Through its website philanthropy.com, The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently hosted a live chat with two grant development experts on the topic of "Learning the Secrets Behind Successful Grant Proposals." The presenters were grants consultants Jana Jane Hexter and Alice Boyd.
Lots of good tips were shared -- scrolling through the discussion would be worth your time!
Among the best ideas were these gems:
1) Determine who your audience is and tailor your proposal accordingly.
According to the presenters, the best grant proposal writers may spend hours researching a funder to develop a strategy for communicating a message that will resonate well with that funder. No one-size-fits-all proposals!
2) The most important skill you can have as a grant proposal writer isn't your writing ability... it's your ability to pick up the phone and call a funder!
If you're a strong writer, it's all too easy to hide behind your writing and avoid the scarier work of actually talking to a funder. But it is in back-and-forth conversation with a program officer or donor that you can make quick progress in building a relationship and targeting a proposal to the funder's core interests.
However, be respectful of the foundation's hierarchy (it's better to talk to the program officer with expertise in your field than to the foundation's president) and don't keep the funder on the phone at all costs. These caveats are explained by Martin Teitel in this must-read article.
3) Perseverance and a thick skin are key to success in grantseeking.
Grantwriting expert Pamela Grow reminds us that for some foundations, it can be fruitful to revise and re-submit applications that have been denied (i.e., "the third time's the charm"). In the same post, she gives us three questions to ask when a proposal has been declined:
- What could we have done differently in our proposal?
- Are we welcome to reapply?
- Are you aware of any other foundations that might support our mission?
Also, check out my suggestions for approaching foundations that only fund pre-selected organizations.
4) It is most challenging to get grants for new nonprofits.
If you're in the "new nonprofit" boat, the presenters recommended talking up your organization's credibility by describing the prior accomplishments of key staff and board members. It also helps to be bold -- emphasize the unique value of your organization and why it was created to make a difference.
5) If your nonprofit is established but your Executive Director/CEO is new, take several steps to introduce the new leader to your foundation funders.
One good way to introduce a new Executive Director to your portfolio of current and prospective foundation funders is to forward articles and other documents written by the new leader. This will underscore the Executive Director's credibility and will warm up the relationship even before foundation program officers have the chance to meet him or her.
6) Some foundations are sensitive to salaries paid to your nonprofit's senior staff -- so you should explain how your salaries are in the appropriate range.
Top-heavy organizations in which the Executive Director's salary comprises the bulk of the nonprofit's budget can raise red flags for funders. Also, if your organization's salaries are higher than industry norm, you may need to justify this (it's generally better to wait until asked about it, rather than directly calling attention to it in a proposal, though!).
If your organization's expenses are mainly salaries (as could be the case for a think-tank or an advocacy organization), the presenters suggested that your proposals explain how staff expertise is core to your nonprofit's ability to make an impact.