Grant Success: Stop Stating, Start Connecting

If you want to connect, take your audience with you from the start. Effective communication in a grant proposal requires knowing your goal and stating it clearly, but also remembering that you have to construct that goal around what your donor wants to hear. Within this context, I want to convey an interesting encounter I had with a Professor of Communication, who recently attended one of my workshops. After listening to my lecture, he helped translate my ideas into effective communication. I believe that his insights are of great use to all who want to succeed in obtaining external funds.

How to prepare

How well do you know the donors? What is their culture and language? With whom will you communicate even before you write the first word? Unless you understand what the donors want, you will not know how to communicate with them. Unfortunately, many grant writers I come across believe that the donor will give them money as long as they have a good idea. In reality, grants are awarded to those who have the ability to deliver on the donor’s interests.

How to persuade

Once you understand the donor, you can then seek to be understood. Your grant must be an idea that the donor wants to fund, and it will need to be explained precisely. This idea will best be captured by its simplicity and not its complexity. It is important, however, not to misconstrue simplicity as a “dumbing down” of ideas, but rather as complexity that is easily understandable. Next, you need to persuasively demonstrate the difference your idea will make in the lives of your constituents. Your introductory paragraph should have a strong impact statement that catches the reader’s attention. Open with the importance of the problem in terms of numbers or a forceful statement. For example: “Driving while talking on a cell phone, even hands-free, results in as many accidents as drunk driving.” This will awaken the interest of the reader and will provoke him/her to think seriously about your proposal.

How to connect

Now you are ready to invite the reader on an adventure using the art of storytelling. Competence alone is not enough to connect. When the message relies only on competence, writers become rigid and often get caught up trying to prove why their thoughts, ideas, or messages are the “right” ones. They focus only on themselves and they miss small moments to meaningfully connect and build trust with their audiences. Facts don’t change people; stories change people. The most successful grant writers are the best storytellers. They realize that stories bring facts to life.

Your goal is to capture the hearts and minds of grant reviewers. You will need to utilize an empathic grant writing style – your proposal cannot be a sterile, robotic document. The basis of your proposal is your good idea, which should be strong, innovative, well-thought out, and sincere. Your research will demonstrate that the problem you are addressing can be solved and your story will convey the overall impact of resolving a difficult problem for your constituents.

How to address the key parts of your proposal

The first impression: You will begin this process on the introductory page – your abstract. There, you will make the first impression of who you are, what you want and how you are going to achieve it. This first page will be a work of art, the snapshot of your entire proposal and the roadmap of your grant. It should never be an afterthought, since you never get a second chance to create a first impression.

The need: The need statement, which will be about thirty percent of the total proposal score, will be a persuasive argument that will include research, data, illustrations, and possibly well-structured anecdotes and specific examples. If your idea is solid, even though there may be some flaws in the approach, you stand a good chance of being funded. Your statement of need will include interventions that are innovative, make a real and tangible difference, and touch the lives of your beneficiaries.

The plan of operation: This section is the cornerstone of the strategic approach you need to take to execute your proposal. You will define the roadmap of your grant via the goal, measurable objectives, activities, timelines, personnel, evaluation, and budget. The direction of your proposal will now become immediately clear. You will speak as a person who fully understands the execution of your grant, tying every piece of the puzzle together.

At the end of the day, you will need to conceive of the grant package as an artistic endeavor. Be aware of the flow or the “music”, the visual rhythm via the illustrations you include, and assure that you have a mutual ethos, conversation, and communication with the funder. Be conscious of the ultimate gestalt of the package. Your goal – WOW!

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

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