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Grant Writing Basics

Explaining the grant writing process

A male professor is sitting at a desk with a clipboard in front of him. He is poised for writing and is beginning the first steps of grant writing.
Finding funding for your next project
may be easier than you think.

You need funding for your project, but where will the money come from? A grant, of course! Every year, governments, private foundations, and public corporations award billions of dollars in grants to individuals and organizations for specific projects. Repayment is unnecessary as long as the funds are used to finance the project for which they were allocated. Grantors don't just hand out checks without regard, however. To receive a grant, a prospective grantee must submit an application, called a grant proposal

Grant writing is an extensive process that can take weeks or even months, depending on the type of grant you are applying for.

Grant writing helps you think things through

Grant writing is not easy, but can be very helpful because it forces you to think through and flesh out your project design. If you can't explain the full extent of the project to a potential donor, you won't receive funding. Grantors need to understand the who, what, where, when, how, why, and how much with respect to your project, so you need to be very specific in your grant writing.

Find the appropriate grantor

Once the project is designed and the details settled, it is time to find an appropriate grantor. There are several strategies for identifying public, private, and governmental funding sources. Search federal, multidisciplinary, and specialized online databases. Most academic libraries have reference sources related to grant funding that can help identify foundations, public and private funding sources, and government agencies that accept requests for proposals. Also, many books are available on the topic.

For best results, we recommend searching for foundations, corporations, and government funding programs whose goals most closely match those of your organization. When grant writing, you must ensure a good fit between your proposal and the funding agency. Once you identify a potential funder, obtain all application materials and guidelines, as this will assist in the grant writing process. Try to obtain copies of grants the organization has previously funded. Any extra information about the foundation will help make your submission stand out.

Stick to the guidelines

You must follow an established process in your grant writing, as most grantors have their own application forms and guidelines. Make sure your approach is the correct one. Some foundations do not allow solicitations from grant seekers; they accept proposals by invitation only. Often, the requirements for completing the proposal are listed in the Request for Proposal (RFP), which serves as preparation instructions. It is common for funding agencies to request a letter of inquiry from applicants prior to submission of a full proposal. This practice helps weed out applicants whose aims do not fit the funding agency's mission. It also prevents applicants from spending time and money on grant writing if they either do not qualify for or are unable to fully use the funds. Some foundations prefer a phone call as the first step, while most government agencies want you to send a full proposal at a pre-specified time based on their published guidelines.

It is imperative you follow the specific guidelines of the grantor you have targeted when grant writing. One main reason applications are rejected is that the applicant failed to follow the grantor's precise guidelines. Read the entire application carefully. Highlight all questions to be answered and note all supporting materials to be included. Keep organization in mind when grant writing: grantors will not respond well to a disorganized, ill-written, or confusing proposal.

Are you ready to begin grant writing?

Grant writing begins with an idea. You must have a fully researched, well-developed, feasible project plan. Ask yourself the following questions before starting the grant writing process:

  • What do you want to do, how much will it cost, and how much time will it take?
  • What will your project contribute to your organization, your field, and the community?
  • What has already been accomplished in this area? By whom and with what results?
  • How does the project fit with your organization's overall mission?
  • Is the project local in nature, or can it be duplicated in other places by other organizations?
  • Can the problems your project addresses really be solved? How will you accomplish your goals?
  • How will the results be evaluated?
  • How will the project be maintained once begun?
  • Why should your organization in particular do this project?
  • Why should this project be done now?

Make sure the project supports your organization's core mission, and try to find a unique angle to make the proposal stand out. Be sure you have identified all your needs. Once you have a firm understanding of your project, you're ready to begin the grant writing process. And remember, an error-free proposal will go much further than one filled with errors.