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writing a successful grant proposal

Five keys to writing a successful grant proposal that gets funded

Every day, foundations and funding agencies are swamped with grant proposals, the majority of which get tossed in the trash. Why do some proposals get funded and others don't? This article looks at five keys to writing a successful grant proposal that gets funded.

In the 15 years that I've been writing successfully-funded grant proposals I've had lots of opportunities to sit down with foundation officers, grant reviewers, trustees and people who are otherwise involved in the process of deciding which grant proposals will get funded and which ones will get tossed into the trash. I have also spent time working as a professional grant reviewer.

While there are many factors that determine whether or not a proposal will get funded, based on the conversations that I've had with the decision-makers, these are five of the most important points that need to be on target in order for a proposal to be seriously considered for funding:

  1. Be certain that your organization, program or project matches the funding agency's priorities and/or geographic restrictions: This is the number one complaint. Grant reviewers are constantly barraged with proposals that do not align to their foundation's program priorities or geographic restrictions. Some people seem to think that the shotgun approach is a workable strategy (throw enough stuff out there and something is bound to stick). Here's a tip straight from the horse's mouth--it's not. This strategy is the equivalent of spamming foundations and not only is a waste of everyone's time, but it also is detrimental to your legitimacy and future fund-raising efforts.
  2. Follow the directions: This one was just about tied for the number one position. Not following the directions is a sure way for your proposal to get tossed in a hurry. Adhere to the guidelines--if it says a five-page limit then don't include six. If it says use a 12-point font, use a 12-point font. Answer the questions in the guidelines and only those questions.
  3. Be succinct: People who review grants are swamped with proposals. While you might be thrilled by your ability to explain every point in nauseating detail, reviewers usually aren't. In fact, it's just the opposite--if you really want to impress them, show how you can say what you need to say concisely. A successful grant proposal provides everything the reviewer needs to see, without being wordy or verbose.
  4. Provide measurable outcomes: Although, improving the quality of life in our community and making children better citizens both sound great and are certainly lofty and worthwhile outcomes, they won't impress a proposal reviewer. A successful grant proposal includes clearly-stated outcomes that can be measured and quantified. If you can not quantify (measure) the outcome then it's not measurable and you should head back to the drawing board. Here are some examples of measurable outcomes: We will conduct five outreach sessions; The program will reach 100 disadvantaged youth; At least 75% of program participants will achieve a passing score on the ABC standardized test;
  5. Outline an evaluation plan that clearly shows how you will measure your progress towards reaching the outcomes that you've stated. Funders are interested in outcomes--you need to demonstrate how and when you are going to measure your progress. For example, if you say that your program will serve 100 disadvantaged youth then you need to explain how you will track the number served (sign-in sheets, activity logs, etc.). If you say that participants are going to improve their knowledge or skill level then you need to tell them how and when you're going to test these things.

Of course this is not everything you need to know about how to write a successful grant proposal-it's just a start. However, if you pay attention to these five points you will greatly improve your proposal's chances of getting on the short list and perhaps getting funded.


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