If you’re a strong writer involved in community service, grant writing is a natural outlet for your skills. Like one of my fellow students, you may not know how to get started writing grants. This article shares the basic steps you need to get started and the resources to help you pursue grant writing. I will tell you what you need to do to organize a project and how to teach yourself grant writing.
You need to be involved in community service, either professionally or as a volunteer, to break into grant writing. Grant applications involve sensitive financial documents, which an organization’s management may not be comfortable sharing unless you have a professional reputation or they know you. If you don’t have a relationship with a nonprofit or civic organization, get out in your community and start volunteering. You’ll have a chance to make a difference in the world and take in support of the things you believe in.
Familiarizing yourself with the format of grant proposals and applications is straightforward. I recommend The Foundation Center’s Guide to Proposal Writing. The Foundation Center is a name you’ll want to remember, as it is the premier resource on the web for all things foundation and grant-related. The associated website Grantspace contains a wealth of information related to grants and “skills” information that will help you in your writing.
Grants come in three categories: general operating support, capital grants, and program support. General operating support funds an organization’s day-to-day expenses and capital grants fund building projects. Foundations rarely provide this type of support. Most foundations prefer to support specific programs with measurable objectives, so they can track the impact of their funds. The Foundation Center Professional database is freely available from more than 470 cooperating collections, including many public libraries, or by subscription. Before you start searching for sources of funding, you need to have a grasp of the nature of your organization; I find the most productive way to search for potential funders in this database is to look for foundations that give to organizations that provide services like yours in your state.
Grant writing is as much management and organization as a writing task. You’ll need to work closely with the directors of your organization to determine its funding and programming needs, and obtain the documents you need to support your case. With your organization’s staff, develop a list of the programs for which it will seek grants. For each program, you’ll need to develop goals, objectives, evaluation criteria, and a budget. More information on goals, objectives, and evaluations are available in Foundation Center and other materials about grant writing.
You’ll want to start collecting several items you’ll need for your applications: your organization’s 501(c)(3) letter, form 990, budget, financial statement, board list, bios of key staff, and an annual report or organization resume. News coverage, testimonials from beneficiaries or notable people, or other positive stories about your organization are likely to be useful in crafting a strong narrative. Demystifying Grantseeking is a fantastic resource about the organizational work that goes into grant writing.
This article covers the basics you need to get started in the grant writing process. Now you should be able to teach yourself the basic format of a grant proposal, gather the documents you’ll need for the application package, and find sources of funding for your organization. Be prepared for a learning curve and for disappointment in the grant application process, as even very good proposals can be declined. With time and dedication to improving your skills, you can bring vital funds to help make your community a better place.