The Art and Science of Grant Writing

Article, Featured

by Paul Diaz, Vice President Policy, Public Interest Registry

In our series on grants, we have covered how to find them, how to determine your eligibility, and how to choose the right one to pursue. This article will address what comes next: writing the actual grant proposal. Feeling up to the task? You should know that it’s a job that requires both intellect and creativity. We all possess a mixture of both and are often stronger in one than the other. As Albert Einstein explains  “…the intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant.”  

Attention to detail, an analytical approach, and organizational skills are incredibly valuable for grant writing. University Lab Partners emphasizes this in a blog post for grant writers: “Pay attention to their requirements for page length, typeface, page margins, and other specifications. Even though these specifications likely seem picky to you, not following just one of them can cause your application to be immediately rejected.” If you like organizing your kitchen spices alphabetically, this aspect of grant writing may come easily to you.

But, if you’re the type to spin colorful tales around the campfire, the ability to tell an engaging, well-crafted story may be more in your wheelhouse. “Storytelling is an effective way to communicate a need, offer a solution, and present an opportunity for someone to help by making a financial contribution,” says Cheryl A. Clark, author of Storytelling for Grant Seekers.

To be a successful grant writer, you need a good mix of the “gift” and the “servant.” A balance of art and science. Whichever side of your brain is more dominant, we’ve got you covered! The tips below will help you build on your natural strengths and gain confidence in other areas.


For the “Artist”: Don’t Lose Sight of the “Science” Tasks

First, when drafting proposals, it’s key to answer the funder’s specific questions. This may seem like a no-brainer; it’s not. You’d be surprised how many non-profits don’t take the time to truly read grant requirements carefully. “Make sure you’ve addressed all of their concerns, especially how your program aligns with their goals. Even if they don’t ask directly, share background on your organization’s capacity to do the work you propose,” says this piece by TSNE MissionWorks.  And this piece from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) says, “Be clear about who the grant contact is, check your math, and make sure not to omit contact names or contact information. Double- and triple-check grammar and spelling. It may help to first write your proposal on a separate word document before copying and pasting it into the online application itself. …”

Secondly, be sure to keep any paperwork for the grant writing handy and in a safe place. “In addition to specific grant questions, many applications will ask for other documents related to your nonprofit,” advises “Store these all in a centralized location so your grant team can easily access them and attach them to proposals.” These documents may include your board of directors list, 501(c)(3) letter of determination, an organizational chart, mission statement, and other key information about your non-profit. 

For the “Scientist”: Don’t Forget to Add a Little “Artistry” 

Build your case, sentence by sentence. While some may associate flowery language with good writing, the truth is the best writing does more with less. “The individuals who are in charge of reading grant proposals likely read thousands upon thousands of these proposals while only having the ability to accept a small percentage of them,” says the University of Lab Partners piece. “This is why it’s important that you tell a good story with your grant proposal, which should help you stand out among the rest. Whether the proposal inspires the reader or tugs at the emotions, your proposal has a higher chance of being considered if you tell a story that captivates the reader. However, you should also avoid making it too long.”

Remember, pictures are worth a thousand words—so use your words carefully to create a powerful image for the reader. According to Library Strategies Consulting, “The Need/Opportunity and Outcome/Impact sections are prime real estate for painting a picture of your work. Be specific—use concrete details (think of the five senses) and descriptive language, perhaps telling a brief story or profiling a beneficiary.” In addition, you can use actual pictures, says this piece on “Invest in good, evocative pictures of your organization’s place, people, and impact in this world. Help potential funders imagine themselves with you, supporting your mission, helping you make your impact.”

We wish you the best of luck securing grants for your non-profit. No matter whether you’re more “Artist,” or “Scientist” by nature, we hope this article offers a few tips to give you the courage to go get those grants–and then once you’ve got them, we’ll be right here to help you manage them in our next article in the series!