Foundations typically provide direct guidelines and requirements for applicants. Always follow these absolutely. Use outlines and questions provided to design the order of your proposal and be sure every question gets an explicit answer. Never use weak language that appears to evade an answer — you will not fool the experts who will review your proposal.
Each basic element or section of a grant proposal has its own specific requirements. For a nice overview of those sections and tips about how to handle each one, take a look Elements of a Good Grant Proposal.
When you believe you have finished your final draft, take a break and then re-read it. Ask a colleague to proofread it as well — it’s amazing what you won’t see when you are deeply involved in what’s been written. Include an inventory of required attachments and/or appendices and be sure they are included (in the appropriate order).
Never copy/paste standard materials from a template proposal and send it to several different foundations. They cannot be successful because each must be custom-designed to match the specifications and priorities of the funder.
Be confident and straightforward in your proposal language. Talk about what will happen when you are funded, not if. Explain what your organization will do, not what it could do.
Condense condense condense (have we said that often enough?). Always be within the maximum page length and keep your margins large enough to facilitate comfortable reading.
Provide hard data of several types to document the issue you are addressing. These might include national statistics, comparative data from your own community or region, and information from your own record-keeping. Always cite your source, and never make a factual claim without providing evidence that it is true. Use grant requirements to create an internal system of tracking information that can be used to back up funding requests (number of people served, number of requests which must be turned away, consequences of limited resources and facilities and the like. Organizing this data on an ongoing basis will make future proposals easier (and faster) to write.
Use the language and terminology of the organization to which you are applying. If it is a business corporation, refer to the desired funding as an “investment” rather than as a gift. Provide details about how the business will benefit, such as increased (positive) public relations and opportunities to get their name out in front of people more often.
The same type of language is desirable and effective when addressing Baby Boomers. Refer to the investment, the long term return on that investment, and the value of your partnership.
Keep your proposal positive. There are obvious challenges or you wouldn’t be seeking a grant. It should be clear, though, that your project is feasible and that it will have an important and positive impact.
Clearly communicate the expertise and qualifications of your project leadership as well as of your organization.
Demonstrate the time pressures that apply to the conditions instigating your project. Be clear about what is happening and why time is of the essence. At the same time, you must show that you are aware of and appreciate the amount of time it typically takes for grants proposals to be assessed and funded. Your plans must reflect your understanding while also making the urgency understood.
In The “How To” Grants Manual, author David Bauer explains the difference between what he calls reactive and proactive grantsmanship. In the former, an organization first designs a program and then seeks grants and must often hustle to apply for important deadlines. In the latter, proactive grantsmanship first does the required research on funders, identifies those that are a good fit, and works to establish a relationship with those funders. It would be wise to be proactive and to intentionally devote time to researching funders. See our pages on research and you will be putting a strong step forward.