What are the fundamentals of successful grant writing?

First and foremost, follow the rules. It doesn’t matter how dedicated you are to your mission or how important you believe it is (and, yes, it probably is), every foundation has funding guidelines and straying from them is a waste of everyone’s time. If a funder donates exclusively in Louisiana, don’t apply if your organization is based in California. If they request a two-page letter of intent, don’t send three. And, make sure to send all requested attachments. Anything else will quickly result in a trip to the recycling bin.

Once you’ve committed to following the guidelines, here are the things you need to prepare for a successful grant application:

  • Clearly define the program or activity for which you are requesting funding.
  • Set your funding goals, research and identify appropriate funders, and learn as much as possible about the prospect.
  • Define the need for your project among the community being served; describe the potential impact specifically.
  • Define your program’s connection to the foundation’s goals and values.
  • Develop a program budget that spells out income and expenses.
  • Identify how much money you need and your plan for raising it, and lay out how much has already been committed (note: it’s a lot easier for a funder to commit $100,000 to a $10 million project that’s 80 percent funded than 0 percent funded).
  • Be clear about what success will look like and how you’ll know it has been achieved.
  • Prepare your organization’s financial statements.
  • Collect beneficiary testimonials, articles, awards or recognition.
  • Identify potential references for funders that may require them.
  • Prepare the most typical proposal attachments, including a board list with affiliation.

With these in place, you’ll be in a good position to develop turn-key information for grant applications and make a strong case for why your organization is a good investment. From there, it’s a matter of deciding where you’ll apply and customizing the application to meet a specific funder’s requirements.

You should also know that a number of grantmaker associations have developed common grant applications that enable grant-seekers to submit one application to multiple organizations. The Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org) provides a list of associations that accept a common application.

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