Sunday, February 17, 2008

What Scares You as a Grant Proposal Writer?

Ever get that feeling?  You know the one I’m talking about, XTZ Foundation’s deadline is next week, they’ve declined you once before and now you find yourself sitting there staring at a blank page. 

It seems you’re not alone. 

CharityChannel’s online forums, always a wonderful source of inspiration, ideas and practical thinking, are also a barometer of universal concerns within the nonprofit arena.  One recent thread that garnered widespread responses centered on fear, specifically “what scares you most” as a grant proposal writer. 

Respondents pointed to a variety of common fears, from fearing the initial contact with a new foundation to fear of rejection to fear of leaving out a key component.  However, the most basic fear cited was the one inherent in most writers, the fear of the blank page. 

“I can only say that it does not matter how long you work in the field, rather it is a new client, or a new proposal for a current client - a blank page is scary. The beginning of every new proposal is empty white space yet it is filled with so many opportunities to write the perfect proposal. “ 

How do you craft the perfect cover letter, create an opening, tell your agency’s story in a compelling way that makes the funder want to fund you?  How do you get past the blank page syndrome? 

Whether it stems from procrastination, frustration or just plain fear - here are a few tools that no grant proposal writer should ever be without. 


Testimonials are all around you. They are in the thank you cards your program receives, the messages on the machine in your office, in emails, conversations, and in speeches at recognition events. If your program isn’t in the habit of collecting testimonials, make it a top priority!  Actively seek them out by sending surveys to your clients and donors. Get in the habit of keeping a tape recorder handy, and set up a comment page on your website. 

Storytelling shows why your donors keep coming back, year after year, and why your staff is so dedicated to your mission. Telling the story of your program through testimonials lets you bring a diversity of voices to your proposal in a way that numbers can’t and helps your application stand apart from the rest, long after the numbers have been forgotten. 


There are a number of great books out there on grant proposal writing.  Any one of these would give you a little nudge in the right direction: 

How to Write Knockout Proposals: What You Must Know (And Say) to Win Funding Every Time by Joseph Barbato

A gem of a book – this one’s a precious jewel and just might be all that you need. 

Storytelling for Grantseekers: The Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising by Cheryl A. Clark

Teaches you the narrative aspect of the grant proposal.  Mine is dog-eared. 

Grassroots Grants: An Activist's Guide to Grantseeking (Kim Klein's Chardon Press)– by Andy Robinson

This one’s full of examples – and great for getting past that blank page. 

Five Days to Foundation Grants

Ok, this is my own book (smile) .  But it’s one that I turn to time and time again for a quick basic reflection on all the information covered in the aforementioned books – and then some.  The accompanying grant proposal toolkit – basically a book of templates of successfully funded proposals – always gets me past the hump. 

What else?  Sometimes music works for me.  I once based an entire annual appeal around a Sly and the Family Stone Song – Everybody is a Star! 

What’re you waiting for?  You’ve got nothing to fear but fear itself.

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