Does Your Grant Proposal Need a Makeover?


Take a hard look at the grant proposal currently on your desk.

Is it appropriate? Is it logical? Is it compelling?

If it's not... it's time for a makeover!

Revising a grant proposal to make sure that its overall argument and approach make sense is not the same as simply editing a proposal. Line editing can be important too, but stepping back from the details of wordsmithing is essential if the proposal has any fundamental flaws.

Oh, and we all sometimes create flawed proposals!

It's just easier to recognize major flaws when you're reading someone else's work, not your own.

Grant proposal consultants Cheryl Clarke and Susan Fox know this, and in their book Grant Proposal Makeover: Transform Your Request from No to Yes, they provide us with ten abysmally bad proposals. To avoid embarrassing any writers or nonprofits, they wrote the proposals themselves, based on many years of experience of working with "ugly duckling" proposals.

As the authors iterate, there's so much that can go wrong! Even if you follow the guidelines carefully, you can still bungle the cover letter, the budget, the goals and objectives, the outcome measures and the evaluation plan. You can include too little information about the right things, and too much information about the wrong things.

Reading this book is like taking a workshop in grant proposal revision. Each chapter opens with a flawed proposal. Here, you should be an active reader, looking for what is problematic or perplexing about the proposal. The authors then discuss what went wrong with that proposal, and provide two revisions, one that's "better" and one that's "best."

It's reassuring to see ten examples of transforming a bad proposal into a sensible, persuasive document! As long as the project and organization for which you are seeking funding is sound, you can treat what ails a sick proposal.

Another fabulous feature of this book is its liberal dose of advice directly from grantmakers. The authors surveyed foundation program officers representing diverse funders to ask for insights and opinions. They got the pet peeves in writing, and included them here. The program officers' names and organizations are attributed, and it's great to see how candid they were willing to be.

The authors point out that their grantmaker survey methodology was not necessarily scientifically valid -- it is anecdotal. However, they capture the wide-ranging variation in what funders want in proposals. This speaks to the need to talk to the funder prior to submitting your proposal, so you can develop a proposal that speaks directly to the funder's preferences and interests.

To help you with your future proposal makeovers, I recommend the book Grant Proposal Makeover: Transform Your Request from No to Yes, by Cheryl A. Clarke and Susan P. Fox. You can buy it on Amazon or directly from the publisher (the publisher's page includes free excerpts of the book), or ask your local library to buy it (because it would be a great addition to any community library).