Win More Grants by Writing Real Page Turners with Joshilyn Jackson
I always knew I wanted to use words to do something good. Winding my way through feature writing for a city newspaper and creating content for a medical newsletter eventually led me to grant writing and fundraising—after a brief foray into corporate marketing and editing insurance reports. (No one ever has ever claimed that the career path for grant writing and fundraising is a straight shot.)
Even though I have long maintained that grant writing is 20% actual writing and 80% hunting and gathering data and supporting documents, well-chosen words remain essential to crafting winning grants. As a grant reviewer for private and public funders, I have seen firsthand just how important clear, compelling writing can be. As a grant writer, my goal is for the reader to have all their questions answered in a satisfying, easily understood way while navigating the perilous paths of exacting word counts or, my nemesis, character counts including spaces.
But that’s not enough.
Like many grant writers and fundraisers I know, I am an avid reader of all kinds of fiction and non-fiction. As a little girl, I would read anything I could find, including cereal boxes at the breakfast table. You may be surprised to learn that Lucky Charms were magically delicious when I was in second grade. But I digress.
As I grew up, my reading tastes refined (a little). Whether I’m reading an old-school English murder mystery, speculative fiction, re-reading Persuasion for the 50-eleventh time, or exploring new fiction recommended by my book club buddies, there is a common element that keeps me turning those pages. What is it you ask? Keep reading and I’ll tell you.
One of my favorite writers, New York Times bestselling author Joshilyn Jackson, creates a master class in powerful, suspenseful stories with unforgettable characters while weaving in themes of redemption and grace.
My co-host Amanda Day and I were thrilled to interview her on Episode 3 of Season 4 of the Fundraising HayDay podcast. Joshilyn shared incredibly astute advice on how to translate the best of fictional storytelling into creating grants that are page-turners in their own right.
She says that the best fiction is a compelling combination of memorable characters who really want something but can’t get it because a series of obstacles and/or people are in the way. Your “Spidey-grant” senses may be tingling now. That’s because you’re seeing the parallels between compelling fiction and the basic “plot” of most grants.
The counterpart to a fictional character who wants something? How about a student who wants to go to college, a dad who wants to put good food on the table for his family, the dog who longs for a home, the grandmother who yearns for a safe, pretty park where her grandchildren can play? Think of these people as examples of your agency’s main characters who really want something. Then your needs statement, which should always include pertinent stats and studies, transforms into a way to describe the primary obstacles in your main characters’ lives.
Joshilyn describes it as narrative tension and release. Maybe you could describe it as a mother who wants the best for her child’s health and wellbeing but doesn’t qualify for medical insurance and can’t afford private pay for primary care. Your clinic serves uninsured people, and a grant from the funder will dissolve that barrier to health care—the thing that was keeping the mother from getting what she wanted, that thing we can all relate to: good care for her child and her family. And it’s also a good example of narrative tension and release.
I’ve been writing and reviewing grants, appeal letters, and other fundraising activities for more than 25 years, and reading deeply and passionately for more years than it’s really your business to know. But I was genuinely excited to hear this fresh take on storytelling from a master novelist at the top of her game, and I hope you will be too. Happy listening, and happy grant writing!
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