Grant Writing Workshop Offers Practical Tips


Grant%20Writing%20Photo.jpg“Does grant writing feel like a fire drill?”

That question opened the September Grant Writing Workshop offered by AFP Madison and the UW-Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies. The workshop was the last session of a professional development series entitled Top Trends and Promising Strategies in Revenue Model and Funds Development.

The workshop presenters offered practical tips for new and seasoned grant writers alike.

Before we review the tips, let’s define what a grant is and what it is not. Grants are a form of financial help offered by foundations, government agencies, or other organizations. These financial awards often fund nonprofit work and do not need to be repaid. But grants are not free money. Organizations award grants for a specific purpose and have expectations for their use.

Since writing and submitting grant proposals takes considerable time, the presenters at the workshop offered some helpful tips for success.

Apply for grants that align with your mission. Always ask, “Does our organization’s work match the funder’s goals?” Make sure your project accomplishes what the funder wants to do. Otherwise, no matter how well written your proposal is, they will not award you the grant.

Look at the calendar. Do you have time to write the grant? Some grants can take months to complete. This is especially true if several people need to review and approve the narrative. If you don’t have enough time, add the grant opportunity to a prospect file and set a reminder to apply next year. 

Use the grant description as your rule book. Read and re-read the purpose and criteria of the grant to gauge how well your program lines up with the funder’s priorities. You can mirror the funder’s language and content in your narrative. Before you start, triple-check the eligibility requirements.

Create a grant writing schedule. Work back from the deadline. Consider the time needed to prepare the elements of the grant. They may include a letter of intent, the narrative, and the budget. Add time for routing the grant in-house for approval. Create a buffer for online submissions in case something goes awry.

Create an evergreen library of requested items. Many grants request similar documents such as 990s, board of director lists, and organizational mission and value statements. When you store these assets in a central location, they can save time.

Find data to justify the need for your project. Supplying national, state, and regional data can create an emotional hook as the funder realizes how supporting your project will make a difference in the world. Use both quantitative and qualitative data to build funder confidence.

Create a nexus between your narrative and budget. A thoughtful budget helps tell the story and strengthens the narrative. Itemize costs and explain how each one contributes to the project. Don’t forget to add staff time, and if you collaborate on a project, reach out to the partners to ensure your estimates and expectations are correct.

Set realistic budgets, timelines, and deliverables. Beware of promising more than you can deliver. A savvy reviewer will know if you are underestimating costs.

Include elements of change and logic throughout the narrative. Supply details about project inputs, activities, outcomes, and impact. Be confident and reasonable when listing the outcomes of the project. Thinking through the process will help with the next step.

Create a comprehensive evaluation plan to measure the project’s effectiveness. Review the grant description and criteria. Use the funder’s language and key points in your evaluation. Don’t forget to allow for flexibility when presenting completion dates and other timelines.

You won. Now what? After you receive the award, you’ll receive information about payments and reporting requirements. Use the reporting instructions as the guidebook when drafting your reports. The language and content will help you meet the funder’s expectations.

When you start and end with the funder’s goals in mind, you increase your chances of success. 

Thank you to the workshop presenters for sharing their advice and expertise.

— Mary Beth Collins, Executive Director, Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison
— Sarah Marcotte, Pre-Award Research Manager, School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison
— Dr. Amy Washbush, Associate Director, Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies at the University of Wisconsin