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Beginner's Guide to Grant Writing

by Alyssa Martino Apr 12, 2010
Whether you want to build a playground in your hometown, start a group to combat domestic violence, or set up a voluntourism organization in Central America, bringing these projects into reality can be a challenge.

An idea is nothing without funding–and that funding is often secured by writing a two to three page proposal and budget detailing your plans and goals.

As a writer, activist, and the daughter of a foundation director, l know that careful and meticulous grant writing can go a long way in the effort to implement real change.

1. Be realistic.

Don’t propose the work of 30 volunteers if you’ve only recruited the help of three. Don’t say you’ll commit 40 hours per week if you already have a full time job.

Think long and hard about what you can commit, but also consider opportunities for growth down the road. Funders want to see that you’re thinking long term, even if their money is used for preliminary set up, structure, or supplies.

2. Be concrete.

Your budget should include basic items like office supplies, rent, salary, fringe benefits, telephone, or any other relevant expenses. This applies to your goals section, too. Try to quantify ways to gauge your progress and success.

For example, instead of “We hope to ensure greater access to clean water,” you might say, “we hope to ensure that 10 more communities in X region are given clean water access by Y date.”

3. Fill an unfilled niche.

A vital part of securing a grant is being able to answer the question, “Why is my idea different?” Make sure what you are proposing isn’t identical to a project or organization already in existence. Be creative in your thought process, and confident that your idea is one-of-a-kind.

4. Do your research.

Some foundations have very specific limits regarding what or who they fund. For example, a funder might only be interested in election issues during an election year. Community foundations may be constrained by geography, funneling all of their money towards local groups and individuals. Other funders do not accept unsolicited proposals.

Don’t waste time by applying for a grant for which you don’t even qualify. The solution to this all too common mistake is simple: read the foundation’s website and grant guidelines carefully. If a funder is open to taking questions, then by all means, call or e-mail them.

5. Edit, edit, edit.

Crafting a succinct and clear proposal is crucial to successful grant writing. Why trust an individual who doesn’t even take the time to edit his or her application for spelling or grammatical errors? If your proposal is well-written, it will not only demonstrate professionalism, but it show your ability to complete your project with the same degree of thoughtfulness and attention to detail.

6. Utilize resources.

The Foundation Center is a great resource for both new and experienced grant writers. The Center provides online access to a huge database of funder profiles, and has offices in several major cities.

A vital part of securing a grant is being able to answer the question, “Why is my idea different?”

Use of their books and the help of a knowledgeable employee is completely free of charge if you visit the Center. The Foundation Center also offers courses, such as “Introduction to Grant Writing,” for very reasonable prices.

7. Learn from your mistakes.

Securing funding is difficult, but seeing a project through is just as challenging. Some days, it may seem that obstacles triumph.

One of my favorite grant-funded projects ended up being a total flop; we ran out of resources to keep our new website–which featured “found footage of war”–up and running past the grant period’s deadline. Still, the project allowed me to connect with many wonderful people, learn about myself, and test my limits.

Keep on trying, and if you grow from the experience, you will not have failed.

Community Connection:

Learn about other successful organizations by reading some of our organizational profiles, including these:


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