PS has worked as a freelance writer since 2012. When she's not traveling and writing, she helps people with web design and development.
While working in a foundation, my job was to review lots and lots of grant proposals. This was a great chance for me to get acknowledged about nonprofit organizations operating in different regions. At the same time, I was dismayed to realize the reluctance of proposals seeking funding. The chances that a proposal grabs your attention is 1 out of 50. The real secret to writing a persuasive grant proposal or any other web copy or fundraising letter is “LET THEM SAY IT FOR YOU!”
The best way to make any proposal compelling is by using testimonials from the people who seed your NGO or any other organization in the past. These are the prove why your donors put efforts to visit your organization and donate their money or gifts. Writing proposals with testimonials help your grant stand apart from the rest.
How to find the Testimonials?
Don’t get misunderstood by this word. It doesn’t only refer to long-form letters that your donors send you or write for you as feedback. Indeed every act of donor is a testimonial for you. It is everywhere. For example, thank you cards, fax messages, emails, speeches at events and conversations. If you’ve not yet started recording these valuable assets, then begin from now. Also, you can send surveys to your donors and clients. Moreover, use a tape recorder while conversing with your client or donor, but make sure to ask for their permission to record the session. Also, if you have a website (well, you must have one), set up a comment section and urge people to post their views.
What is an example of Effective Testimonial?
Having a testimonial is not enough, you should know to use it effectively to attract donors and clients to offer you a grant. It should speak volume about your good deeds in a real and alive manner.
For example, writing something like, “The ABC organization is extremely generous with its work. Their programs have motivated me to get back on my track and live afresh” and then, you close it with the relevant person’s name (say, Prachi Sharma). The testimonial looks fine. There is enthusiasm, but it lacks in two things:
- How did the ABC organization help?
- Who is Prachi Sharma?
Here is a better way to write it down:
“ABC’s online writing course has helped me to learn new skills. It has given me an opportunity to work from home and become an independent woman.”
- Prachi Sharma, housewife, alumni of The ABC organization
The second example tells a story which clarifies the whole concept to the reader in a much better way.
This is a short example, most of the time, it is better to include a paragraph in your testimonial that contains at least 5 lines. But, to craft it in the most generous way without faking any piece of it, it is better to do some research beforehand.
You can build a stronger testimonial by asking relevant questions in your survey, such as you can ask the clients’ experience, what they found most valuable and what would make them visit your organization again. Don’t get nervous, if they don’t respond to you at first attempt. Call them or mail them to ask for their valuable feedback. Say thank you at the end and ask for their permission to share their feedback as a testimonial to others.
Few points to remember while building your testimonials:
- Never polish the language
- Spelling and punctuation errors are fine, till they don’t mess up with the real meaning of the sentence
- Subject’s views must sound authentic and true
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Maintain a Testimonial Directory
Collecting testimonials need to be an active and ongoing process. You should encourage members of your team to maintain a directory of testimonials and fetch every possible chance of finding a new one. Maintaining an inventory of testimonial will not only provide you with the grant but it is also a good source of recruiting new staff and spreading positivity about your organization.
Testimonials are one part of writing a grant proposal. Now, you are done with it. Let’s look at how to write the actual grant proposal.
First of all, you need to know, writing a proposal is a time-consuming task. There are lots of sections you need to cover:
Sections in Grant Proposal Writing
- Program/Solution with Budget
- Sources for the Program/Solution i.e. Funding Sources
- The final copy of the Proposal
How to Write a Grant Proposal?
Grant proposal needs to cover the above-mentioned sections in detail. Let’s go step by step to know the essentials of each section:
Step 1: Specify the Problem
To make sure your proposal catches readers’ attention and they agree to fund your organization, you should know how to convince them.
- Start with specifying the problem or need
- How can you solve these problems or fulfill the needs through the grant money?
- Include Stakeholders and partnered organizations
- Form new relationships with like-minded groups
- Plan a stakeholder meeting, don’t accept them to agree with you on all points, be ready for rejections as well
- Elaborate the problem
- Conduct more than one meeting, if required, to satisfy the majority of the stakeholders. When the majority agrees, then the minority of them will automatically follow
- Don’t blame anyone for the situation, avoid using words similar to “ugly”, “outrageous” or “violence”
- Describe the consequences of the problem, which can affect people both socially and economically
- Conduct an investigation to build your credibility
- Even if the problem is obvious, an investigative report is essential to document your problem and present it in front of the stakeholders
- Don’t use jargons and complicated vocabulary. Explain your investigation in layman’s language.
Step 2: Describe your Expectations
Now, you are done with the first step of specifying your problem with proofs. This is the time to present the possible solutions and what you expect to receive from your client. In this section, focus on the desired outcome of your proposed situation. Discuss the possible improvements that can be made.
- Describe the possible outputs i.e. results of your activities and chosen procedure
- Describe the possible outcomes i.e. positive or negative impact of the results from the activities
- Involve your stakeholders to drive the possible outputs and outcomes
- Present realistic measures of your outcomes, finding a solution that can eradicate the problem from its roots is not feasible. It is better to promise less and exceed the target.
- Make sure the project is cost-effective, the estimations must be neither less nor more. As it can affect your funding requests in the future.
Step 3: Craft your Program/Solution with Budget in mind
Your next step is to find a way to carry out these activities to get the expected results. Remember, it is not important to build the fastest, shortest, cheapest and easiest method. It may not be the best one. Here are a few tips to create a feasible flowchart for your solution:
- Ask Experts such as government and private staffs, who are involved in grantmaking.
- Contact the funding source. Here you are not asking them for funds, rather for their expertise in the matter.
- Research what other organizations have done to carry out a similar project like yours.
- You also have the option to reach out to press and professional journals - they have the information about everything you can imagine
- Search online and discuss your problem with other associations
- If you are aware of any researcher working on a similar topic, you can contact them as well. The more SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) you can have, the better solution you can get.
- Ask for support from your stakeholders. A letter of commitment and support speak volume about your work and reflect a positive image of your organization.
- Letter of support depicts the approval of other people and organizations in your work
- Letter of commitment describes the ways in which the other organizations and people assist you in your project. It can be through money, labor, supplies, time, space, materials and other related necessities.
- Make sure to include the budget with your proposal. It is necessary to avoid any last time legal issues.
Step 4: State the list of Funding Sources
The problem is specified and its relevant solutions are crafted. Now, this is the time to look out for resources who are ready to grant you money and equipment to complete the project. This step requires lots of planning and time investment. You may already know that many sources have complex processes to review and approve the proposals.
- Start with already known organizations and people
- Look for targets who have already funded similar projects
- Sites such as www.grants.gov can help you locate rightful funders. Also, search on state and local governments websites
- After locating the appropriate funding sources, find enough information about them so that you know they are not spams and have funded similar organizations like yours in the past.
- Check out their funding program. Evaluate whether you meet all the requirements for the grant proposal.
- Build a relationship with the GPO (Grant Program Officer)
- In the Request For Proposals i.e. RFP section (Grant announcements), you can easily find a contact person titled as Program Officer.
- Arrange your meeting with them either in person or by phone. They are the experts in the process and can help you with your project completion.
- Discuss your organization achievements and previous projects with them. They will confirm for you if your project is eligible for funding.
- Never miss out from asking a question to them, that you have in your mind, doesn’t matter how silly it sounds.
- Funders are key stakeholders. Make sure to invoice them with your project. Many of them don’t put many efforts except providing you with required resources such as money. While there are others who are ready to get fully involved with your project.
Step 5: Time to Write the Proposal
From steps 1 to 4, you have specified the problem for which you are writing the grant proposal, you have measured the outcomes as well as outputs, you have designed the program or the solution for your problem and finally, you’ve found the targeted funders. Now, the final step. Let’s begin with the grant proposal writing process:
- Write a customized proposal for different funders
- Style and format must be selected by the preference of your funders
- Many organizations display their successful proposals publicly. You can study and use them as your guide. You will get information about the preferred style and terminology.
- You can also find useful guidelines under the RFP section such as what information to include with what type of format, including the page limit and font size.
- Mode of submission can be electronic, online or offline. You can find it in the same section.
- The grant proposal has a limit of ten pages. Make sure you don’t exceed that. Following the instructions is very important. If you don’t, then the funders will assume if you can’t stick to the guidelines, then you can’t be trusted with the grant.
- In any case, if some exception needs to be made, it is better to take permission from the program officer beforehand. Make sure to include the permit statement stating that you have permission to deviate from the set of instructions
- Grant programs are actually very competitive and receiving grant requires lots of efforts. Your proposal may need to undergo evaluation criteria specified by the RFP. The rules may also set certain points for specific sections.
- Study the criteria. Besides, also confirm the same with the program officer if there’s something else you need to take care of.
- Make a checklist. Since there are so many points you need to cover up. It is better to create your own checklist. Missing a detail may lead to rejection of your proposal. Pay attention to your budget as well. The cost incurred should be fully explainable.
- Since it is a very competitive and time-consuming task. You can look for outside help. As a writer, writing a grant proposal needs lots of passion and sense of urgency. You need to emphasize on the organization and write in their voice.
- Your proposal is the only way to make funders inform about your organization. Proofread it multiple times to avoid any grammatical error. Avoid any chance of the wrong impression. This can cost you your grant awards.
- Many grant programs have strict deadlines that you need to follow. In case you miss the timeline, don’t get nervous, allow delays but make sure your proposal is outstanding. Grant programs happen periodically, you can use the next opportunity to win the award.
Step 6: Additional Documents
Besides the proposal, you will also need to include the following documents:
- Cover Letter: A cover letter is your opportunity to introduce your organization, show your ethics, give a brief of your project and show appreciation for the time the readers considered to read your request.
- Qualifications: You can show your organizational qualifications within a section in your proposal or through separate documents. You need to elaborate the nature, objective and function of your organization. This is generally written after or before the section where you discussed the problem.
- Supporting Documents: Supporting documents are a must to justify your reason for grant and make it look more authentic. You may need to include appendices, tax status information, endorsements and personal bios for employees who work at your organization. Also, as I mentioned earlier, letter of support and commitment from allied individuals and organizations are also required.
Additional Resources for Grant Proposal
Here are a few additional resources where you can find guidelines and grant proposal examples to improve your success chances:
- Madison’s Memorial Library - Grants Information Collection
- PMBOK(Project Management Body of Knowledge) Methodologies
- GrantSource Library, Bynum Hall
- Grant Space by Candid
- Kurzweil Educational Systems
- Grant Doctor
- Carol M. White Physical Education Program
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- Colorado Grants
- EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
- Appalachian Regional Commission
- Foundation Centre
- MCF (Minnesota Council on Foundations)
- NP Guides
- Learner Associates
- Sinclair Community College - Grants Development Office
- Legal Action Center - Grant Proposal Template
- ABAG (Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers)
- University of Wisconsin - the Writing center
© 2019 Prachi Sharma