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Ohio Department of Aging Aging Connection - January 2010

January 2010

Grant Writing
Time-consuming, Possibly Frustrating and Worth It

In these tough economic times, grants enable organizations to develop projects, programming, technology and facilities. Grants are sums of money awarded to finance a particular activity or facility and most do not need to be paid back. While all come with rules and expectations, and some require matching funds or maintenance of effort activities, grants can help any organization, especially a non-profit, afford programs that would be impossible without outside funding.

Grant writing

Writing a grant involves advance planning and preparation. It takes time to research funding sources, understand the grant maker's guidelines and ensure the grant maker's goals and objectives match your grant purposes. If your project does not match their guidelines, you are wasting your time and theirs. Most grants have guidelines that detail funding goals and priorities, submission deadlines, eligibility requirements, required proposal formats, the evaluation process and criteria, the review timetable and contact information. Failure to follow any of the guidelines may be grounds to disqualify a grant proposal, so be sure to ask the funder to clarify any questions.

As a general rule, clear, concise and specific writing is best. Grant reviewers usually scan text, particularly summaries, to get a quick overview of your project. If you are to the point and you have answered the key questions, your grant will be viewed as comprehensible and fundable. If they have a hard time understanding your proposal, it is likely to end up in the "NO" pile.

Most funders want the same information, even if they use different words or ask questions in a different order. Sometimes they will be listed as several items, sometimes they will be asked as questions, and sometimes you will need to cover them in a written narrative. Here are the standard building blocks of a grant:

  • Executive Summary - This is the introduction to the proposal, where you strongly state your case and summarize the statement of need, project description, budget and organizational information. This is your first opportunity to "sell" the proposal.
  • Statement of Need - Explain briefly why this project is necessary. Outline the current situation that your project will address, and be as specific as possible. Do not portray the problem as one that is too overwhelming to solve. Instead, define it in a way that makes it clear that your group can address the problem.
  • Project Description - This outlines what you hope to achieve with your project and how you are going to do it. Explain your goals, objectives, activities and timeline for when the activities will be carried out. Set achievable and measurable goals that state the desired outcomes. This section should be logical, specific and as detailed as possible.
  • Budget - In most grant proposals, you will need to include a budget that details anticipated income and expenses for your project. It is an estimate, but it should be as accurate as possible. If you plan to buy equipment, contact the distributor to find out the cost of the equipment. Your planning should allow for contingencies. Grant funders want their money to achieve the best results and they are looking for evidence of good fiscal policy and practice.
  • Organizational information - Include a brief history of your organization, outline the governance structures and list the main activities, accomplishments so far, audiences and services. Explain why your organization is the right group to do this project.
  • Evaluation/Outcomes - Outline how you will show that your project met the goals and objectives that you set, and specify the tools (surveys, tests, data from other sources) you will use to measure the expected changes.
  • Conclusion - Summarize all of the above. Keep it brief and do not add new information that is not supported elsewhere in your proposal.

Before you put your grant proposal in the mail, proofread everything. Make sure you answered all the questions and are sending all the required materials. Make a copy for your files and mail or deliver it in plenty of time to meet the deadline.

If your grant proposal is rejected, ask the funder for feedback about your proposal's strengths and weaknesses. Also, objectively review the funder's guidelines. If you still believe there is a match, apply again in about a year. Many applicants are only successful on the second or third try.