24 Tips for Stronger Grant Proposals

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April 2, 2022

Last Updated:

May 27, 2024

You're a grant reviewer, faced with a towering stack of proposals, each vying for limited funds. The clock is ticking, and only a select few can win. Now, picture your application buried in that pile. How do you make it stand out?

In this article, we’ve compiled 24 practical tips from grant writing experts to make your proposals standout. The tips are:

  1. ✅ Follow directions
  2. 📄 Gather the necessary documents
  3. 📚 Do research the right way
  4. 🗺️ Map out your goals
  5. 💡 Overcome writer’s block
  6. 🤝 Make use of relationships
  7. 💌 Secure strong partnership letters
  8. ❓ Ask the right questions
  9. 📜 Demonstrate qualifications
  10. 💰 Use the budget wisely
  11. 📚 Share your background
  12. 😯 Elicit emotions
  13. 📊 Back it up with data
  14. 🙈 Admit weaknesses
  15. 🧮 Check your math
  16. ✏️ Check grammar and spelling
  17. 📖 Align your narratives
  18. 👥 Get an outside opinion
  19. 📝 Keep your grant proposal concise
  20. 🎯 Make your goals SMART
  21. 📈 Create clear evaluation methods
  22. 🚫 Don’t overdo it
  23. 🧠 Ask with an open mindset
  24. 💪 Handle rejections the right way

Want to unpack each tip? Let’s dive in!

10 Best LessonsTips from 10 Grant Writing Experts

First Things First: What Makes a Strong Grant Proposal?

Whether you’ve been writing grants for a while or you’re learning how to become a grant writer, you may have heard of the 5 Rs of grant writing: readiness, research, relationships, writing, and reporting.

  • Readiness: The most effective grant proposals come from nonprofits that are prepared and grant-ready.
  • Research: Researching funders is key to finding grant opportunities that your nonprofit is a good fit for (and will have a higher chance of winning).
  • Relationships: The stronger your relationship is with a grant funder, the more likely your proposal will result in success.
  • Writing: Winning grant proposals are clear, compelling, and follow grant writing best practices.
  • Reporting: Funders want to know that their support is making a difference, which is why many require impact reports to see how well you’ve managed their funding.

These high-level themes are woven into all winning grant proposals. Below, you’ll see them come up again and again in our tips.

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Grant Writing Tips for Effective Planning

“By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail” - Benjamin Franklin

1. Follow Directions

Not following all the directions will most often disqualify your proposal altogether.

Before you begin working on your proposal, make sure to adhere to all funder requirements, including:

  • Eligibility
  • Geography
  • Alignment with priorities

Also, make sure to pay close attention to grant proposal questions, addressing them precisely as requested.

2. Gather Necessary Documents in Advance

Time management is crucial when writing a grant proposal, especially for beginners who may underestimate the effort required.

Having the documents you need readily available will allow you to save time and concentrate on the proposal's core content. At its most basic, have these documents ready for every proposal:

3. Do research the right way

It is also important to research information related to the funder to help strengthen your grant proposal.

Jacob B. Chase, CEO of Chase Consulting Solutions, emphasizes how important it is to research potential funders as it will help you better understand what the funder is actually looking for in a proposal.

He advises studying their:

  • Past grantees
  • Values
  • Missions
  • Objectives
  • Typical project preferences

Investigate the funder's previous grantees, values, and mission statement. Understand their objectives, target audience, and the types of projects they typically support. This information will help you align your proposal with their goals. Be sure to customize your proposal to address the specific values highlighted by the funder.”

Pro Tip: Instrumentl’s foundation profiles distill information from funders’ 990 forms in easy-to-read graphs and charts. You can see a funder’s history of giving, giving by location, average grant amount, and more, all in one convenient location!

Instrumentl’s foundation profiles

Learn more about what makes Instrumentl different.

4. Map Out Your Goals

To map out your goals, leverage the SOAR Model.

Taking time to determine your nonprofit’s Strengths, Aspirations, Opportunities, and Results can help you create actionable goals for your nonprofit’s grant strategy.

SOAR Model
Source: Libraries of Missouri

Rachel Werner, CEO of RBW Strategy, has over 18 years of grants and recommends you ask these questions when completing the SOAR analysis:

What are the assets your organization brings to the table, and how do we know that we're going to succeed? Where can we capitalize and leverage our positioning? What do we really care deeply about? Thinking about this is an interesting exercise for you and your team.”

Having a thorough understanding of your organization’s goals and priorities will help you write a grant proposal with more clarity and purpose.

5. Do This To Overcome Writer’s Block

If you’re struggling with writer’s block, use the foundation's scoring criteria as your main headers.

This tip is shared by Holly Rustick in her workshop, 7 Tips to Write Grants Like a Pro. Using these headers not only provides a clear structure for your proposal but also ensures that your content aligns seamlessly with what grant reviewers are looking for.

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Persuasion Techniques for Compelling Grant Proposals

Now let’s spend some time going over tips that can help you make your grant proposals more persuasive and compelling.

6. Make Use of Relationships

One of the best things for beginner grant writers to remember is that grants are heavily based on relationships, and having a relationship with a funder can help your proposal stand out.

To start forming relationships with funders, invite them to your events so they can see the impact of your mission firsthand.

Pro Tip: Instrumentl lists key people in all of its foundation profiles so that you can easily identify key contacts to reach out to!

Check out our webinar with Scot Scala, GPC, M.Ed., and GPA Approved Trainer, for more strategies for building relationships with funders.

7. Secure Strong Partnership Letters

Including strong partnership letters in your grant application can significantly enhance your proposal's appeal. Funders look favorably upon collaborations between nonprofits and other entities, sometimes even mandating them for eligibility.

In her workshop, Getting Stellar Support Letters for Your Grants, Rachel Waterman explains how you can secure more support letters by building a strong system like this:

  1. Identify potential supporters.
  2. Reach out to them for grant application support.
  3. Schedule a call to ask questions about their experiences.
  4. Pre-write your letter with relevant details.
  5. Confirm the relationship during the call.
  6. Actively listen and make the call conversational.
  7. Craft a rough draft using their words.
  8. Ask for edits, suggestions, and a picture if needed.
  9. Make final edits and get their signature.

8. Ask the Right Questions

One of the best ways to increase the chances of success in your grant proposal is to ask the funder meaningful questions.

In her workshop, How to Go From 100+ Grants to The Best Fits for You: The Grant Writing Unicorn Method, Meredith Noble shares seven such questions that can help you connect better with funders:

  1. Did you have a chance to review the funding overview we sent?
  2. Based on that information, do you think we are a good fit for your program?
  3. What should we be doing to better position ourselves for success with your program?
  4. We are a [your organization type] and believe we are eligible for your program. Do you agree?
  5. We think the best time to apply would be [time]. Do you agree?
  6. What makes successful applicants stand apart from the rest?
  7. Is there anything else you want us to know or think about?

The answers to these questions can give you a better understanding of their priorities and requirements, which can help you tailor your grant proposal accordingly.

9. Demonstrate Qualifications

Another persuasion technique that may help your grant proposal stand out is explaining why your organization is the best qualified to carry out your proposed project.

You can effectively demonstrate your nonprofit’s qualifications by including information on the following items in your proposal:

  • Past Successes: Showcase achievements from similar projects, emphasizing positive outcomes.
  • Staff Expertise: Highlight the qualifications of key personnel involved in the proposed project.
  • Specialized Skills: Detail any unique skills or resources your organization possesses.
  • Accreditations: Mention relevant certifications, memberships, or accreditations.
  • Track Record: Provide evidence of consistency and reliability in project delivery.
  • Case Studies: Include specific case studies demonstrating competence in similar endeavors.

10. Use the Budget Wisely

A well-researched, detailed grant budget shows funders you’ve thought carefully about your proposed project. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate how you'll leverage requested funds strategically.

In his workshop, Behind the Grantmaker’s Curtain: What Funders Want, Matt Hugg emphasizes that a budget is more than just a list of expenses. It’s a tool to show how well you understand your mission and those you serve.

To ensure you build a strong budget, Matt recommends:

  • Write a thoughtful budget narrative
  • Use realistic figures
  • Show all expenses
  • Don’t lowball or pad numbers
  • Follow the funder’s rules
  • Check your math twice
  • Ask yourself: if this were my money, would I buy this?

Remember, it's not just about the numbers; it's about creating a compelling narrative that aligns with your goals and resonates with funders.

Storytelling Principles to Apply to Your Grants

Another key thing to remember about writing successful grant proposals is that grant writing is storytelling. Here are a few storytelling tips for grant writing success:

11. Share Your Background

When writing your grant proposal, it is important to tell your story as if those reading it have no prior knowledge of your nonprofit or project. Don’t assume that the funders are familiar with your organization or the work it does.

Make sure in your proposal to share your:

  • Mission statement
  • Vision
  • Brief organizational history
  • And any other context relevant to the project

Ultimately, the story that you tell needs to provide enough detail about your nonprofit to demonstrate to funders why you are the best fit to complete your proposed project.

12. Elicit Emotions

Another storytelling principle you can apply in your grant proposal is to utilize emotion. If it is applicable to your work, use emotive language to pull at the funder’s heartstrings. Helping the reviewers form an emotional connection with your nonprofit and your project will help your proposal stand out.

This feelings wheel is a great resource you can use to come up with powerful and emotive language to describe your nonprofit and the work it does.

Feelings Wheel

Even if the work of your organization is not something that typically elicits an emotional response, help the reviewers feel your passion for your mission. Write in such a way that those reading your proposal will understand why you are so enthusiastic about your project.

13. Back it Up With Data

Data isn't just numbers—it's a powerful storytelling tool in grant proposals.

Use data to illustrate the project's significance and persuade the funder toward investment. Include results from past work, comparable project outcomes, or demographics of your target audience.

Advanced Tip: Enhance your proposal with a QR code linking to a customized landing page packed with detailed data using secure tools like Beaconstac's QR Code generator.

14. Admit Weaknesses

Admitting your weaknesses and identifying potential challenges will help keep your story authentic.

While it is helpful to list potential solutions to any challenges, you can also be honest if there is not a clear answer. Funders appreciate honesty from applicants, and admitting challenges will help increase your credibility with the funder.

Proofreading Tips for Better Grant Proposals

The grant proposal is your chance to showcase your strengths, and you don’t want discrepancies or simple errors in writing to be the deciding factor in whether your work gets funded. The following proofreading tips for writing grant proposals can significantly help you draft stronger applications.

15. Check Your Math

Simple errors such as incorrect math or calculations are an easy way for your proposal to be removed from the running. If you are interested in making your grant proposal stronger, spend some time checking your budget for mathematical errors.

16. Check Grammar and Spelling

Grammar and spelling errors will undermine all your work. Ask another staff member to read your proposal before submitting it.

17. Align Your Narratives

Many grant proposals require both a project narrative and a budget narrative—and both of them should tell the same story. Their alignment will assure funders that you've thoroughly planned your budget to match project goals.

For example, if you talk about staff needing to travel in your project narrative, there should be a line item for travel costs in your budget.

18. Get an Outside Opinion

It can be very helpful to have your proposal reviewed by someone outside your organization (or even a board member less familiar with day-to-day operations).

Since a strong grant proposal is meant to tell your story to someone who may have no prior knowledge of your nonprofit, an outside opinion can be very beneficial. The reader can tell you how well the proposal reads and whether it makes sense with less knowledge of the nonprofit and proposed project.

19. Keep Your Grant Proposal Concise

Founder and CEO of Thread Strategies, Loree Lipstein, suggests that the best way to write compelling grant proposals is to shorten your writing style. She says that while the length of your grant proposal matters, a short and snappy version is more effective than a long and thorough one.

Length matters, and short and snappy is more effective than long and thorough. There is a human on the other end of your grant application, and you should be thinking about how humans take in information quickly and easily.”

Here are some of her tips:

  • Simplify complex sentences with multiple ideas. Opt for shorter, clear sentences. Each sentence should focus on one main idea.
  • Break down dense paragraphs into shorter ones. Ensure smooth transitions and topic sentences for fluidity.
  • Use lists and bullet points to make your content more reader-friendly. Ensure formatting compatibility with online grant applications.
  • Avoid jargon and opt for simpler, more accessible language. Think about how quickly and easily the reader can grasp your content. Focus on humanizing your grant application for better engagement.

Goal Setting Tips for Stronger Grant Proposals

In any grant proposal, it is important to set strategic goals and objectives that resonate with funders. We have included a few tips for goal setting to help you create a stronger grant proposal.

20. Make Your Goals SMART

One good way to strengthen your grant proposal is to create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Realistic, and time-limited) goals or objective statements.

In her session on Connecting Smart Project Goals, SMART Objectives, and Grant Research Keywords, Dr. Bev Browning shared this formula for writing SMART objective statements:

By the end of ____, increase __% or more as demonstrated by ______________.

For instance, instead of writing “Increase hot meal deliveries by 100%”, you could write this instead:

“By the end of year 1, increase the percent of the City of Merced’s low-income senior citizens receiving hot meal deliveries by 25% or more as demonstrated by the number of eligible individuals completing applications, number of new hot meal deliveries, number of new zip codes served, and number of senior citizens affordable housing complexes signing up for residents to receive the funded delivery services.”

21. Create Clear Evaluation Methods

Evaluation has become increasingly important to funders in recent years. Funders often require more accountability when it comes to the impact of your work.

It’s important in your grant proposal to detail exactly how you will evaluate the results of your project and their alignment with your goals. You should be able to clearly articulate how you will measure the success of your project—including what specific metrics you will use.

Related: Check out our previous blog post about evaluation methods for additional insights.

22. Don’t Overdo it

While it might be tempting, it’s essential to avoid overambitious claims in your grant proposal.

Setting achievable and realistic goals will enhance the credibility of your proposal. It will also demonstrate a clear understanding of your organization's capabilities.

On the other hand, creating too many goals can:

  • Set up unrealistic expectations, as you might not be able to deliver on everything you’ve laid out.
  • Dilute the impact of your core objectives, making it challenging for funders to grasp the essence of your project.
  • Raise skepticism among funders, jeopardizing the overall success of your proposal.

Tips to Ask for Funder’s Feedback

Whether you actually win the grant or not, it is important to seek some feedback from the funder to analyze what worked in your grant proposal and what did not.

Below are two final tips for how to get the most out of a funder’s feedback.

23. Ask With an Open Mindset

Most grant writers never really ask for feedback, and those who do, often ask the wrong questions—resulting in no response from the funder.

In her workshop, Funder Feedback: Ask the Right Way – to Get the Right Results, Maryn Boess shares an effective method to get meaningful feedback from funders.

Take a look at the following examples she shares:

  • Question 1: “Why wasn’t our proposal selected?”
  • Question 2: “I know a lot of different factors come into play in your team’s review and decision-making process. We’re committed to the project and want to continue seeking financial support for it. Is there anything you can share from the review process that might help us strengthen this proposal and do a better job with our proposals in the future?”

According to Maryn, the 2nd question is much more likely to get a response from the funder because it comes from an open mindset that is focused on improving your applications in the future.

24. Handle Rejections the Right Way

If your grant proposal is rejected, remember that a no doesn’t mean “never.”

According to Pamela Grow, Founder of Simple Development Systems and Basics and More Fundraising, if your proposal is declined, pick up the phone and call the funder.

Ask them these three questions:

  1. Is there anything we could have done differently in our proposal?
  2. May we resubmit for your next funding cycle?
  3. Are you aware of any other foundations that we might approach?

For more strategies for handling rejection, check out this guide on responding to grant rejection letters.

Wrapping Up: Use These Tips To Write Winning Grant Proposals

We hope you can use the strategies and advice that we have provided to write stronger grant proposals and increase your grant success.

Make sure to follow the funders’ directions, set clear goals, and proofread your final draft. And even if you don’t succeed, remember to always ask for feedback so you can keep improving and moving forward.

Instrumentl team

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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