Trial By Fire: Writing Tips Learned from the Ashes

Feb 8, 2024 | Grant Writing

Fire in the shape of a Phoenix

The first grant proposal I tackled on my own was a $2 million transportation request to the Atlanta Regional Commission – our area regional commission/council of government that administers federal funds to the 11 counties in Metropolitan Atlanta. To say I was in over my head is an understatement.

I’m proud to say I figured it out and secured the award, but it was a painful process.

Over the years I have figured out some tips and tricks to make the grant writing process as smooth as humanly possible. Most tips were learned by trial and error. Mistakes are the breeding ground of perfection, are they not?

Kimberly and I talked about this very topic on the latest episode of the Fundraising HayDay Podcast. Take a listen HERE.

Here are a few of my hacks for grant writing.

• Know that online portals are the worst place to develop your prose. Transfer all the questions into a word document and use that as your template for creating your responses. It makes it easier for sharing the narratives with clients, program directors, and other colleagues, as well as for editing, using tools like spell check and Grammarly, and more.

• Speaking of online portals, do not assume that all questions are visible. Sometimes you have to answer drop down menu questions to see what additional questions may pop up. So play around with the online portal first to make sure you’re getting the ENTIRE application.

• If you have a certain number of pages to answer a series of questions, use the funder guidance as a template for your blank word document. If the funder has a needs statement with six points to cover, cut and paste all those questions into the word document with space between to answer each. You can always come back and cut out the questions but having them listed in your working document means you won’t forget to answer a portion of the section.

• Don’t read the grant directions and expect to sit and type out your proposal right away. First go through all the grant requirements and figure out what information or details you are missing. Then make a list of what you need and who can help you. Sometimes it is as simple as emailing a colleague and asking them to send a certain document. Other times it means setting up an appointment to talk to a subject matter expert and get the information you need from their brain.

• Start with the budget! Your grant proposal should tell a seamless story, starting with what all you need to fund because of the program you plan to implement. If I am doing an after-school program and have a bus and bus driver in my budget, my program description should talk about how many kids we are transporting, where, and when. Then in my problem statement / description of need, I should probably talk about transportation being a barrier to children receiving the additional tutoring and care needed after school hours.

• Do not wait until the final hour to hit the submit button. If something can go wrong with the tech, that’s the moment you will lose power or your connection to the internet. Everyone tends to wait until the last minute, and sometimes online portals cannot handle everyone trying to send their application through at the same time. Funders do not usually care to hear your excuses, so submit early to give yourself time for snafus.

• If you are submitting an application that must be mailed, don’t trust overnight delivery services. (Ask me how I know…) This is another reminder to submit early to give your application time to make it in the hands of the funder.

• Find someone in your office to help edit your work. No matter how brilliant a speller and grammar nerd you are, mistakes are bound to happen. Even if you are the only grant professional on staff, there is someone who knows their way around the written word. Make them your new best friend and editor extraordinaire! Just misspell the word public one time, and you’ll never again skip the editing process.

Those are the biggies, but this is certainly not an exhaustive list. What tips have you learned to make the grant writing (and submission) process easier? We’d love to hear your additions:

Happy, and successful, writing to you!

Amanda Day
Fundraising HayDay

A podcast about grants & such.

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