Posted by Jay Wilkinson

Grant writing is not for the faint of heart, but it can mean big bucks for the nonprofits who do it well. In 2014 alone, over $70 billion dollars were awarded by foundations and corporations, according to Charity Navigator, which means there’s a lot of funding to be had by the nonprofits willing to present their cases.

While grant writing is not an exact science, there are certainly steps you can take to increase your organization’s chances of receiving a piece of the pie. Here are 12 tips that will make your grant applications a cut above the rest.

  1. Spell out the need. Why are you applying for a particular grant? “Because we need funding” is not an acceptable answer. To increase your chances of being accepted, clearly describe the need that your project will meet in the community and how it will make a significant impact for good.
  2. Differentiate yourself. Tell how your organization’s work is different from other nonprofits in order to set yourself apart. To be honest, it’s rare for a nonprofit to be accepted for a grant without an existing relationship with the foundation, so most first-time grant proposals are rejected. That said, you significantly up your chances of getting a “yes” if you can set your organization apart from the masses.
  3. Target a specific project for your proposal. The majority of grants are awarded to a specific cause as opposed to just general support. By focusing your grant application on a single project, you will increase your chances of getting funded. And be detailed—this will show that you’ve clearly thought through how the project will be executed.
  4. Eliminate industry words and jargon. Every industry has its own jargon; nonprofits are no different. But to appeal to the majority of foundations and corporations, it’s best to eliminate all internally used acronyms and jargon. Tell your story from the heart, in words that everyone can understand.
  5. Lose the $10 words. The best grant proposals are easy to read, concise and understandable. Always.
  6. Be a good storyteller. Imagine that it’s your job to read grant proposals, hour after hour after hour. Eventually they’re all going to sound the same—unless you come across one that inspires you or tugs at your heartstrings. Think about this: How can you get the person reading your proposal to fall in love with your organization? The key lies in the story you tell. If you can perfect the art of storytelling, your grant proposals will stand out.
  7. Focus more on solutions than problems. Talking too much about problems (as opposed to solutions) can give your proposal a negative vibe. Remember: A real person is going to read your proposal, so you want to do everything you can to instill positive emotions, much like in storytelling. Plus, grant makers want to know how you’re going to accomplish your objectives even more than why.
  8. Be sure your budget makes sense. Believe it or not, quite a few proposals are submitted with math errors, which automatically undermines the organization’s credibility. Be sure your math adds up, your budget makes sense and it supports the objectives you’re proposing to accomplish. If your grant proposal even hints at the possibility you’re a bad steward of money, you’ll be eliminated immediately.
  9. Recruit an objective reviewer. After you finish writing your application, send it to someone who doesn’t know anything about your nonprofit. Does that person understand what you’re trying to accomplish? Does it inspire, engage or motivate that person to support your organization’s mission? If so, you’re on the right track. It’s helpful to get an outsider’s perspective before you submit the proposal to, well, an outsider.
  10. Don’t procrastinate. Easier said than done, but try very hard not to wait until the last minute to prepare your grants. You’ll inevitably make mistakes if you feel rushed, and you won’t have time to edit or rewrite. If possible, never send your application via overnight or express mail. Rushing a proposal costs extra money and can signal to the grant maker that your organization is a poor steward of funds.
  11. Pay close attention to details. Some foundations can be very picky. If they specify page length, page margins, typeface, etc., be sure to follow the specifications. They may not make sense to you or seem important, but grant makers have their reasons, and not adhering to their requirements may get your application tossed aside. Don’t go to all that work just to have your proposal rejected because of logistics.
  12. Don't send unnecessary attachments. Most grant makers will specify what to send, and it’s not necessary to send more than they request, even if you think it will win you an advantage. Again, it’s important to follow the rules. Grant makers are reading a lot of proposals, and they may view extraneous material as an annoyance.

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