5 Mistakes You're Making with Grant Writing & How To Fix Them

Updated: Jul 20

So much about grant writing can feel like learning how to speak a different language. You know what you want to say, but you're just not quite sure how to say it so your reader understands... and understands enough to buy in by sending you a check. If you're noticing lots of "Thanks, but no thanks" letters in response to your requests, you might be making some of these common mistakes that may be making your mission get lost in translation.

1. You're not speaking their language... literally.

One of the most important parts of reviewing a request for proposals (or RFP) is to pay close attention to their specific words. While you both may be saying the same thing, your grant proposal should reflect the words the grant-maker uses to tie your request into their funding interests. You may call it "job training," but they may call it "job readiness skills." Same, same.

To Fix It: Make adjustments in your text to match the words each grant-maker uses.

2. Your plans are too short-term.

Creating a new program that can change lives is wonderful. It shows that your nonprofit is responding to the needs of your community uniquely. But just developing the program is only half the battle. You need to show a potential grant-making partner how your organization intends to fund and support this program beyond its grant award and the long-term strategy for assessing its success and continuing to respond to your clients. While these plans may change in the future, simply having a documented vision with measurable goals shows a grant-maker that you are looking forward.

To Fix It: Plan for at least two years of program development.

3. You don't communicate with a potential grant-maker.

While everything on paper may seem like a grant-maker is the perfect funding partner for your project, communicating with the organization can make a significant difference in the success of your request. Even if you aren't able to speak to someone, I've been told by Grant Administrators that they take note of those that make an attempt. And you may learn invaluable information about how to connect with the grant-maker with your grant narrative.

To Fix It: Make two phone calls and one email attempts (when contact information is available) before submitting a grant request. Check 990s if it's not on their website.

4. You spend too much time sharing the history of your organization.

Your organization's story is important. Each individual played a significant role in shaping your mission, your programs, and your work in your community. However, most grant-makers don't need to know every tiny detail. Editing your history to include important dates (your founding, any special recognition, etc.), key individuals (your founder and why he/she founded the organization, your current Board, etc.), and a brief explanation of any transition in your mission will free up space in your grant request to share important details about your program, your need, and your request.

To Fix It: Keep your history to less than two paragraphs.

5. You beat around the bush with the ask.

I've read so many proposals and get to the end wondering what they need the money for and how they'd use it. Never let that happen when your proposal is in front of someone who could write you a check. It can be easy to get caught up in explaining your organization and program that you never actually state what you need.

To Fix It: Be direct. In one (or two) sentences, say, "With $10,000 Food for Children Foundation will purchase an additional 100 pounds of food per month to support our mobile food pantry program supporting low-income families in Metro County in 2023." Are you buying something with these funds? State that. Will these funds benefit a particular demographic of people? State that clearly. Will they be used in a certain time period? You know how this works... say it. And here's the real insider tip: Then share what would happen if you DIDN'T get these funds. Again, be clear and direct. For example: "Without this funding, 120 families each month will not receive the sustenance they need for themselves and their families."


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