How to Embody the 5 Characteristics of an Effective Grant Writer


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As any good grant writer knows, our job involves far more than writing proposals. There’s program staff to interview, data to track, and plenty of deadlines to organize – smack dab in the middle of a busy nonprofit fundraising year.

With an estimated $50 billion or more in funding available from grantmakers on the line, it’s more important than ever to perfect your collaborative approach to proposal writing.

Here are the five characteristics you need to make every proposal a winning one – even if you  don’t make the cut the first time:

1. Be collaborative

Grant writers don’t work in a vacuum. Crucial proposal details, including realistic timelines, budgets, and program logistics, come from other members of your nonprofit team – and it’s your job to get them right.

A collaborative spirit extends far outside the cubicle in your office, too. Which other organizations, city offices, or corporate partners will have an impact on your ability to carry out your program design? How do you incorporate what you learned from the grants officer at your prospective funder into your proposal?

When you’re a generous and collaborative team player, these kinds of details are all the easier to chase down.

2. Be creative

Writing a good proposal is about more than demonstrating how your programs align with the funder’s mission and priorities. Good storytelling abilities demonstrate to proposal reviewers and funders alike how your programs make an impact on the members of your community.

Do you have a case study of a family whose story exemplifies the successes of your after-school program? How might your interviews with this family align with program evaluation data or other research in the field?

Synthesizing information from multiple sources in an interesting way not only catches the attention of prospective funders, but it also helps make the case that your program is the one worth funding.Click here for to connect with funders.

3. Get organized

From proposal and reporting deadlines to prospective research, you navigate plenty of important details as a grant writer. And since you’re often working on a tight schedule – most likely writing multiple proposals at once – you need a way to keep yourself organized and on track.

Have you given yourself enough time to receive feedback on the proposal from the development director or managing staff member? Did you set calendar reminders for following up with key partners or the prospective funder?

If you’re looking for more help in staying organized as a nonprofit grant writer or development team, check out our post, 4 Best Practices That Will Make You Be a Better Grant Writer.

4. Be inquisitive

Grant writers often have a reporter’s instinct for getting to the bottom of what makes a proposal tick – and how that proposal aligns with a funder’s mission. Ask plenty of questions of all the relevant players in your proposal to make sure you’re representing the program in an accurate way.

Does your research on the success rates of early childhood literacy programs really support the claims you make about your program? Is your program timeline and budget realistic? Does this prospective funder make sense to pursue given your organization’s mission and priorities?

When the internal questions about your proposal are all answered, it’s probably just about ready to submit – that is, as soon as you receive the last round of feedback from another reader.

5. Be resilient

A “no” is never a “no” for a persistent grant writer. Often our job is to discover how we can turn a “not right now” into a “yes” later – whether that’s during the next funding cycle or in the next fiscal year.

Resilient grant writers take opportunities to revisit old proposals that didn’t work and make them stronger, incorporating feedback from a prospective funder into the next draft. Did you really answer the questions of the proposal as directly as possible? Where did you leave the funder wondering about your nonprofit’s ability to carry out your program?

Sharing details about proposal rejections with your whole development team can also strengthen your cultivation strategy. Do you have a board member who knows the chair of a foundation? Can you set up a site visit with a program officer before the next funding cycle?

Building those relationships takes time, but strong relationships will help you bounce back during the next round of funding applications – and might even catapult you to the top of the funder’s list.

Click here for to connect with funders.

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