10 Reputation-Building Tricks Practiced by Top Grant Writers

How can you determine your odds of winning? Is there a system for knowing if your grant-funding opportunity is worth going after? Have you thought about everything that needs to be in place to win a grant award? Here are ten ways to stay on top of the grant writing game.

Pre-qualify your grant-funding opportunity

You can increase your win rate by pre-qualifying every grant-funding opportunity that hits your field of vision. Ask yourself the following questions about each opportunity:

  • Does our organization qualify to apply for these monies?

  • How many grants will be awarded?

  • Does our organization have a chance of winning a grant award?

  • Is the grant award funding cap worth our effort?

  • Were previous grant recipients located in our state, county, city, or zip code?

Apply for funding only if your organization has a high (75 percent or higher) chance of winning.

Line up the right partners

Every award-winning grant applicant has partners at the local, regional, state, or national level. No partners, no grant; it’s that simple. When you know you have a grant-funding opportunity you want to apply for, start identifying appropriate community partners. Here are some questions to ask when vetting potential partner agencies:

  • Does this partner provide services related to the grant-funding area or target population area?

  • Does this partner know our organization? If not, do we have time to build a relationship with this partner in time to request a letter of commitment before the grant application’s deadline?

  • What can this partner contribute to our organization in matching funds, cash funds, or technical assistance?

Speak with previous grantees

Seek out a list of previous grant recipients, either by poking around online or contacting the funding source directly and asking for a list of previously funded grant applicants. Why? Because you can call up those past winners and ask about the grant-funding competition, their relationship with a program officer, and whether they will share any insider tips on planning, writing, or managing their grant. Insider knowledge is power.

Attend funder pre-deadline webinars and meetings

If you’re targeting local funders, call them to ask if they will be scheduling any technical assistance meetings or online webinars for grant applicants.

To introduce yourself and your organization and leave behind a lasting impression, take lots of business cards and an orientation package for your organization in a pocket folder. Here’s what your orientation package should contain:

  • Brochures for your programs

  • A fact sheet that outlines the background/history of your organization

  • Your organization’s most recent financial statement

  • A spare copy of your business card

Collect relevant demographics

Every grant application requires a statement of need. It’s critical that you use the Internet and your organization’s previous evaluation reports to mine or harvest relevant demographics. Visit the U.S. Census Bureau’s Training Page to find out about web-based and in-person courses that can help you learn how to navigate the U.S. Census Bureau’s statistics database.

Additionally, get familiar with your local, county, and state agencies. Call and ask what divisions collect community needs assessment demographics. Search the Internet relentlessly for new reports, graduate school dissertations, and other emerging demographic-filled reports. Also, read local online newspapers. Any report that includes a demographic usually has a source for the information.

Don’t forget to call the funding agency to discover whether it has recent reports with demographics on your target population.

Tell a story in your statement of need

The statement of need isn’t written from your viewpoint. It’s written from a big-picture perspective of what your target population is lacking, why it is lacking, and what will happen if those needs aren’t met. Be specific and include relevant demographics. Also, add a personal story to support one-on-one identification between the person in the case study and the grant decision maker.

Bring the need to life with scenarios of clients who can’t be served because of financial barriers.

Research relevant best practices

You can’t just make up the solutions to reduce or eliminate the need you wrote about in the statement of need. Solutions must be designed using best practices shared by other funding agencies or grantees that have served the same target population. Look on federal funding agencies’ websites for resources, research, and best practices in your grant application’s topic area.

Always cite or footnote the source of your best practices research and your program design’s implementation model.

Embed accountability

The primary way to embed accountability in your grant application is to incorporate SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timebound) objectives in your program design. In addition to building in SMART objectives, you carry through your theme of accountability by writing an evaluation plan that uses the SMART objectives as the basis for evaluation data-collection methodologies and accountability reporting.

A second way to embed accountability is to create a strong management plan with qualified staff assigned to the proposed grant-funded project. Having credible credentials and experience in the grant’s topic area is a huge boost to a winning approach.

All funders expect a framework of written accountability throughout your grant application.

Incorporate relevant graphics

Please entertain all peer reviewers who touch your application by incorporating relevant graphics into your grant application narrative — approximately one graphic for every two pages of text. Don’t use an entire page for a graphic; instead choose the text-wraparound option to surround your graphic with text.

Always use a table graphic in the statement of need. Insert another table graphic into the program design. Build your Logic Model in a table as well.

Detail the budget

Why do funders need to see all the nitty-gritty details associated with your list of line-item expenses? Because you’re asking for their money, and they want financial accountability for how you will spend it. Don’t take any shortcuts when it comes to including every little detail to support your budget line items.

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