How to Write Grant Proposals: 8 Tips from an ExpertSeptember 10, 2014
As an organization that funds projects to advance equity for women and girls, we see a lot of grant proposals, which means we know firsthand how a well-written proposal can make your funding request shine.
But how can you write a grant proposal that will get the attention it deserves? We got the inside scoop from Sukey Blanc, a founder of Creative Research and Evaluation and a valued member of the AAUW community.
Blanc knows better than most the challenges that foundations face in allocating their funding and the challenges that grantees face in writing proposals. Through her work with Creative Research and Evaluation, she helps educational and community programs improve outcomes and highlight participants’ voices. She’s also a member of AAUW’s International Project Grants selection panel and an alumna of the AAUW American Fellowships program.
Here are some of the tips on grant proposal writing that came out of our conversation with Blanc.
The Foundation Center provides online and in-person trainings on grant writing and the funding research process. Blanc said that she can often tell from an application who has had training or experience in proposal writing.
Lay the groundwork.
“It is hard to do a funding proposal if you haven’t worked through … conventional project planning,” Blanc said. For example, if you are seeking funding for a set of workshops, sit down before drafting the proposal and make a plan to develop your goals (general guidelines for what you want to achieve), objectives (measurable outcomes), workshop themes, intended audience, and timeline.
Carefully read and follow the funder’s instructions for preparing the proposal. This is particularly important when it comes to budget guidelines. With budget, “follow the letter of the law,” and be clear about each item needed to implement your project successfully.
Be clear and realistic.
Grant writing isn’t a time to be aspirational. “People tend to have very lofty goals that are not necessarily within their reach,” Blanc said. “[These goals] are not necessarily something that can be changed through the series of activities they are pursuing.” Don’t fall into that trap.
Use your evaluation plan to do a reality check.
Blanc told us that a well-written evaluation section can ensure that you have a “realistic approach” to the goals you are trying to achieve. Your evaluation plan should show whether you completed your activities successfully. It is often hard, but always important, to identify the measurements of whether you are meeting your goals.
In drafting this section, think about measurements that can show
- Your project was implemented the way you intended.
- Participants had good, bad, or in-between experiences, and they explained what those experiences were like.
- Your participants learned something new about the topic you are addressing.
- Your participants got something substantive out of the project in the short and long term.
- Your project changed the behavior of your participants or target population.
- You reached the intended audience.
- The community’s values changed.
Go beyond the numbers by including participants’ voices in your evaluation and funder reports. “You can count lima beans, but you can also have a photo of the harvest,” Blanc said.
Your proposal should effectively and accurately communicate how you would use the funds. Describe how the funds would provide for activities that would not otherwise occur. Distinguish the activities that would be funded by the grant from the broader work of the applicant’s organization or program. Provide detailed budgetary information to describe these activities.
Get a little help from your friends.
Once you’ve drafted your proposal, seek feedback. Blanc says the best way to make your proposal understandable to an outsider is to ask someone you know for constructive criticism.
Integrate the community’s voice.
The project description should demonstrate that you are working closely with your target population. Here’s how Blanc suggests this can be done:
- Use participatory evaluations as part of your evaluation strategy.
- Develop an advisory committee made of up people who have relationships with different parts of the community. This will help you develop effective strategies to reach diverse or hard-to-reach members of the community.
- Respect — and leverage — the skills that community members bring to the project.
Sukey Blanc’s 1993–94 AAUW American Fellowship was sponsored by the Wilfreda Lytle Endowment and the Helen Wood/Pearl Hogrefe Endowment.