Grant Writing for Nonprofits: Best Practices

Feb 03, 2024 

Understanding Grant Writing

The key to winning a grant is to write and submit a grant proposal that convinces the funder that your organization is the most deserving of their funds. However, grant writing involves more than just coming up with a few paragraphs about your project and filling out an application. It takes a lot of skill and experience to write proposals that win grants. 

Where do you begin? What do you need to understand about grant writing and the process of submitting your proposal? That’s what we cover in this post. Below, you’ll find our grant writing best practices.

Before we dive in, we want to remind you that Pearl Solutions is here to help you write grants that will bring your projects to life. Over the last decade, we’ve secured $50+ million in funding for our clients, and we have a 90% success rate for first-time grant applications. 

If you want to work with a team that understands these best practices and supports you from step one of the application process, we’d love to hear from you. Feel free to contact us to learn more about grant writing services.

Grant Writing Best Practices for Nonprofits

Understand and align with the funder.

Your organization won’t be the only one applying to receive a grant. Why should the funder support your project when there are so many incredible project ideas in front of them?

One way to improve your odds of winning a grant is to understand the funder’s mission and align it with your own. 

Ask yourself questions like: 

  • Why is the funder offering this grant? 
  • Have they awarded a similar grant in the past? Which organization received it and why were they the best fit? 
  • Are there specific aspects of your project or work that you should highlight based on the funder’s interests? 
  • What connections does your organization have to the work the funder does or the impact they want to have?

Think beyond the application requirements and get to the heart of why the funder is providing the funds in the first place. This will make your application stand out in a pool of competitive proposals. 

Develop a clear and impactful project plan.

You might have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t articulate what the project is, why you want to complete it, and how you would use the grant funds to do so, you won’t win the grant.

Your proposal should have a clear plan that includes a strategy to complete the project and report on its success. Anyone who reads your application should understand what it is you’re trying to do and how you plan to do it, even if they’re not familiar with your work. 

Next, think about your project’s impact. The funder knows why you need funds: You have expenses to cover. Why should they give the funds to you? Why should they cover your expenses? This “why” is just as important. 

In your proposal, explain how the project will positively change your community or impact a specific cause. Think back to the funder’s personal or organizational mission and align your proposal with the impact they want to have. 

Demonstrate organizational capacity and sustainability.

The funder might believe in your project, but they won’t fund it if they don’t believe that your organization can complete the project. You can show them that you will properly and successfully steward their funds by demonstrating your organization’s capacity and sustainability.

When thinking about organizational capacity and sustainability, ask yourself: 

  • What concerns might the funder have? 
  • Why should they be confident that you can start the project today? 
  • How can you show that you will be able to complete the project? 
  • How will your organization ensure the project’s success? 
  • Who will manage the project now and in the future? 

Those are the questions you should keep in mind and address in your organization’s project plan. 

Write clearly and review thoroughly.

What does it mean to write clearly? In this case, it means answering questions in the most compelling and direct manner possible. 

Consider these things:

  • Did you answer the question?
  • Did you complete the prompt? 
  • Is this the simplest way to answer this question or respond to this prompt?
  • Is there information you can or should cut from the response to make it more clear?
  • If someone doesn’t know about your organization or the work you do, would they understand your project? 
  • Is it clear why you want the funds and how you would use them? 

Once you’ve completed your application and compiled all of your required documentation, it’s time to review it thoroughly. Here are a few things to pay attention to when reviewing your grant application. 

Check for spelling and grammar errors. You can do this by using the Spelling and Grammar Check tools built into Microsoft Word or Google Docs. You should then have someone check manually or read the proposal and flag any errors they notice. 

Look for common mistakes that may not come up on an automatic spelling and grammar check. These include using the incorrect version of words like their and there and its and it’s. 

Confirm that your facts are accurate. Look at the information you provided in your proposal. Is it factual or subjective? Do you have statistics to back up your claims? Have you cited sources to support your claims? 

Confirm that you’ve spelled names, titles, and organizations correctly. It may seem like an obvious suggestion, but this is too important not to mention. You don’t want to give the impression that you don’t care about the little things or that you don’t respect the people involved in this process.

Ask someone else to review the application. They will bring a fresh perspective to the table, which can be valuable considering you will have been “in the weeds” and may not pick up on every single thing that you need to address. When you ask the person to review the application, give them specific instructions. Ask them to flag any concerns or questions they have or errors they catch. If there’s something in particular that you’re worried about, ask them about that and see what they think.

Conduct your own final review. You should only submit the application when you feel confident that there are no other improvements you could make. 

Build relationships and learn from feedback.

If you’re lucky, a funder will provide you with feedback on your application. This is an incredibly valuable opportunity because you’ll know what you need to do in order to turn in a stronger and more competitive grant proposal in the future. 

This can also be a chance to get to know the funder on a deeper level and establish relationships that may benefit your organization in the future. 

Main Steps in the Grant Writing Process

Although the specifics of your proposal will vary based on the funder’s requirements, the steps of the grant writing process remain the same. 

Research and identify potential grants.

There are so many grants out there, and you don’t have time to apply for each one. How do you choose which grants to pursue? 

It might be tempting to apply for as many as you can, but that won’t be a good use of your resources. As you conduct your research, identify potential grants that you consider to be viable and choose ones from that list. The goal is to spend your time and resources on applying for grants that you have a chance of winning. 

For example, if you’re not supporting education initiatives, you probably shouldn’t apply for education grants. The same goes for government grants. Instead, look for funding opportunities that align with your mission and goals. The funders behind those grants will be the ones who are most likely to invest in your project. 

If your organization isn’t a 501(c)(3) organization, double check the requirements. Some funders only open grants up to organizations with this status.

Reminder: Looking for expert support? When you work with our team, we conduct thorough research and present only the most viable options to you. We also register your organization in key governmental databases. 

Learn more about our grant writing services.

Understand the requirements and guidelines.

Before you choose a grant and start writing your proposal, look at the application requirements and guidelines. Is your organization eligible to receive the grant? Can you provide all of the required information or supporting documentation? Can you complete the proposal and submit it by the deadline? If not, don’t apply for that grant. 

You might think that your proposal can sway the funder to consider your application, but that’s not the case. It won’t matter what you include in the proposal if you don’t meet the requirements or follow the guidelines because you will be automatically removed from consideration.

Develop a project plan.

When applying for a grant, you’re likely applying to receive funds to complete a specific project. Naturally, the funder will want to know what that project is, why you need the funds, and how you will use them to bring the project to life. This is what you should cover in your project plan.

Write the proposal.

With this plan in place, you can begin writing the proposal. Go through and answer every question and respond to every prompt in the application. Remember that your proposal should be as compelling and as direct as possible. 

Reminder: You can learn more about our grant proposal writing services on our website. 

Prepare a budget.

How much will it cost to complete your project? How exactly will you spend those funds? Prepare a budget that explains your anticipated expenses in a way that shows the funder that you understand your needs and have a plan for meeting them. 

Review and edit the grant proposal.

You probably won’t be able to go back and change something after you submit the proposal. As such, you should only submit it when you’re confident that it’s as strong as it can be. See the advice above for guidance on reviewing the proposal. 

Submit the proposal.

Follow the grant guidelines and submit your proposal and any requested documents in the format requested by the funder. Make sure you keep the deadline in mind and submit it before that date and time.

Follow up with potential donors.

When it comes to communicating with funders and donors, think about what information you would want to have if you were in their position. They should know how you plan to spend their funds and, when possible, where you are in the process of completing the project. 

Manage the grant.

Although writing and submitting a grant proposal is quite a feat, you’re actually just getting started if you win the grant. 

Think about this as the stage where you begin developing a deeper relationship with the funder. The more clear your expectations and responsibilities are, the easier it will be to work together.

When managing the grant, ask questions like: 

  • When will your organization receive the funds? 
  • What progress updates does the funder expect to receive? 
  • How will you provide them with that information? 
  • Do they have other expectations and how will you meet them? 

Evaluate your progress and report on your successes.

Every project is different, which means you’ll evaluate and measure success based on your unique situation. Work with the funder to define what success means and what information they want to see as you deploy the funds and start working on the project. 

Even if you’re only required to submit a report at the end of a certain time period, we recommend communicating regularly with the funder so everyone is on the same page.

Maintain relationships with funders.

Just because your project is complete doesn’t mean you can’t work with the funder or communicate with them in the future. 

Treat your new relationship like you do all relationships and stay in touch. They’ve proven that they’re invested in the success of your organization, and they will be more likely to support your mission in the future if they know what your organization is doing and how they can help.

When appropriate, think about what you can do to make this a mutually beneficial relationship.

Conclusion

The grant application process is daunting, but you will have an easier time and increase your odds of success by following these best practices.

If you’re looking to apply for and win a world-changing grant, we’d love to support you. Learn more about the grant proposal writing services we provide at Pearl Solutions. 


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