Grant Writing For Dummies book cover

Grant Writing For Dummies

By: Beverly A. Browning Published: 03-29-2022

Write award-winning grant proposals that build organizational capacity!

For nonprofit and for-profit firms alike, grants can be a singular generator of growth and impact. But many leaders are intimidated and confused by the sometimes-complex grant application process. The truth, however, is that anyone can learn to write and send a powerful grant letter with the right help.

In Grant Writing For Dummies, Dr. Beverly Browning draws on over four decades of experience writing grant applications and training grant writers to deliver a comprehensive and easy-to-follow roadmap to drafting and submitting grant applications that get funded. You’ll learn to craft the strongest application possible, find the best sources of funding from online databases, and present a realistic project budget plan.

You’ll also find:

  • Example types of funding requests that demonstrate how to apply the concepts discussed in the book
  • New and updated material walking you through the entire grant-writing process, from beginning to end
  • Writing techniques that capture the imaginations of grant reviewers who decide which applicants walk away empty-handed and which ones receive cash

Whether you’re looking to fund your nonprofit, grow your business, or develop your research venture, you’ll find the guidance you need in Grant Writing For Dummies.

Articles From Grant Writing For Dummies

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29 results
Grant Writing For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-07-2022

Building your grant seeking and grant writing skills is the best way to secure funding for your organization. The keys to finding grant funding opportunities and writing award-winning grant proposals are knowing where to find opportunities and understanding what funders want to read. In terms of your professional development as a grant writer, it also helps to know how to document your productivity and impact. This Cheat Sheet provides the critical aspects of grant writing for quick reference.

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10 Ways to Continue Building Your Grant-Writing Skills

Article / Updated 04-27-2017

You can always improve at grant writing Here, you find ten great tips on how to continue building your grant-writing skills. All the advice here comes from the school of hard rocks and hard knocks. Take on new challenges How many times have you looked at a grant application and said to yourself, “No way. I can’t do this! It’s too difficult! There are way too many pages of instructions to read! Goodness, the grant-making agency wants 50 pages of single-spaced narrative. The application is due in ten days!” And in your mind, the list grows. It’s important to take on new challenges. Say “yes” to something completely outside your comfort zone. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn and how much more confident you’ll feel. The sky is your only limit! Become a grant research specialist If you don’t want to work on your writing skillsets yet, consider working on being the best-ever grant researcher. You can work on researching undiscovered grant-funding opportunities and presenting them to your supervisor, employer, or client, or you can focus on researching demographics and best practices for grant application topics. New reports or studies are published online every day. Do you have the most up-to-date set of information? When will you need it and can you store it in electronic folders for future use? Work ahead, be prepared, and write like the wind when you find new grant programs and updated research information. Everyone in your work setting will look to you as the grant research specialist. Volunteer your services If you’re a member of a nonprofit board of directors or of its “friends of” group (volunteers who raise funding through special events), consider volunteering your services as a grant writer for one or more projects. If you have a full-time day job, you can do your volunteer work in the evenings or on the weekends. Cast your net wide and start giving back to the community where you live. Become a peer reviewer Open your web browser, go to your favorite search engine (like Google), and type call for peer reviewers. Scroll through the findings and look for state and federal grant-making agencies that have published calls for grant application peer reviewers. You’ll gain so much more experience and knowledge about what it takes to win a government grant award. Do copyediting for other grant writers You can learn a lot by reading grant applications written by other grant writers and editing their content. Copyediting entails reading the formatting and content guidelines published by the funder and then reading the completed grant application narrative to see if the grant writer’s work is in compliance. You’ll learn formatting and graphic techniques, pick up new research websites for your own growing list, and contribute to your employer’s or the grant writer’s client’s success. This is a great way to build your own skillsets and become a successful grant writer. Work with an experienced grant writer One of the most mind-opening experiences is to ask another grant writer if you can help her with her overage work. Maybe you only work with government grant-writing projects or exclusively write corporate grants. Working with another writer may open the doors to other types of grant writing which can help you improve and broaden your own grant-writing skills. Attend national professional development training Find a conference with workshops of interest to you, register, attend, and take copious notes. If you’re working in an environment where you’re a grant writer and you also manage the funded grant awards, your list of potential conferences just doubled. Check out these national conference possibilities and see what looks interesting to you: Grant Professionals Association Annual Conference American Grant Writer’s Association Annual Conference National Grants Management Association Annual Grants Training Review successful grant applications online Search the Internet for previously funded grant applications that have been posted online by the grantee (the organization that received the grant award). Look at a mixture of grant applications that were funded by the federal government, foundations, and corporations. Rarely will you find a high volume of grant applications funded by state agencies posted online. Write and publish articles that require extensive research When you decide to become an author of articles that will be read by the public, you might panic first and then hunker down and start to research your topic before you begin the writing process. Whom can you write articles for? Your own blog (if you don’t have a blog yet, try Blogger, Squarespace, or WordPress) or for other publications and companies that continually update their websites with contributions from guest writers. Continue your formal education While resources like our Grant Writing Cheat Sheet are great sources of education, it is important for you to continue to formally educate yourself. Across the country and around the world, there are lots of community colleges and universities that offer degrees in nonprofit management. If you search the Internet for examples, you will likely find the following (not naming the institution, just the degree program): Masters in Grant Writing, Management, and Evaluation Grant Writing Certificate Program LearningPath.org has a list of possibilities for master’s and doctoral degrees in grant writing.

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10 E-Grant Tips

Article / Updated 12-19-2016

Today, e-grants are the norm for most funders. Unfortunately, grant writers and others working in e-grant limitations tend to have the misconception that e-grants are a piece of cake. The reality is that e-grants aren’t easy to write. Here are some tips to stay on top of the e-grants game and reduce common errors (and stress!) when the grant application submission time rolls around. Log in and set up a password immediately The first step in writing an e-grant application is to log in so you can see what the requirements are. Read over all the questions and note how many characters you’re allotted for your answers. Then, as you work on your application offline, you can make sure that all your answers fit. (The last thing you want to do is try to write your grant application on the fly in the online system.) Make a note of your password and keep it someplace safe where you’ll be able to find it if you forget. Also, set your online calendar alert with the due date so you don’t forget. Fill in routine organizational information The first step in most e-grant applications is to provide routine information about your organization. Before you log in again, assemble all the following: Your organization’s name The year for IRS 501(c)(3) incorporation Your organization’s physical address Your organization’s mailing address The name of the contact person and that person’s job title The contact person’s telephone and fax numbers and email address Your organization’s employer identification number Your organization’s DUNS number A copy of your most recent annual operating budget Have all this organizational information within eyesight because the e-grant portal may automatically log you out after a certain number of minutes of inactivity. The organizational information fields required can differ from funder to funder. If you don’t have some of the requested information on hand and ready to enter into the online e-grant application template, start looking at previous grant applications and have these files open on your screen with all possible organizational contract information. Review the entire online application template Now that you have access to the online grant application template, it’s likely that you’ll be viewing one page of instructions at a time from a multipage grant application template (a set of questions that you must fill in the answer for online). In some e-grant systems, you can’t advance to the next screen until you fill in the requested information on the current screen. In other e-grant systems, you can advance and see every page remaining in the online template without entering anything. Review as much of the e-grant application template as possible. Take notes on the information you need to assemble to complete the rest of your grant application. If you can’t advance to the next screen or page until you fill in the information on the current page, stop and log out. Call the funder to see if you can get a Word or PDF copy of the entire blank application template via email. Copy and re-create the template in a word processing program When you access the first page of the e-grant application template, copy and paste what you see on the screen onto a blank word processing page. Save your word-processing file early and often, in case your power goes out or the computer freezes up. When you’ve copied and pasted everything required in the online e-grant template, log out and get ready for the next step. If you’re timed out of the grant application website, you can always log back in. Any information that you’ve entered and saved will remain intact. Determine if you’re counting characters or characters and spaces Look at the instructions for each information field box. There will likely be limits on the number of words, characters with spaces, or characters with no spaces that you can enter. As you type your responses in the same word processing document, monitor or track what you’re typing so you can make sure you’re fitting within the space allowed. Stop your writing at about 50 characters less than what’s allowed. That way, you have a little wiggle room. Also, check with the funder to see if your understanding of the formatting requirements (spaces and characters) is correct. Live without traditional graphics When you work in an e-grant application template, you can’t insert graphics. You’re going to have to ditch your use of tables, maps, charts, and figures. In the coveted space that you’re allowed to respond, everything will need to be in narrative format. The first few times you create your narrative for this type of limited uploading environment, it may be challenging to communicate your point with words alone. But after you have a few e-grant applications under your belt, you’ll know the true meaning of the term plain and simple. Live without traditional formatting E-grant submission systems usually aren’t so good about special formatting — stuff like bold, italics, underlining, and different font colors. You just have to settle for plain text. Typically, the font doesn’t matter either, because when you paste it into the e-grant system, it’s all the same. Convert your text into RTF format before pasting it back into the online application. This will prevent formatting issues that can come up with Microsoft Word and the HTML interface. Recheck the funder’s website daily for modifications to the guidelines Just like the federal funding agencies that post endless modifications and amendments to their initially posted grant application package, foundations and corporations that use e-grant application systems can also post changes. If you’re registered and you’ve started your grant application by entering the organizational information, you’ll likely receive an email notification of any changes that are made. Still, you should develop the habit of logging on every day to look for notes or changes posted and follow their instructions accordingly. That way, you don’t have to change your narrative content or find out that you’re missing another required financial document at the last minute. Confirm the due date time and time zone This snafu happened to a colleague of mine. She planned to enter her e-grant application text and submit it the same day it was due. The deadline was published as 12 a.m. on Saturday, March 1. In her mind, she thought she had until Saturday night before midnight. But the deadline was actually Friday night. It took some frantic weekend communications to get the funder (someone she knew) to extend the portal’s submission system to accept her grant application on Saturday morning. You may not be that lucky, so always double-check with the funder on the due date time and time zone. Your funder could be located out of state across three time zones. If you want to be even safer, plan to submit your application a couple days before the deadline, to reduce your chance of problems. Hit submit You’re ready to submit your online e-grant application. Sweat is pouring down your forehead and you’re letting every doubt possible enter your mind. Did I? Should I? What if? If you’ve followed the funder’s instructions, read and reread and reread (yes, read your text three times or more) your entries and edited them, you’re ready to hit Submit. Just do it! Make sure to look for a receipt confirmation in your email or in the viewing window after you submit, indicating that the application was received by the funder. What’s next? Either onto the next grant application or a well-deserved day off of work!

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How to Build Relationships with Grant Funders via Email

Article / Updated 12-19-2016

Prepare, prepare, prepare! If you don’t prepare and cultivate the relationship before asking for grant money, you and your organization have a double loss when it comes to winning grants from newly identified potential funders. In order to build a relationship with a potential funder, you need to start by researching corporate funding sources thoroughly. When you’ve thoroughly researched funding sources, you’re ready to review all the language in the funder’s profile to find its initial contact information. Typically, funders will state one of two possible initial contact preferences: a phone call or a letter of inquiry. Calling to introduce yourself and your organization or ask for a face-to-face meeting is preferable, but the funder may prefer that you write an email instead — and if that’s the funder’s preference, you should honor that request. If you contact your funder by email, follow these steps: Introduce yourself and your organization to the funder. Explain why you are contacting that funder. For example, maybe you have a shared mission, you’ve gotten funding from it in the past, maybe you know someone on its board of directors, you’ve attended one of its technical assistance meetings or webinars, or you have some other attention-grabbing connection. State your problem. Give the solution. State the amount of funding you need. Ask for permission to submit a full funding request based on the funder’s guidelines. Thank the person you are speaking with for his or her time. Proofread and send your official request. Follow up in five days. If you’re able to make telephone calls to potential funders, here are some tips: Write a script of what you want to say on the call. Your script should provide the same information you would provide if you were sending an email. Time yourself and make sure to keep your spiel under three minutes. Keep that timer in front of you during your phone call so you don’t start to ramble. Keep it simple. Speak with a smile. It’s true: When you’re smiling, people can hear it. Take copious notes. If you get lucky and score a face-to-face meeting with a potential funder, take advantage of that opportunity! Write a script before the meeting and practice it over and over until you can say it naturally, without referring to your notes. Your script should communicate all the same things you would by email or over the phone.

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Dealing with Failed Foundation or Corporate Funding Requests

Article / Updated 12-19-2016

Program officers from local foundations are usually more than willing to discuss the reasons a grant proposal was denied. However, some foundations and corporations that fund throughout the nation explicitly state that due to the volume of grant applications anticipated, they won’t provide feedback on declined applications. Never, ever throw a rejected foundation or corporate grant request into your files, walk away, and give up. Instead, do the following: Go back and do another funding search to identify a new list of foundation and corporate funders you can approach with your grant request. Convene your stakeholders’ planning team to discuss the failed attempt with the first funder or funders. Sometimes, other people in the community have funding leads to share with you. After all, they want to see your project funded as much as you do. Beef up your original foundation or corporate proposal to meet the requirements of state or federal funding opportunities. This means writing more narrative and adding more research to support your statement of need. You also need a new project budget based on federal or state funding limitations. Foundations or corporate giving entities probably won’t provide reviewers’ comments; the Freedom of Information Act applies only to grant applications submitted to local, county, state, and federal government agencies.

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Handling Multiple Grant Awards

Article / Updated 12-19-2016

Suppose you’ve applied for grants with 20 potential funding sources. One of the 20 funding sources funds you in full. The money has been deposited, and your project is up and running. But more mail comes in, and guess what? Your project has received two more grants, totaling an amount equal to the full funding request. You must have written one fabulous narrative! If your project is overfunded, here’s what to do: Immediately contact each funder and explain your predicament. Ask the funders’ permission to keep the funds and expand your project’s design. Ask the funders’ permission to carry grant monies over into another fiscal year. The worst-case scenario is that all funding sources except for the first funder ask you to return the additional funding. The best-case scenario is that you’re allowed to keep the funding and create a bigger and better project or program. The best way to avoid the predicament of having too much money is to write a letter to each outstanding funding source (sources that haven’t communicated with you on their decisions to fund your grant requests) immediately after you know that you have full funding. Be honest and quick. It’s the right and ethical thing to do — even though having too much money sounds like a good thing. Any grant funds received should be deposited into a separate account and tracked individually by using accounting practices that enable tracking by date, by expenditure, and by line-item allocation against the approved project budget (which is the budget that was approved by the funding source).

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Post-Award Guidelines for Help with Financial Reporting of Federal Grants

Article / Updated 12-19-2016

In federal grants, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) works cooperatively with funding agencies to establish government-wide grant management policies and guidelines. These guidelines are published in circulars and common rules. At the federal level, these documents are first introduced in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA). New circulars and common rules are published in the Federal Register. This table lists the most commonly used federal grant management OMB circulars. The circular numbers are the keys to locating the document on the OMB website. Office of Management and Budget Circulars Circular Number Applicable Agencies Cost Principles A-21 Education institutions A-87 State, local, and Native American tribal governments A-122 Nonprofit organizations Administrative Requirements A-102 State and local governments A-110 Institutions of higher education, hospitals, and other nonprofit organizations Audit Requirements A-133 State and local governments and nonprofit organizations At the state funding level, the funding agency provides you with the funding stipulations, including the regulations for accessing, spending, reporting, and closing out grant funds. Foundation and corporate funders give you their funding stipulations and/or regulations, if any, when the funds are awarded. Other than asking you to sign a grant agreement (a contract indicating that you’ll use the awarded funds as promised in your grant application), most private sector funders don’t have a ton of regulations and usually spell out any stipulations in the grant agreement. As you read the circulars and guidelines, you may come across some unfamiliar terms. Fiscal accountability is the obligation to ensure that the funds granted are used correctly. Fiscal accountability lies with the entity responsible for managing the grant funds — usually, that’s the grant applicant, but in some instances it’s the fiscal sponsor. Fiscal accountability means establishing an audit trail. A clear or single audit trail is an arrangement that allows any auditor, whether internal or from the funding source, to track the grant monies from the money-in stage to the money-out stage without finding that grant funds have been commingled with other organizational funds.

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Tackling the Grant Management Process

Article / Updated 12-19-2016

What is grant management? First, it’s making sure you keep all the promises you wrote in the program design narrative of your grant application. Second, it’s handling all the funder’s reporting requirements. Sometimes the grant writer assumes this responsibility; other times, these tasks are divvied up between the grant program manager or project director and the person who makes the financial decisions for your organization (the CFO or business manager). In smaller organizations, the CFO may be a bookkeeper working in concert with an executive director. In larger organizations, entire departments may handle the finances, including fiscal reporting. The grant program manager or project director is the person responsible for overseeing the implementation of the grant-funded activities. This person brings the program design narrative in the grant proposal to life. She is responsible for ensuring that all the tasks (process objectives) outlined in the program design’s timeline table are accomplished on time. Other tasks for the program manager or project director include the following: Meeting with collaborative partners to let them know the grant request was funded and working with them to plot out the action steps needed from partners Meeting with the human resources department to start the recruitment, screening, and hiring or reassigning of the grant-funded project’s staff Meeting with the third-party evaluator (if applicable) to begin strategizing the monitoring and evaluating process for the SMART or outcome objectives Orienting project staff to the purpose of the grant-funded project and giving them a copy of the program design narrative so that they can see how the project should unfold during the implementation process Sharing the evaluation process with the project staff and the collaborative partners so that everyone knows what will be monitored, how the data will be collected and reported, and the role of each stakeholder in the feedback process Making sure that staff adheres to all task/activity timelines, and developing a corrective action plan to assure that the SMART or outcome objectives will be met before the end of the grant-funding period if the timelines go off-track Working with the CFO or business manager to compile interim and final financial reports for the funder Preparing an end-of-project report for all stakeholders, including the board of directors and collaborative partners

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Stay Connected to Your Stakeholders after You Submit Your Grant Application

Article / Updated 12-19-2016

Before you write a grant request, you convene your staff, volunteers, community partners, and other interested parties to help your organization develop the plan of action and provide the information for the statement of need. After you turn in your grant request, you need to bring the stakeholders back together for a debriefing in which you pass on key information. Providing updates on what’s been completed and what to expect next A few days after the grant application deadline, schedule a debriefing conference call or face-to-face meeting online or in your office with your program-level staff, board members, community partners, and any advisory board members who were involved in the planning process of developing the grant application’s focus. The debriefing can occur simultaneously online, but a meeting is really best. Regardless, follow these debriefing steps: Review the group’s efforts and explain how the information they contributed in the grant-planning meetings was included in the final grant application. Give each person or agency a complete electronic and/or paper copy of the final grant request. Blacken out any personnel salaries before distributing. Answer questions and propose some what-if questions to find out whether the stakeholders understand their roles and responsibilities if and when the grant application is funded. Consider asking the following questions, in addition to others appropriate for your project: What if we’re funded for less than we ask for? What if we’re not funded at all? What if the needs of our constituents change before we’re funded? Provide a general overview of the process from here and when the funder will make a decision. Even though you may have worked as a group when putting together the narrative information, people present at the debriefing meeting may not have been present at the meeting for the document’s final draft review, where your stakeholders were given a chance to critique and/or approve the final document for submission to funders. Some feelings may be hurt when a writing contributor sees massive changes in the final document. Remind anyone who seems upset of the ultimate goal: to get funded and help a segment of the community. Keeping your partners in the additional-information loop Give your collaborative partners a list of the funding sources and contact people. Someone on your team may know a foundation trustee or a corporate giving officer personally. And sometimes a simple telephone call or an email to a connected friend can make the difference between getting funded and not getting funded. Share other critical information with your partners, too, such as the following: Timelines for funder decisions A master list of partners with contact information and make sure that you have clearance from all partners before distributing their information Other projects or programs your organization is planning (this info opens the door for future partnering opportunities) What can partners do for you as a result of the sharing process? They can commit seed monies to begin program implementation on a small scale. Partners who know your needs can unexpectedly make donations of needed equipment, program space, or other items and services. Partners can also give you leads on other funding sources for the project. They can also recommend an internal staff person or an affiliate colleague for your board of directors. Always strive for increased involvement from the team leaders at your partnering organizations.

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Keep Accessible Copies of Your Grant Application’s Electronic Files

Article / Updated 12-19-2016

You have multiple options for storing your grant application’s electronic files. Using cloud-based storage services is as secure as printing out your notes and other documents and putting them in a file box for later use. These services are encrypted and easy to access from any mobile device. Some are free up to a maximum storage level; after that, there’s a small fee, which varies from provider to provider. All of the following choices are compatible with both PCs and Macs: Dropbox: This service has great folder-sharing options and a feature that allows you to see when one of your clients is accessing a shared project folder to retrieve or deposit information. A small window pops up on the lower-right corner of the computer screen to give you the heads-up on any actions in the folder. Google Drive: This service has file storage and synchronization capabilities. Documents can be shared, and Google Drive has collaborative editing options. You need a Google account to use this service, but signing up is free. Onehub: After you subscribe to this collaborative file-sharing cloud-based storage service, you can add Onehub Sync to your desktop and keep all your files handy. There is also a mobile application to add and view files away from your office or home. Microsoft OneDrive: This service is available on Windows-equipped computers. It works the same as Dropbox and Google Drive. The only distinct feature is that it only works on computers that have Windows installed. New cloud-based storage services are emerging on a regular basis, so keep checking to see what’s out there and what best fits your needs.

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