When It Comes to Baking the Perfect Grant Proposal, It’s Not Just About the Ingredients

My family has a cake recipe that we have passed around for years now. We were introduced to it when my sister made my wedding cake, and it is now used for birthday cupcakes, anniversary celebrations, holidays, etc. No one can quite remember where it came from, and the only existing documentation of the recipe is a text message with the ingredients – no instructions. The first time I made it, I knew there had to be more to it than just putting everything in a bowl at once and mixing it together. If you’ve made enough cakes in your life, you know that how you combine the ingredients is often key to the entire recipe being successful.


For me, being successful in grant writing isn’t unlike following a recipe. While it is certainly less precise, there are practices, like the 5 Rs of Grant Writing (Readiness, Research, Relationships, wRiting, and Reporting), that I follow every time. But, just like in cake-making, how you use these 5 “ingredients” might mean the difference between a barely edible brick and pulling a $25,000 cake out of the oven. 


In my opinion, relationships are one of the more challenging aspects of the 5 Rs. If you have been in the grant space for some time, you know how important building relationships with funders can be, but it takes a lot of work to determine how you should contact a funder, to actually score an opportunity to speak directly with someone, and to know exactly what to say in the brief time you have together. 


So how can you use this “ingredient” to lead to grant writing success?


  • Prepare talking points ahead of time and practice. The latter is really the key step here. The more you practice, the more you will refine what you want to say, leaving the funder confident that your organization or program is one they want to support. 

Another key consideration is to tailor your talking points to the request. Don’t just give the funder your organization’s elevator pitch. They want to know how your work supports their specific priorities and how you will be a good steward of their money. Share with them the impact of your program(s), what the need is, and how the funding can help address this need. How your organization was founded is an important story, but not one that necessarily needs to be told when you only have a few minutes of a funder’s time.


  • Prepare specific questions. Again, there is a keyword here – “specific.” This not only shows that you did your research, but when you purposefully put effort into developing these questions ahead of time, you ensure you won’t sit down to write a proposal a month from now and realize you are unclear about the funder’s process or if your organization really is a good fit for their priorities.


It may take some trial and error to determine how best to incorporate relationship-building into your specific grant-writing recipe, but it can make all the difference in securing funding for your organization. 


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