Every time I teach an intro to grant writing workshop someone wants to know the secret to writing successful grant proposals. How I wish there was a simple guide, something like “8 Steps to Getting the Grant”, but this profession of ours is complicated and nuanced. Sometimes it’s about relationship building. (Actually, that’s often the case.) It is about the data, the storytelling, the budget, the level of detail, the ability to cram 50 years of organizational history into a 200-character count response, and the picture you portray. It’s all that, woven into one compelling narrative. And even that does not guarantee success, because there are always more requests than money available.
Before you tap out, remember that a successful proposal starts with need. Focus on that, and your writing is headed in the right direction. Because if you don’t have a need, a problem, or an issue that needs fixing, why are you even writing the grant in the first place? And by need, I don’t mean that your organization lacks something. Far too often I read proposals that lament a lack of staffing, computers, the latest and greatest technology, vehicles, curriculum, and whatever thingamajig your organization does not have but desperately wishes they did. (Squirrel moment: Did you know thingamajig is a legitimate word in the dictionary? I love words!)
Instead, your need should center on the needs of the people, animals, and places you serve. Let’s go with the lack of staffing. The reality is every nonprofit, local government, university, and organization serving its community could use more people. But that is not very compelling to a grant reviewer. So, take a step back. Why do you need more people? Is it because you are a hospital that has the best maternity ward in your state and you specialize in high-risk pregnancies, particularly for mothers with no insurance? Have you saved the lives of hundreds of babies and their mothers, while at the same time have turned away thousands of cases because you don’t have the capacity to handle the need? More staff may be the solution, but the need isn’t more nurses and doctors. The need is the number of uninsured mothers and their unborn babies who desperately need medical care to survive. I do not know about you, but as a grant reviewer I am more likely to read about your patients and think “now this is a problem that needs funding.” If all you do is lament a lack of staff, you have lost me as a grant reviewer.
You’re probably sitting here reading this and thinking, “well of course you’re going to fund the babies. Who wouldn’t give money to save the babies? But no way you would fund my __________.” Enter whatever it is your organization does in that blank there. Please take it from me, we all suffer from the feeling that everyone else’s organization is doing more important work than ours. But it is not true. Listen, if I can write a compelling need statement for intersection improvements, tree surveys, and scanners for the electronic documentation of city blueprints, you can show the need of the work you are doing.
The trick is finding the grant funder who cares about the same social issues and needs as your organization. Once you find them, explain your need. Show that things could be better in your community, because things are not perfect right now. Focus on showing the needs of the people and places you serve. Trust me, those need statements will catch someone’s attention must faster than a need for stuff.
A convincing need statement is not a guarantee of grant success, but it’s the first step in that direction. Without a need, the dollars will not follow. Want to learn more? Check out episode 10, season 3 of the Fundraising HayDay podcast. My cohost Kimberly Hays de Muga and I share lots of great stories and tips to make your need all the more compelling.
DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, LLC is so excited to be season 3 sponsors for Fundraising HayDay, a podcast about grants and such. Catch up on season 1 & 2 and stay up to date on the new season here.
Don’t let grants stress you out, check out the helpful grant writing services our team has to offer here.