How to Submit a Winning Grant Proposal by Carynne McIver Button

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If you’ve ever submitted a grant before, you know that proposals can often be long and frustrating. Maybe you’ve sat at your computer for hours, trying to explain your program in the perfect way (without exceeding the character limit!) or calculating complicated budget questions. By the time you reach the last question you might be tempted to hit submit and be done as soon as possible, but taking the time to put together a strong proposal can pay off--literally!

Here are a few tips to help make sure you are submitting the best possible grant proposal.

.01

Writing Style

  • All writing should be clear, straightforward, simple. Remember, the reader is reviewing many proposals and may be skimming. It’s OK to restate yourself on important points. Beautiful writing and long sentences are not necessary.

  • Avoid jargon! You likely know much more about your mission area than the reviewer. Spell out acronyms, explain technical terminology, and avoid industry-specific language.

Review websites for a  funder’s preferred language and use it. It is ok for proposals to different funders to sound different. For example, one may explain the same program by focusing on “supporting families on their path to self-sufficiency” while another may highlight how your organization “meets the basic needs of families in crisis.”

 
 

.02

Data & Budgets

Use reliable external research to back up any explanation of why your program is important. Cite sources when space allows and save downloaded copies of all referenced materials.

  • Share your own data when available, including quantitative outputs/outcomes, qualitative data, and testimonials or quotes from participants/stakeholders.

Review the grantmaker’s funding restrictions and be sure your budget is only requesting the amount and purpose they typically fund. For example, if a funder does not pay for salaries, specifically note that grant funds will only go towards rent, supplies, etc. and not salaries.



.03

Submitting a Grant

Be sure to save your portal login information in an easily accessible place and use an email address that will be checked frequently.

  • For online grant portals, copy questions into a word document and write/edit there. This makes it easier to edit, share, save for future grants, and avoid accidentally submitting too early.

  • Copyedit multiple times to check for spelling, formatting errors, etc. Some online portals will create issues with content that is copied from a word document, so review language in portal.

  • Unless otherwise specified, upload all attachments as PDFs. This avoids formatting issues and ensures the reviewer is seeing exactly what you want.

Download final submission so that you have a copy of what the grant is reading. Sometimes portals can be shut down or no longer save documents so it’s best to save your own copies of everything.



Carynne McIver Button is a freelance grant writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She has a decade of experience in fundraising and grant writing and has helped non-profit organizations win over $3.7 million in grant funding. Learn more at www.mciverbutton.com

 
 
 
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