Pet Peeves and High Praise from Program Officers

Source: Giving Forum Summer 2011

Minnesota grantmaking staff offer these tips on how to prepare a proposal that gets noticed and gets funded.

Making Your Case

  • Don't waste time using writing gymnastics when your proposal doesn't really fit a funder's guidelines. Instead, develop proposals for funders whose guidelines align with your project or program.
  • Your proposal should reflect how your organization's goals align with the grantmaker's guidelines. Be thoughtful, clear and succinct.
  • If you're not sure how much to ask for, read the funder's previous year's IRS 990, annual report or website. And ask. Many grantmakers will candidly provide insight about grant amounts.
  • After reading your proposal, grant reviewers should not have to ask, "What do they want to do, and how are they going to use our funds?" General information about your organization, its history and the critical issue being addressed is helpful background, but it should not outweigh answers to these essential questions.
  • Make sure your anticipated outcomes align with your program goals.
  • Marry story with data. Data can tell the funder how many people are served and what results are achieved, but then illustrate the numbers through a personal story.
  • Describe how you're anticipating the future. In the words of hockey great Wayne Gretsky: "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it's been."
  • If a foundation welcomes calls, take advantage of this. Ask questions, seek advice and discuss ideas with program officers. But, if you don't like what you hear, don't shop for a different program officer to get another assessment or submit a proposal that disregards the recommendations.
  • Be proactive and transparent about how you're addressing challenges.
  • Whether you are a nonprofit staff member or freelance grantwriting consultant, convey passion, investment and commitment.

Avoiding Pet Peeves

  • Don't wait until the last minute to submit your proposal. Computer glitches are not acceptable excuses for a late application.
  • Provide what is requested without reminders. Promptly return calls and requests for information.
  • Visit websites first; don't call for information that can be found online. Use what you learned online to show you've prepared well.
  • Make sure the name of the grantmaker to which you're applying is correct throughout your application, especially if you're reusing text that you've also submitted to another funder. And, make sure the name is spelled correctly.
  • Use page numbers.
  • Don't act as if you're entitled to funding. There are many worthwhile needs that deserve support.
  • Don't claim to be the only organization doing XYZ without backing this up with data or proof.
  • Don't over-promise results.
  • Make sure budget numbers add up.
  • Submit all the information that's requested. If something isn't available, note the requirement and why it isn't met. For instance, if your latest audit will be ready in a month, say you'll send it then, but submit last year's in the interim.
  • Say thank you after receiving a grant.
  • Immediately following receipt of a grant, take time to collaborate with your funder in your shared work. It's hard to feel like genuine partners when the only time a nonprofit contacts the foundation is when it wants money.
PDF icon Full Summer 2011 Giving Forum.pdf3.27 MB