I Need $$$! Best Practices from Grant-Awarded Writer to Fund All Types of Programs
So, you are considering grants to fund your dream project or program. Perhaps you are a nonprofit, filmmaker or public school program in need of financial support. How do you begin the grant writing process? How do you bring to fruition your thoroughly researched idea?
January is not only for setting new year’s resolutions but also for planning your grant submission calendar. It is important for you to know that this is when most grantors restart their funding cycles.This represents an opportunity for you, but it must begin with a mix of preparation, patience and perseverance. Trust me, these three Ps are going to make all the difference in how you secure your first awarded grant — funds.
I got started writing grants by chance and out of utter necessity when one of my film projects, DreamTown, needed funding.
The director had sent me a previously submitted grant application that I wound up spending a couple of days rewriting expeditiously to beat the deadline. By the time it was completed, I had a severe migraine. My first tip to you: Do not do that – throw yourself into a tight deadline, especially the first time. It will deter you from the already draining process. Yes. It helped that I had a template to work from, which is essentially what your first application will be, a reusable document with key sections that include the project’s objectives, impact and budget.
Here’s the deal. I’m going to be straight with you. Whether you are writing the grant proposal yourself or hiring a professional, it takes work, a lot of work. Your job is to write effectively based on a strategy for your program. Let me reiterate this point, you must write based on a strategy for your program. This is nonnegotiable. You must have a strategy, a plan, in place, or a spin doctor-grant writer who knows your industry inside and out. Yes. I won’t lie. Luck and spin happen too.
Ultimately, though, securing grant funds is about selling your story to the grantor. And I must admit that filmmakers are deftly suited for this, which is why I am happily sharing insight into grant writing best practices that have worked for me across all types of programs. While the grant writing process is quite an arduous one, these 10 are a good start.
G’s —Top 10 Best Practices for Writing Winning Grants
1. Respect the Grant Writer. I start with this one because whether you are writing the proposal or hiring an expert, you will be asked to provide information. This is not an option. The sooner you get what is needed, the sooner the work can begin and be completed. For larger grant applications, you may be asked to provide audited financial statements, a tax exempt letter, and other pertinent documents or information. Respect the grant writer. There should be no chasing down for information.
2. Read the Grant’s Eligibility Requirements. Before you go any further, read the RFP’s or grant eligibility requirements. Go through the whole checklist and make sure they fund your type of program. For instance, will the grantor fund your project in your state? Is the grantor funding only STEM programs and yours is for dance? Does your organization need to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to apply?
3. Who, What, Where, Why and How. Go back to the basics of every story and be ready to articulate concisely and effectively the following, but be as specific as you can be:
Who Is your program or project going to benefit or target?
What is your program going to do?
Where will the program take place?
Why is your program so important that the grantor must fund it?
How will you ensure that you can do what you are proposing with the funding?
4. What needs funding? I know this is listed above, but you would be surprised how often the obvious question is the one that is least thoroughly considered. In my experience, this is a typical situation for public or government-funded programs, unfortunately. Wanting a lot of money, let’s say $100k, for the science department is not enough. You must present a program with defined objectives.
5. Be concise as you persuade the grantor to buy your story. Most applications are submitted via the grantor’s online platform. As a result, make sure your copy is not over each section’s character limit. I recommend using your handy Word count tool, as you go. Trust me. You will kick yourself at 11:58 p.m. when your application is due at midnight, and you have to cut 100 words from each section.
6. Are matching funds required? Yes? You will know this by reading the grant eligibility requirements, but I cannot stress how overlooked this one is. You will need to know how much the grantor requires to be matched i.e. 50%, 25%. You will be asked to provide this line item in the budget along with corroborating materials.
7. Request letters of support. If this is an option, get letters from your most influential supporters. Grantors are very interested in your resourcefulness, which also means you have a chance to brag about who you know and why they love you and your project. You can make the request easier by writing the letters yourself and sending them to your supporters for approval. Just make sure the letters are returned to you on company letterhead and with the appropriate signatures. This is common practice in the grant writing process.
8. What is your program’s impact? You can start by explaining the demographics of your target audience and how they will be positively affected or influenced by your program. This is where you really get to open up about the heart of your cause. Are you producing a story about an underserved, under-represented community? Research previously awarded grantees and study what type of impact they have had.
9. Prepare a realistic and thorough budget. Make sure you have a line-by-line budget of your project’s expenses and then get ready to write summaries of what each line means and how they all connect to the whole project.
10. Be patient and try and try again. Getting awarded a grant is ultimately like playing a numbers game that includes a mix of great storytelling, a program strategy and a justifiable, realistic budget. Grantors must be wowed by your proposal and be persuaded to trust you with their money. Note. As part of the numbers game, you can continue to tweak your living, breathing grant proposal, because that is what it will be. There is always room to color the story with another layer, shade, tint… OK. You get the picture. Each submission is an opportunity to improve your story.