Last Updated:

January 11, 2022

Grant Writing Best Practices: The Ultimate List of 2023 Tips


Instrumentl team



November 6, 2021

Grant writing can be a complex and challenging process. It is helpful to have some grant writing best practices to refer to as you develop your proposal and application. 

We have put together some of the best grant writing tips to teach you how to get to know your grant maker, understand the grant guidelines, communicate successfully, and write a successful grant proposal. 

Read on to learn more about grant writing best practices.

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Get to Know the Funder/Grant Maker Best Practices‍

One of the most beneficial first steps when it comes to writing grants is getting to know your grant maker or funder. Knowing your audience helps you stay focused while writing your grant proposal. Spending time becoming familiar with a grant maker can also assure you that you are a good fit.

When you accept grant funding from an organization, you become connected to that grant making entity. It’s worth ensuring that you know who you are partnering with. You may also find information about prior awardees to give you an idea of the scale and type of projects they fund.  

We have compiled a few of the best practices for getting to know your funder:

Visit the grant maker’s website

It’s possible that you have visited the grant maker’s website in your path to identifying the funding opportunity. Be certain that you have taken time to view their website without the specific purpose of looking for the funding application.

Consider the home page and the story they are trying to tell. The organization’s home page can often tell you a lot about the priorities and objectives of their projects. Generously click around and take stock of what details they felt important to call out on their website.

Identify their mission statement

It’s likely you will quickly come across the funder’s mission statement when you visit their website. Go to the website with the specific intent of finding their mission and vision statements. It is critical that your grant proposal echoes the sentiment of a funder’s mission. You will want to have a clear understanding of their mission in order to reflect how your grant proposal ties directly back to that mission.

Research the funder

Exploring a grant maker’s website gives you their carefully curated content. It is also a good idea to look for information about the funder outside of their own web presence. You can find most grant maker foundations and organizations with a simple web search. Scrolling the top articles and web spaces they appear in can help you identify what kind of virtual reputation they may have.

You can also use the funder insight tools on Instrumentl to help you more quickly determine who may be a good fit funder.

For example, by taking a look at the Clif Bar Family Foundation's Key Financial Stats, you can spot trends such as what the giving averages and medians have been over the last few years. From this, you might identify a slight upward trend in the median amount given.

There’s even more you can discover too. For example, Instrumentl digs into 990 reports and outputs what percentage of grantees are new grantees vs. repeat grantees. This way, you can get a gauge for the relative receptiveness of a funder towards potentially funding your organization.

There are so many more tools you use on Instrumentl, so if you haven’t created a free account before, be sure to do so here to more quickly research funders.

Best Practices When Understanding the Funder's Guidelines

A sure way to have your grant proposal rejected or pushed aside is to not follow the funder’s guidelines. One of the most imperative tasks when writing a grant proposal is to understand what the funder is going to be looking for and what they expect to have included in your application.

Here are some best practices to ensure you are producing a proposal that meets the funder’s guidelines:

Read all the documents

This may seem simple, but it is no less critical. Do not only skim the grant opportunity and assume you have the full picture. Take the time to read through each document that is included in the grant. Attachments and other appendices can give you more information and context for the funder as well as hold important information on how to submit your proposal.

While many grants can start to look and sound similar, never assume you know what to submit without reading over all the provided information. You may want to take notes and highlight pieces of information you feel are important.

Familiarize yourself with the online system

Grant makers are starting to utilize virtual systems for grant submissions more frequently. While these online portals often make the grant submission process easier, it is important to spend time learning the system. If you get to a proposal deadline and find yourself trying to navigate through an entirely new online environment, you may find the submission process more stressful than necessary.

These online systems also have automatic ways of ensuring word counts and often have format restrictions. So identifying and familiarizing yourself with how your proposal will be submitted can save you the hassle of having to adjust to meet these criteria at crunch time.

Pay attention to specific details

When reading grant guidelines, there are certain details to take into special consideration. These specific guidelines will outline whether you are eligible to receive the grant and what the funder will be looking for.

Here are some criteria to look for:

Eligibility: this is where you will find the specifics on who is the target audience for the grant monies. It is here that you will find any geographic information or characteristics of potential grantees. If you do not meet these criteria, you may not want to consider this funding source.

Areas of funding: this is another important area to find early in your reading of the grant. This section will outline what kinds of projects and operations the grant will fund. Knowing the areas of funding will help you focus your proposal to target the areas the grant maker intends to support.

Grant amount: it is likely that in your research of grants, you quickly gravitate toward the funding levels that meet your needs. It is worth noting this as something to look for when reviewing the guidelines. Your proposal should not exceed this amount.

Limitations: you may read about allowable uses and limitations for the grant funds. When drafting your proposal, do not try to request funds that are not included in allowable uses for the funds or outside the specified scope of the grant.

Other restricting language: you should also watch for any details noting even more targeted funding intentions. You might see a note that “grant funds are committed” which would mean the monies are already earmarked for another grantee. Another restricting designation may note that only grantees that have been requested to apply will be considered.

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Best Communication Practices to Follow with Funders

Networking and making connections are important ways to find and sustain relationships with potential funders. When reaching out to build a relationship with a potential funder, consider some of the following best practices:

Connect with the right people

Whether it is an officer within the organization or the founder, it is important to know who to reach out to. Often, larger organizations will have a director or coordinator managing the grant making process. You can use your research time to determine who that point of contact is and how to reach out to them. In smaller organizations, you may be communicating directly with the founder.

Determine how to communicate

While not universal, many grant making organizations have contact information on their websites. Be sure to follow these guidelines if they are expressly posted. When you know who to talk to and whether they have specific communication guidelines, you can consider the best outreach approach.

You should determine whether it would be appropriate to schedule a lunch appointment or whether it would be more fitting to reach out via email or phone call. Some of this decision will be based on knowing where the grant maker is located. Whenever possible, being able to connect face to face is an opportunity to really build relationships and show off your ideas.

Have a purpose

If you do reach out to a grant maker, go in with a plan and purpose for your communication. While making contact with the funder is a step towards building a relationship, it needs to feel authentic and be appropriate.

When reaching out to a funder, you are either going to be determining their interest in a specific project or asking questions about a funding opportunity. You want to clearly show you have done research on their organization and speak to their mission. Illustrating how your project directly aligns with this mission is a plus. Similarly, having direct and well thought out questions posed relating specifically to their organization or grant opportunity shows you invested in learning more about them.

Best Grant Writing Practices for Proposals

Building up a skill set for grant writing is something that takes intentionality. We have a few tips to support you in making writing proposals seem a little more manageable:

Give yourself adequate time

Grant proposals are complex. There are often multiple documents to read, guidelines to understand, and the proposal to write. Give yourself the time to do all of these tasks without feeling overwhelmed.

As a general rule, it is worth setting up your own deadline to complete a draft proposal a week in advance of the actual deadline. This allows you to review and consider your submission before you are up against a timeline.

Use templates

When provided, use the templates offered by the funder. These templates can help guide your focus for your submission. You will be able to stay on topic and better adhere to word counts when leveraging provided templates. While most grant makers won’t require the use of their templates when provided, it is still good practice to utilize these tools in your submission.

Align your budget and your narrative

You need to ensure that your budgeted activities align with the story you tell in your narrative. Be specific with your funding requests both in how you frame your ask and the presented budget plan for funding those actions.

Provide clear outcomes

Ultimately, funders want to know what you hope to achieve with the funding they could provide. Make certain you are clearly outlining what your intended outcomes are for the funds you are requesting. Providing data and measures for your project are critical features of a solid proposal.

Best Practices When Updating or Repurposing Your Grant Proposals

As a nonprofit organization, you likely write many grant proposals each year. It makes sense to create a boilerplate grant proposal that can serve as your template for ongoing grant writing needs. Having a starting point each time you find a new funding stream can save you time and effort. While reaching for your go-to proposal document, consider the following tips:

Follow the guidelines

We covered how to find the guidelines in an earlier section. Here is where you would put that understanding into practice with a boilerplate proposal draft. Reread your proposal with these guidelines in the front of your mind. You need to adjust your proposal to meet these guidelines and requirements.

Make direct connections to the funder

Your proposal template can serve as a starting point, but you will need to add details that feel connected and specific to each funding request. In each new proposal, you will want to tie your project back to the funder’s mission and grant objectives. So, although it is tempting to create a relatively universal proposal, take the time to add details that show you know and appreciate each individual opportunity.

Prompt yourself to add details

When you draft your boilerplate proposal, give yourself visual cues for where you might add details, look for guidelines, or include funder characteristics. You can make your proposal template interactive by noting when and where to put in connections to each grant opportunity. Highlighting or using a different font or color will help you remember to make these changes and not unintentionally submit a semi-completed draft.

Best Practices for Tracking Your Grant Proposals

Having a comprehensive grant strategy for your nonprofit is a key piece of your budget plan. However, managing your grant proposals and tracking them through the grant cycle can get complex quickly.

A good practice for tracking your grant proposals is to leverage the tools like Instrumentl.

Instrument allows you to create projects for each of your organization’s initiatives. Projects let you have a saved grant search, along with a workspace where you can track and manage all the grants related to that initiative.

You may be used to using an Excel spreadsheet, but the downside to that approach is you’re unable to easily find everything you need in one place without a lot of manual work.

On Instrumentl, when you save an opportunity to your Tracker, you’ll be able to do things like create tasks for that opportunity, review 990 data about the funder, and even generate reports within a few seconds for any project you’re working on.

Instrumentl lets you look at the grant opportunity details, funder 990 reports, and take care of all things related to your grant management, in one place.

With Instrumentl, you can create tasks like Milestone, Reporting and Submission. In the example above, we’ve created a Reporting task to prepare for our funder’s requirements.

If you ever need to generate a report for a supervisor or board of directors (perhaps reviewing what opportunities you’re pursuing to see if they have any pre-existing relationships), you can do so easily with Instrumentl’s custom reporting features.

To learn more about Instrumentl’s features, create an account for yourself.

Whatever method or tooling you end up using when it comes to grant tracking, make sure you create a system for yourself. This means having things like a clear set of standard operating procedures you follow on every grant proposal to ensure no stone is left unturned.

Too often, grant writing teams don’t settle on clear steps to consistently follow, leading to inconsistent outcomes in terms of ensuring they’re putting their best foot forward in each grant opportunity.

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Wrapping Things Up: Grant Writing Best Practices

Writing grant proposals is an integral part of running a successful nonprofit organization. In this article we outlined some best practices for grant writing that you can implement to improve your chances for funding success. We covered how to get to know your funder, what to look for in the funding guidelines, and how to write and track your grant proposals.

For more support in your grant writing efforts, create a 14-day free Instrumentl account to get personalized grant recommendations and to chat with an Onboarding Advisor on our team about your grants strategy.

Instrumentl team

Instrumentl is the all-in-one grant management tool for nonprofits and consultants who want to find and win more grants without the stress of juggling grant work through disparate tools and sticky notes.

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