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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

A beginner’s guide to grant writing for nonprofits

grant writing

In many ways, the hallmarks of a strong grant proposal are the same as the hallmarks of any good piece of writing. Factors like conciseness, voice, emotional appeal, strong subject matter and more will serve just as well in a grant proposal as they would in a high school essay. 

But grant writing also leaves more room for creativity than your traditional essay. 

While many specifications for a grant proposal are up to the funder, a host of other factors are up to the grant writer. Key creative decisions in a proposal can make or break its success. Below are some suggestions for a stronger grant proposal. 

Understand the funder

Grant applications encourage taking your reader into account. When you know which foundation or agency is reading your proposal, the content and message of a piece of writing can be tailor-made to resonate with its intended audience. Important factors such as the grantmaker’s values and priorities influence how they perceive any message. By understanding the funder before even beginning the writing process, you have the opportunity to ensure your message is the one that will stick.

To make your application resonate… 

  1. Find funders who share your organization’s goals. This way, the mission that is shared in the grant proposal will already align with the values of the funder. To find the right grants, look into nonprofit news organizations and newsletters that often share grant opportunities.
  2. Reach out to the funder directly. Forming a relationship with the funder first will give you a better understanding of their values and wants.
  3. Write with your reader in mind. When you write your proposal, try to view your work through the lens of your prospective funder. This will save time during the initial brainstorming and revision processes. 

Know what you’re asking for 

When it comes to the problem statement, program objectives, methods and activities, budget, and other sections of the grant proposal, it is important for the thought process behind the proposal to be well-planned. To convince funders to support a new or existing program, you must demonstrate that it is already backed by in-depth research, planning and goal-setting initiatives. 

To display a strong understanding of your organizational needs… 

  1. Get feedback from members of the organization. Staff and volunteers who are directly involved can ensure the grant writer has an accurate understanding of the program, its needs, and its objectives.
  2. Demonstrate transparency. When asking for financial support, financial transparency is important to avoid misleading funders. Be clear in your budget planning resources and processes.
  3. Create a narrative. Narrative storytelling not only demonstrates your own understanding but also assists readers in following your line of logic.

Double-check your work

While everyone makes mistakes, a grant proposal is never a good place to put that learning process on display. Errors such as spelling mistakes, inaccurate information or grammatical errors aren’t just embarrassing — they often mean the difference between receiving funding or leaving empty-handed. A 2016 study consistently found that people who make written spelling and grammatical errors are perceived as less intelligent, friendly and trustworthy than those who did not make the same errors. In a grant proposal where traits like these are under a microscope, there could be nothing worse.

To keep your work free of errors, try… 

  1. Getting a second pair of eyes. After spending hours looking at a piece of writing, it can be difficult to find the errors. Get a second reader to find what you missed. 
  2. Fact-checking as you go. It will still be necessary to check again, but fact-checking on the first try will ultimately save time during the revision process. 
  3. Using a spell-checker. Automated spell-checkers are a writer’s best friend and many are capable of more than just catching basic errors. Consider using one while you write or during your revisions.

Grant writing is a critical process for an organization, and it should take the input of many to ensure the results are compelling and deliberate. While there is no one way to write a grant proposal, and much of the selection process is down to subjective opinion, following these guidelines may be the key to winning your next grant.

Image by Lillian Finley

Find out more with our grant writing courses

Securing funding for nonprofit organizations can be extremely competitive. Nonprofits need compelling proposals to receive the grants they need to achieve their missions. Whether you are a student or working professional, you will benefit from instruction by an experienced grant writer with real-world experience as they guide you through the step-by-step processes for a state and foundation proposal. During the Grant Development: State and Foundation Proposals certification program, the knowledge specialist will use interactive exercises, lectures, and discussions to demonstrate how to research and write your specific project.

Once the State and Foundations course is complete, we invite you to take the Advanced Grant Development: Federal Proposals, designed to provide the participant with the resources, expert-guided practice, and mentoring to be able to write a competitive federal grant proposal, with a personalized proposal review by the knowledge specialist prior to submission for a federal grant, as well as packaging a professional grant submission, grants management, and

Lillian Finley headshot


ASU Lodestar Center Blog