TEN TIPS FOR GRANTWRITING, Part 1 (1-5)
ZIMNOTES Vol. 4 # 10, July 24, 2001
TEN TIPS FOR GRANTWRITING, Part 2 (6-10)
ZIMNOTES Vol. 4 # 11, August 22, 2001
by ZIMMERMAN LEHMAN's newest team member,
JUDY KUNOFSKY, grantwriting specialist.
It is good to learn from our own mistakes; it is even better to learn from
the mistakes of others! Here are some tips on writing grant proposals, as
you seek financial support for your important work:
We hope you find these Ten Tips useful. Following them will help you
make the most persuasive case that the problem you address is real, that
your organization is the best one to do what needs to be done, and that a
funder can be confident in awarding you a grant.
- Pay more attention to describing your program than your philosophy.
Funders want to know what the problem is, what you are going to do about
it, and why you are the best ones to do it. In my experience, groups usually
have developed wonderful language about the problem they address and
the kind of organization they are, perhaps because these are the same for
every funding request. However groups are often weakest in describing
what they plan to do if this particular grant is funded (how many clients
you will serve, or who owns the land you want to buy for a preserve, or
how you will staff your program, or what is a credible timeline). Describe
what you are going to do in sufficient clarity and detail that the prospective
funder can tell that you are serious and intelligent about your work.
- Make it easy for the foundation to see that your program matches their
priorities by telling them that it does: "Our program matches all three of
the ABC Foundation's interests because it is
(a) preK-12 education targeting
(b) children/youth at risk with
(c) a focus on literacy."
- Echo the foundation's language. Read through the annual report to
learn preferred phrases. For example, use the phrase "pre-K education" or
"infant and toddler education", whichever they use. Use "conservation" or
"environment," whichever they do.
- Echo the foundation's orientation. As BOB ZIMMERMAN writes in
GRANTSEEKING: A STEP-BY-STEP APPROACH, "When I served
as director of development for a national legal program working on behalf
of children and youth, I had the opportunity to correspond with grantors of
various political persuasions. When writing to someone of a conservative
political bent, I highlighted the importance of combating juvenile
delinquency. When introducing my program to the representative of a
progressive foundation, I waxed eloquent about empowering youth." This is
not dishonest! Persuasion involves using arguments that are effective with
the other person, not what is compelling to you.
- Use the foundation's full name. While you may informally talk about
(for example) the Goldman Fund, you want to demonstrate the care you take
with your work by using their full name in your letter and proposal: the
Richard & Rhoda Goldman Fund.
- Spend much more time on the budget than you think you will need to
and don't wait until the end. At the last minute, you are likely to forget
(or underestimate) some categories of program expense and skimp on the
kind of budget explanation that funders like.
- Round your budget numbers to the nearest hundred or thousand dollars,
depending on the size of the proposal. Most private funders are not
interested in knowing that staff benefits will cost $1724.66.
- Have the lead staff person or Board chair sign every letter of inquiry or
proposal. Even if a development director or grants assistant does the
research and writing, the letter should be signed by the person at the top of
your organizational chart. If you like, say "Please contact so-and-so on my
staff at (phone number) for more information" in the last paragraph of your
- Don't wait until the last minute to pull together the attachments you
will need for all full proposals and some LOIs. You can be slowed down
close to a deadline unless you already have current information on your
Board of Directors and Advisory Council members (names, addresses,
phone numbers, brief biographies). Have you made copies of the letter
from the IRS indicating your 501c3 status? (Do you have the original in
a safe place???)
- If you are writing a proposal in-house, ask someone not involved with
your organization to read a draft. It will be easier for them than for you to
see what important details may be missing or not described well. It's worth
your time cooking dinner for a spouse or good friend to get this kind (free)
JUDY KUNOFSKY, ZIMMERMAN LEHMAN's grantwriting specialist,
has worked with nonprofits since 1974. As a senior staffmember at the
Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance and Yosemite Restoration Trust, Judy
gained substantial experience writing grant proposals to foundations,
corporations and government agencies. A consultant since 1998, Ms.
Kunofsky assists clients to prepare well-written, compelling letters of
inquiry and proposals that reflect the client's language, tone and emphasis.
Judy has a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California at Los
Angeles and has received leadership awards from six organizations.
ZIMMERMAN LEHMAN IS AVAILABLE TO HELP YOU RESEARCH AND WRITE GRANTS!
Copyright 2001 Zimmerman Lehman
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