some of the resources I referenced in this post, you can download our free grant writing guide called, Get the Grant-How to Get Your Nonprofit Funded, by clicking here to: Download our Free Grant Guide .  Feel free to send us feedback on the guide in the box below. 


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