I recently spent the day facilitating a grantwriting training with an excited and talented group of activists from all across the Northwest. We were at Activists Mobilizing for Power (better known as "AMP"), Western States Center's yearly weekend conference which offers a wealth of opportunities for folks to build skills for social justice work.
The training covered the basics of how to write a compelling grant proposal. We talked about grants research, relationship-building, and what to do if you get funded. And, of course, the good stuff: what to write.
Tackling a proposal can be overwhelming. You might be tempted to dive in with the first question on the application and move on from there. It is critical to plan ahead before you start. Your proposal needs to paint a complete picture and tell a compelling story. Pull out a sheet of paper and define the basic elements of your proposal before diving in. You can think of a grant as having three main parts:
Your problem statement needs to be compelling, urgent, and relevant to the funder. Start by explaining the problem or injustice that your community is facing, why your issue is time-sensitive, and what will happen if it doesn't get addressed.
Always remember your audience: the foundation. Each foundation has specific criteria and funding guidelines. Do your homework: learn as much about them as possible. You'll need to explain exactly how the issue is significant and relevant to the funder and a strong fit with their priorities.
For example: If your audience is a social justice foundation, you need to explain your analysis of the root cause of the problem and how your group goes about addressing it directly. If you are applying for a grant from MRG, don't assume that grant makers already understand your issue area. Write as though the reader is just getting to know your group and its work.
When you're writing about your solution to the problem, you want to inspire the grant maker and give them a reason to say, "I want to help make this happen!"
Lay out your game plan: explain your vision (what you want things to look like when your work is done); your overall strategy for achieving your vision, goals, and objectives (what are the benchmarks or the specific accomplishments you must make); and your timeline.
If you apply for a grant from MRG, you'll submit an action plan, which is one format that can be used to tell the specifics of your goals, activities, outcomes, and timeline. While you're getting ready to do that, think about the information you'll need to give our grant makers a broad overview of your work as well as the specific steps you'll take to accomplish your goals.
At this point, you want to appeal to the reader's logical side-- the part that wants to know if your group has its act together.
What gives your group credibility? Have you had past successes? Have you been effective in other projects and campaigns, and have you thought through how this particular plan is effective? Does your budget make sense and cover all the costs of your work?
What makes your group unique? What sets your group apart from others who might also care about this issue, and how do you work with them?
The great part about taking the time to think carefully about these three elements is that they form the framework for communicating about your organization beyond just a written proposal. When you call the foundation to find out if your group is eligible to apply, you need to have a brief, concise (and of course, passionate!) version of this to share with the foundation officer-- and believe me, it takes some practice to feel confident in delivering these points on the phone!
And beyond grants, these three points are essential in communicating about your organization. Whether you're sending out an appeal letter to donors, putting together a brochure, or developing talking points for a presentation in front of a group, this template can help you deliver an effective message that can engage more supporters for your work.
Keep working on your outline of these basic elements, share the information with a friend who doesn't know your work as well as you do, and integrate their feedback. With practice, your organization's message will become much more clear and effective.
Check out these great resources for grantwriting and communicating your organization's story:
Andy Robinson's Grassroots Grants
Kim Klein's Fundraising for Social Change
Cris can answer your questions on our grants line at 503-234-2338 or cris [at] mrgfoundation [dot] org (send an email here) .