Four Secrets of Compelling Grant Writing

This guest post is from Dana Textoris, Executive Consultant, Grants Plus

As a fundraising professional, you can recite your organization’s mission by heart. You see it in print and action every day. But does your grant writing convey the power of that mission to funders?

This is the second post in our series about writing a powerful narrative for your nonprofit. In the first post, we presented three criteria for high-powered grant proposals:

  1. Persuasion: Persuade the reader that your organization or project is needed, credible, achievable, and unique.
  2. Clarity: Aim to write simply so the reader can follow your meaning.
  3. Logic: Structure and sequence ideas in an order that gradually develops the reader’s understanding.

In this post we introduce a fourth criteria:

    4. Unity: Unify the grant proposal around a core compelling idea.

As a grant writer, your target reader is a foundation program officer reading dozens, if not hundreds, of funding requests at a time. It’s his or her job to separate out requests that are urgent and important from those that aren’t. It’s your job is to make sure your grant proposal lands in the right pile.

Before you write, you have to think: what is urgent and important about your request?

The answer to this question is not what your organization needs to exist or do its job. Funders don’t make grants to support an organization for the organization’s own sake—funders make grants to see their own mission and priorities come alive.

Here is an example of two approaches to the same request. The first approach focuses on a school’s own function and needs, while the second reflects a particular funder’s interests and priorities: developing young people and enriching the community.

  • School’s need: “Funding is needed to hire artists to serve as teaching artists in our classrooms.”
  • Funder’s interests: “Funding is needed to recruit teaching artists who will nurture the artistic skills and ambitions of our community’s future artists and artistic leaders.”

Your answer to what’s urgent and important should be articulated as a “core compelling idea.” To get there, brainstorm these questions:

  • What is the problem in the community or world? How does your project remedy or solve it?
  • What is the funder’s mission? How does your project advance it? Why should the funder fund?

Lake View Cemetery Foundation followed this practice to make a powerful case for the restoration of the Garfield Memorial—a soaring tribute to President James A. Garfield, Ohio native and 20th president of the United States, who was assassinated four months into his presidency.

A grant request for the project could make a functional case about the need for bricks and mortar to restore the monument and beautify the cemetery. Instead, Lake View identified what would be more likely to motivate funders: Cleveland. Local foundations are more likely to care more about protecting the cultural, economic, and community vitality of Cleveland than they are about renovating a memorial or honoring a long-gone president.

The job of the grant writer, then, is to convince the reader that the project to restore the Garfield Memorial is really about restoring Cleveland. The core compelling idea is that the memorial is a symbol of Cleveland’s rise, its fall, and its rebound now to the future. Restoring the memorial demonstrates pride and respect for the city—while neglecting it is tantamount to neglecting and disrespecting Cleveland.

With this core compelling idea identified, the grant writer can reinforce it throughout the grant proposal, as shown in these example phrases taken from different places in the document:

  • “As we pursue other essential public enhancements, the final resting place of the only U.S. President from Northeast Ohio must not be overlooked.”
  • “It would not befit our pride in our city or our fallen president to allow the Garfield Memorial to fall into disrepair.”
  • “With the funds secured to accomplish a multiphase restoration plan, the Garfield Memorial will continue to be a source of pride and a symbol of Cleveland’s rich and vibrant history, as exemplified through the legacy of President Garfield.”

What is it that makes your case compelling, your project urgent and important, and your call to action unmistakable? Reinforcing your proposal with a core compelling idea requires the time and brain space to think before you write and the discipline and imagination to think like a funder.

By framing your request around a core compelling idea, and following our earlier suggestions to write grant proposals that are persuasive, clear, and logical, you’ll produce a stronger case that can motivate more grant funding for your organization.


 

Dana Textoris

Dana Textoris, Executive Consultant, Grants Plus, has led development initiatives for major institutions, grassroots organizations, and political campaigns in California and Ohio. Dana is a member of the Board of Directors of FrontLine Service and is active with the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cleveland Chapter. She holds a BA with distinction in Women’s Studies from The Ohio State University.