Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Gathering Statistics Prior to Writing Grant Applications

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Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Gathering Statistics Prior to Writing Grant Applications

Putting the Horse Before the Cart: Gathering Statistics Prior to Writing Grant Applications

Written by Diane H. Leonard
Originally Published by Charity Channel on Wednesday, February 06, 2013
This article is republished here with Diane H. Leonard’s permission.

I am a professional pack rat of sorts. I hate to throw away an article that could be relevant to a narrative in the future or provide an idea for one of my community organizations. Taking that collector’s nature to research reports and studies, I have constantly kept a spot in my office for a large manila folder of “studies and statistics.” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports, Census data summaries, Alzheimer’s Association Fact and Figures—I keep them all. Thankfully, my firm is now a paperless office, and thus my tattered manila folder is now online and backed up automatically as soon as I add anew file or a new bookmark.


It is true; I love a good statistic. A solid statistic can transform a case statement or need statement from the “same old story” to a riveting new way to look at a community or societal problem. However, I know firsthand that when writing for the same organization for multiple proposals, there is the tendency to utilize the same statistics over and over again in the need statement as you move from one to the next. However, I don’t believe that this is a wise strategy to employ because I do not believe that all statistics are created equal nor do they provide the same punch for each funder.


While we as grant professionals have been taught to focus on customizing each proposal to individual funders, we typically interpret that to mean the project description and the linking of the program goals to the funder’s mission. I challenge you to reflect on whether or not one funder might find a different statistic more compelling than another. How will your funders feel after reading statistics about the number of hours a caregiver spends caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease versus the dollar value of work lost due to being a primary caregiver. Or vice versa? Might they react differently depending on their particular interest?


I have found that one statistic does not necessarily fit all. So in order to strengthen your need statement I recommend you consider the following steps as part of your grant seeking and writing process:

  • Keep a folder or tickler document with statistics that motivated you or captured your heart related to the subject matter and fields on which you will be writing. Book mark, PDF print, save, print and file, or tack these statistics to your office bulletin board for future use;
  • Engage program staff in a dialogue about new studies or statistics that they have encountered in their professional journals before and during the application planning process; and
  • Focus on citing sources and statistics from the most widely accepted (yet most closely related) sources.


By keeping a fresh compilation of compelling statistics related to the cause(s) that you are writing grant applications for, you will have a wealth of statistics at hand. This will allow you to choose figures that are custom tailored to best support your program description and request.


Taking it one step further, I recommend that at the same time as you are focusing on integrating new or different statistics (based on the interest and particular focus of your funder), you also focus on internal statistics as well. Maintain a current file of internal statistics that you can quickly reference and adjust accordingly based on the funders requirements and/or interests. To build your file, consider the doing the following:

  • Ask your program management staff for copies of its monthly or quarterly score cards so you have up-to-date data for each of your current programs. Your available data will be even better if these score cards are compared to annual plans that are linked to the organization’s strategic plan!
  • Keep statistics and program reports from the final reports of previous grants (as well as the unused data that was run but not included in the report). Use them for reference when building your case and as baseline statistics when writing new proposals.
  • If you work with an organization that has an evaluation professional on staff or as a consultant, confer with them about which data they find most compelling for a specific program or your organization as a whole. Talk through variations on the current statistics you have and what other data is available for you to use.


Freshening and strengthening your need statements will simultaneously help your proposal reviewers feel more connected to your cause and thereby will increase your funding success.

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