How to Use Storytelling in Your Grant Request

By Beverly A. Browning

If you want to secure a grant, you must put life, personality, and compassion into your request. This type of writing approach is referred to as storytelling. Here are some great tips on the type of information to include in each section of your funding request and how to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary in each narrative section.

  • Background/history of the grant applicant organization: Write with passion about your organization: its founding date, its purpose, its mission, and its location. Include quaint, not-so-common information about the founder and his reason for creating a nonprofit organization.

    If you’re writing about a unit of municipal government, include trivia on how the community was named, started, incorporated, and so forth.

  • Current programs and activities: Write with excitement about the current initiatives the grant applicant organization is involved in. List in chronological order all the organization’s programs and activities.

    Include specific program names, dates started, and outcomes-to-date such as the number of participants who have received services and the benefits they gained because of their involvement in the program.

  • Description/demographics of your constituency: Write with accuracy about the population the grant applicant organization provides services to. Include age range, gender, ethnicity, economic status, educational level, and other characteristic descriptors.

    Include a case scenario, a story about how a participant has encountered multiple life barriers and is now on a waiting list to be served by the grant applicant organization.

  • Description of community: Write with innate knowledge about your community’s makeup where the grant applicant organization is located or where its services will be provided. Describe the community by providing a combination of city and county information. This section is about the virtual picture of your community.

    Use compelling words and colorful descriptions; funders don’t want to read a book report about your town. Where you do use statistics, incorporate them into tables, graphics, and figures.

    Cite your sources, and don’t use statistics that are more than five years old.

  • Description of work with partnership agencies: Write about the grant applicant organization’s demonstrated partnership experiences with community, regional, state, and national partners. Create a table with header rows for partners and their roles with the grant applicant organization.

  • Proposed initiative: Write with certainty about what the grant applicant organization plans to do with the grant or cooperative agreement award. State the intentions simply and directly in one or two sentences.

  • Statement of need: Write with compassion about the problem the grant applicant organization will combat with the awarded funds.

    Use gripping words to relay the gloom, doom, drama, and trauma of your situation and why your organization needs the requested funds. Be honest and cite hard data that demonstrates your need.

  • Program design/plan of action: Write with the knowledge of demonstrated best practices about the process you’ll implement to solve the problem or need. Incorporate evidence-based practices; by doing so, you demonstrate to the funder that you’re relying on proven research to design your program.

    • Goals: In futuristic and global terms, create numbered project goals.

      Detail where the target population will be when the grant funds have been expended.

    • SMART objectives: These specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timebound objectives show the funder how you’ll measure the program’s success.

    • Activities/strategies: Write about the proposed activities, tasks, or strategies you’ll implement to reach your goals.

    • Timeline: Incorporate target dates for your objectives and activities/strategies. Note when the objectives will happen and when the activities will start and end. A timeline presented in a table looks great to readers. This timeline chart or table is often referred to as a Gantt or implementation chart.

    • Impact on problem: Write about how the grant applicant organization’s proposed action will reduce the problems discussed in the statement of need.

    • Project significance: Write about the impact the grant applicant organization’s project will have on the target population from a wide viewpoint.

      Write this section in italics. When you incorporate italics, you’re speaking more directly to the grant reader/decision maker. Project significance can be stated in a brief paragraph.

    • Systemic change: Write about how the program the grant applicant organization plans to develop with funding support will positively change society or improve rigid and antiquated systems.

    • Performance evaluation plan: Write about who will conduct the performance evaluation, what it will cover, and the time frame for evaluation activities. Keep in mind that the collection of frequent and unbiased feedback from members of the grant’s target population is critical to an accurate performance evaluation.

    • Dissemination of evaluation findings: Write about who will receive a copy of the evaluation findings. Dissemination of evaluation materials is important for reporting to current funders and can sway future funding sources when you attach them to grant applications and cooperative agreements.

      Propose to disseminate findings beyond your local areas.

  • Key personnel/staffing: Write with familiarity about the staff, contracted consultants, and volunteers needed to carry out the program or project. For each position, indicate what percentage of the person’s time will be allocated to the project and which budget his salary will come from.

  • Management plan/organizational structure/administration: Write with confidence about who will report to whom and where the built-in assurances of administrative and financial responsibility will be established. Be sure to add your financial staff to the management plan.

    Incorporate this information into a table.

  • Sustainability: Write with accountability about how the grant applicant organization will continue some or most of the grant-funded program components after the initial grant-funding time frame has ended.

    Tell funders about the funding plan your board of directors and administrative staff or development office staff have in place.

  • Adequacy of resources: Write with confirmation about any financial, physical, and personnel resources the grant applicant organization already owns or has access to that can be used for program activities.