[This guest post is written by Alvina Lopez, a freelance writer who often contributes content to accredited online colleges. Alvina reviewed hundreds of grant proposals in a previous position at an educational research organization. She welcomes your comments at alvina.lopez@gmail.com.]

NOTE: CEDAM training on funding and grant writing is on December 6th! Learn more.

For any nonprofit enterprise, securing funds from donors or larger organizations forms the very backbone of the work. Without funding, a nonprofit organization essentially ceases to exist. Considering that a grant proposal is the ticket to securing funding, learning how to write one well is vital. When I was in college, I worked as a student editor of an educational research organization. Part of my duties was editing grant proposals. Throughout my time there, I’ve read hundreds of proposals and learned what, precisely, makes a successful bid for funds. Here are a few basics:

1.      Specific focus on the donor

Even if you are submitting several grant proposals requesting funds for the same project, you must make it a point to tailor each proposal such that it aligns with the donating foundation’s goals and values. This is an instrumental part of being approved for a grant, so only request funds from an organization that is already involved in efforts to attain goals that are closely related to your project.

2.      Clearly defined goal and/or mission

Although grant proposals have varied formats, one component that all proposals share is an initial goal or mission. The goal or mission is usually the very first part of your proposal. Just like a newspaper article, your opening paragraph(s) must grab the reader’s attention. Be as specific as you can, but do so in a manner that is clear, concise, and persuasive.

3.      Follow grant proposal guidelines

Most organizations and foundations have very specific guidelines for grant proposals, including the number of words or pages, what specific sections must be covered, deadlines, and more. If guidelines aren’t easily found on a donating foundation’s website, make sure to call and ask. In my experience editing proposals, the majority of applicants did not follow guidelines carefully. Indeed, Colorado Grants posits that an estimated 50% to 70% are submitted incompletely. If your grant proposal is incomplete, your proposal risks being thrown out before it even has a chance.

4.      Well-researched budget

Whether for good or ill, everything always comes down to the bottom line. The biggest factors that donors look for when deciding whether or not to accept a grant proposal are two-fold: matching goals or priorities between the organization submitting the grant and the donating organization, and economic viability. The best budgets are very specific and demonstrate that you’ve thoroughly researched the most reasonable costs, but still leave room for flexibility. If an organization feels forced into donating X amount of money without the possibility of cutting or shifting costs, then the chances of obtaining funding decrease substantially. For more specific tips on drafting budgets for proposals, read this article.

5.      Appropriately objective tone

Although you may be extremely passionate about the project that you are describing in your grant proposal, a very important element of a well-written grant proposal is maintaining objectivity. Let the actual project, numbers, and reasons for pursuing the project speak for themselves. Avoid loaded language and keep things simple.

Of course, these are simply general guidelines for writing an effective grant proposal. Learning to write successful grant proposals is also a matter of practice. For an impressively diverse list of sample grant proposals, check out this collection. Good luck!

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