Every day I am approached by nonprofits asking how they can get a grant to fund the great work they’re doing. Some have successful grant-writing records, and others are new to the foundation world. No matter the level of experience, the first thing I tell everyone who asks how to write a successful grant proposal is: You need to convince the funder why they should care. Once you’ve done that, you need to persuade them that your organization can deliver what you promise (or in evaluator lingo, show measurable results).
I just finished up work with a Pay it Forward organization, World Animal Net (WAN), and our focus was grant writing. Part of the reason I chose WAN was that their mission is really consistent with that of Pay it Forward. They aim to “avoid duplication and competition, promote innovative programs, and stimulate cooperation and coalition building.” In short, they believe that cooperation is a more powerful force for good than competition. They are working to help animals around the world by sharing knowledge and expertise, and building communication networks and partnerships.
One of the things that came up early in my work with WAN is the importance of not thinking about grants in a vacuum. A successful grant proposal needs to fit logically in the context of the bigger-picture plans for your organization. Who wants to pay for a project that will come to a grinding halt once the money runs out? This question spurred internal discussions at WAN that resulted in updates to their strategic plan and a more informed decision-making process about which projects for which to pursue grant funding. As a result of our conversations, the WAN staff asked me to provide a cheat sheet of questions that they could refer to as they thought about whether or not to apply for grants in the future. In the spirit of Pay it Forward, I thought it might also be helpful to others.
So before you start writing your next grant proposal, make sure you can answer these questions:
1. What problem or issue will your proposed project solve or address?
2. Why is it important to address this issue?
3. What will be different as a result?
4. How will you measure or document your results?
5. How does what you are proposing fit into your organization’s strategic plan?
6. Why is it important in the context of that plan?
7. What is your overall funding strategy?
8. How do grants in general and this grant in particular fit into that funding strategy?
9. How will the work accomplished under the auspices of the grant be sustained when the grant period ends?
10. Why should funders care about this issue?
11. How do the issue and your approach to addressing it match the funders’ priorities or areas of focus?