As a seasoned development director, you are no stranger to the arduous task of grant writing. You’ve grappled with unyielding deadlines, budgetary constraints, and the relentless pressure to drive real change. Simultaneously, you’ve managed staff issues, navigated a demanding fundraising calendar, and relentlessly pursued opportunities to raise vital funds.
From the outside, it may seem as if writing a stellar grant application is an express ticket to funding. But there’s more to the grant writing process than you may think. It’s an intricate and involved process that contains nuances and requires finesse with every application.
Let’s set the record straight on what it means to write and submit an effective grant proposal so you have the confidence you need to pursue future grant funding.
Myth: A Submitted Grant Proposal Always Gets Funded
The first and perhaps most important myth to dispel about the grant writing process is that if a grant is submitted, it will be awarded.
We wish that were true. But not every grant proposal submission leads to funding, no matter how beautifully you tell your organization’s origin story or how much funding your new outreach program needs to get off the ground.
The grant proposal process involves much more than well-structured prose that’s turned in on time — like forming the right relationships and navigating the internal politics of a foundation.
Forming Relationships With the Right People
Have you established a connection with the foundation’s program officer? If not, you should because this relationship is key. It’s this person’s job to review all proposals, summarize them, and present them to the decision-making board of directors.
If they haven’t heard your story directly from you, they won’t be able to sell the board on it as well. If you invest in building a solid relationship with the right person at the foundation, it’s more likely they’ll be inclined to present your proposal to the board. Make this connection count.
Understanding Internal Politics
Like any organization, foundations have their fair share of internal politics that can influence decision-making. If it’s possible to gain insights into the behind-the-scenes happenings of a foundation, you may be able to build a stronger case for support. But this isn’t always the case, as the inner workings of a foundation are almost always impossible to understand from the outside. Some of this is in your control, but not all of it. And that’s ok..
Grant Application Rejections Are Common — Don’t Give Up
While crafting a compelling proposal is fundamental, building relationships and adapting your proposal to each funding organization’s unique aspects is equally vital. This is something you gain with experience, so don’t be discouraged if you aren’t awarded a certain grant the first — or even fifth time. It happens to every organization. And guess what? It doesn’t mean your organization is any less worthy of financial support.
Learn what you can from each experience, continue forming the right relationships, and try, try again. You will succeed!
Myth: Writing Is the Only Skill a Grant Writer Needs
Another myth that can derail your grant proposal process: Believing that you only need to submit a well-written grant. While crafting a compelling narrative that depicts your organization’s story and showcases your pressing need for support is essential, there are other critical elements you need to include.
To bolster your chances of grant-securing success, you need a coordinated effort to gather the right information and supporting materials from various areas within your organization — on time. Here’s what that looks like.
- Collect the right documents. Every grant proposal requires a unique set of supporting documents. From accounting details, organizational charts, and salary information to more specific requirements like IRS letters—these elements are indispensable. Coordinate well within your organization so you can discreetly acquire these documents. If you haven’t prepared these attachments in time, it can snowball into a last-minute frenzy—making you miss your window of opportunity.
- Present aligned goals and priorities. Grant writers and development teams can easily find themselves removed from the organization’s programmatic work for various reasons. But this disconnect can lead to raising funds for initiatives that aren’t in line with the programmatic team’s goals or capacity to implement. As a result, you could even apply to a grant from a foundation that doesn’t align with your nonprofit’s mission. It’s crucial to align everyone on the proposed objectives and why you’re seeking funding. Not only that, but everyone on your team should know these details to ensure that the promises made in the grant proposal are realistic.
- Pay attention to your budget. A compelling budget complements your proposal and strengthens your case for securing the funding you need to make a meaningful difference. But it may be detrimental if your budget is hard
- to decipher. Treating your budget as a storytelling tool and optimizing it for funder-facing purposes strengthens your grant application. Your goal? Present your budget clearly and understandably to make a strong impression on funders.
So involve your entire organization. Make it a team effort — because it is. And Spark Tip: Always look at the end of the application to see the supporting documents you need to gather.
Myth: A Grant Writer Does All the Work
If you’ve fallen for the myth that all you need for an effective grant proposal is a seasoned grant writer, we hate to break it to you, but that isn’t the case. You need everyone on your team. Believing that your grant writer operates independently is a misconception that leads to unrealistic expectations at best and submitting a less-than-stellar proposal at worst.
For a grant writer to write the most accurate and effective grant proposal, they need to be plugged into every level of the organization to understand your nonprofit’s:
- Mission and vision
- Fundraising strategy
- Program strategy and objectives
- Program implementation process
- Data evaluation
- Financial insights
- …and more.
We can’t emphasize enough: Grant writing is a collaborative process. A grant writer isn’t a single player but an integral team member. For a winning grant proposal, your grant writer needs a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s work, and access to data, evaluations, financial details, etc. Every piece of information you share contributes to constructing a persuasive narrative aimed at securing funding to fulfill your nonprofit’s mission.
Embracing a Comprehensive Approach to Grant Writing
It may seem daunting, but navigating the grant writing process is an opportunity to understand your organization’s strengths and weaknesses better. By bridging those communication gaps, aligning your goals, and forming meaningful connections inside and outside your organization, you’re not just crafting a better grant proposal, you’re bolstering your organization’s long-term growth and success.
With this deeper understanding, you’re all set to assemble a strong application, submit it on time, and effectively raise funds. And we’re here to cheer you on as you do.