Grant writing can be an intimidating process. Whether you are an experienced nonprofit leader, or a newly hired staffer, the prospect of writing a grant proposal may feel downright terrifying. Between the application requirements, the fast-approaching deadlines, or the old-fashioned case of writers' block, one can become overwhelmed.
Don't worry, you are not alone!
Nonprofits of every size struggle with the same issues when drafting winning grant proposals and often make the same basic mistakes in approach or execution. To help you get started, we have created a list of 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid on Grant Proposals.
#1 Failing to thoroughly research the funders’ interests
Sometimes writing proposals can feel like a repetitive process. So much so that we forget that the foundation we are soliciting has a specific purpose and focus area. It is important to remember that a group of human beings will ultimately read what we wrote. As such, our proposal must resonate clearly with what the foundation trustees care about, not just what we care about! Making a clear connection between your organization’s mission and services and the goals of the foundation you’re applying to is perhaps the most fundamental element of any successful grant request. By identifying the winning themes that a funding agency cares about, you can leverage your knowledge about the funder to write a winning proposal. That’s why it’s so critical to find a funder who naturally aligns with your organization’s mission, vision, and goals. Making the case for partnership should be seamless, easy, and reiterated throughout your request.
#2 Submitting sloppy budgets
We all know that budgets are super important aspects of any grant proposal, and yet so many organizations neglect to include a budget in their application or submit a sloppy budget. Even if a funding agency does not provide a budget template, they will still have a specific idea of what they want to see in a proposal budget. It's also important to note that the program officer reviewing your budget will have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of similar budgets. They will immediately know if your budget is reasonable for your project. The budget that accompanies a grant proposal should be prepared with the same care as the narrative description and match it point for point.
#3 Fluff, fluff, and more fluff
Many funding agencies are moving their proposal process online, which often means grant portals with restrictive word, character, or page count limits. Yet, even if you are not restricted in how much you write, you should aim to keep your language concise and to the point. Cut the fluff and be clear about who you are, why your organization exists, and why your programs and services matter. What one needs is simple prose that "tells a story or paints a picture." Avoid vague claims, trendy language, and obscure terms - they won't impress the funder and may cause them to dislike your proposal.
#4 Copy pasting and recycling of proposals
Although it seems like an easy fix to recycle proposals through the copy and paste function, it’s not. Often, a 1:1 copy paste will result in below-par proposals due to differing proposal formats and other policy frames.
#5 Not reading the guidelines
If you do not read the guidelines you risk becoming ineligible. I was recently told about an organization applying for an Innovate UK Grant and misinterpreting the concept of a ‘collaborative' project. Instead of proposing a project with partners they proposed a project for their own organization but indicated they would involve subcontractors. Needless to say, their proposal was declared ineligible. This anecdote shows how not thoroughly reading the guidelines can put the hours spent on preparing a proposal to waste. Take your time to read the guidelines and ask someone else in your organization to read them, discuss any uncertainties you have among each other, and ask the funding body by email when something is not clear.