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Writing to Win Federal Grants: A Must-Have for Your Fundraising Toolbox


Do you want to add federal grants to your fundraising toolbox? Do you want to push past the hype and scams to what really works? Do you ever feel intimidated by complex rules for how to apply? Writing to Win Federal Grants will help you overcome your fears and build your skills.

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Do you want to add federal grants to your fundraising toolbox? Do you want to push past the hype and scams to what really works? Do you ever feel intimidated by complex rules for how to apply?

The Solution: Writing to Win Federal Grants

Get the Workbook!

Be sure to check out the companion workbook.

Writing to Win Federal Grants - The Workbook


Writing to Win Federal Grants will help you overcome your fears and build your skills. Written in a conversational style, Writing to Win is like sitting down for your own personal workshop with the authors. Cheryl Kester and Karen Cassidy have been winning federal grants and teaching others how to do the same for more than fifteen years. They’ve raised more than $346 million from almost 40 different government agencies.

Now you can tap their knowledge and experience whenever you need it. And let’s face it. We really need it when we’re struggling through a challenging part of our grant that’s due in three days – not when we have time to go to a workshop.

Read this book for:

  • Tips on how to apply for the grants you have the best chance of winning
  • Real-world examples are taken straight from winning proposals
  • A “how to do this” chapter for each major section of your proposal
  • Checklists and worksheets that break down big tasks into workable sizes
  • Insider tips on how to avoid losing points with your reviewers

Your time is valuable. Federal grants take a LOT of time. Don’t you want to spend that time where you have the best chance of succeeding?

More than that, the skills this book will help you develop will make your foundation proposals stronger and more competitive too. Learn how to use just the right sort of data to make your case for need. Learn how to tailor your evaluation plan to the size of your project, and your budget.

This book talks frankly about working on teams, prying information you need out of co-workers, and potential ethics traps. You’ll learn how to assess when it’s actually better for your organization to walk away from a grant opportunity. Extensive appendices offer tips on how to become a grant reviewer, how to get registered on, and where to find data for putting in your proposals.

The bottom line is you can do this. The authors remind you of this over and over as they take you step-by-step through the challenges of completing your first proposal or making your fiftieth proposal even better. When you hit “submit” on that federal grant, it feels great. Kester and Cassidy show you how.

Summary of Chapters

Chapter One: How Federal Grants Work

Understanding how reviewers score applications and how funding agencies make their decisions about who should receive grants will help you submit proposals that are more competitive. In this chapter, we also introduce you to important terms and address the issue of faith-based organizations competing for federal funds.

Chapter Two: Are We Ready for Federal Grants?

Before you even ask if you are ready to write government proposals, you need to know whether your organization can deliver a grant-funded program and has the capacity to meet the grant’s reporting requirements. We help you assess your grant readiness and give you concrete steps to take to prepare to apply.

Chapter Three: Building Your Grants Dream Team

It takes a village to pull together a grant proposal. We explain the essential contributions various people can make to your grant application. We follow up with tips for avoiding some of the pitfalls of working in groups.

Chapter Four: Finding the Best Match: Prospect Research

We recommend proactive research strategies so you are informed as far in advance as possible of upcoming grant opportunities. You can do the searching yourself for free, and we explain how to build your prospect list through a combination of proven strategies.

Chapter Five: Deciding When to Go for It: Assessing an RFA

Follow along with us on a step- by-step introduction to the highlights of federal grant guidelines. A prioritized list will help you make a quick, well-informed go or no-go decision about each grant opportunity.

Chapter Six: Mapping Out Your Journey: Logic Models

Based on the key elements of program planning, logic models help reviewers understand your program by giving a snapshot of your major program activities and their impact. We give you a fill-in- the-box method of building logic models and let you practice your skills with a fun project.

Chapter Seven: Budgets and Budget Narratives

Yes, we talk about the budget before you even begin writing your narrative. This is because the budget drives your project. Our budget checklist will help you make sure nothing essential gets left out. We also tell you how to avoid expensive mistakes when budgeting for personnel. Real-life examples show you how to craft clear, persuasive budget narratives.

Chapter Eight: Tackling the Blank Page: How to Start Writing

Once you have decided to apply for a particular opportunity, it’s time to dig in to the guidelines. The evaluation criteria provide an excellent start as a writing outline. We also share insider tips about writing style, with several excerpts from grant proposals and RFAs provided as examples.

Chapter Nine: Proposal Sections: Need

A persuasive need section builds up the reviewers’ expectations for the solution—your program. Need sections for government proposals are usually more about data than heart-warming stories, so we tell you how to find and use that data.

Chapter Ten: Proposal Sections: Project Description

Your description of your project has to be specific and thorough enough that reviewers are convinced you’ve planned it thoroughly, without drowning them in details. We show you how to balance narrative descriptions with tables to break up the text and communicate complicated processes. We also explain timelines and work plans, with samples of each to give you models to work from.

Chapter Eleven: Proposal Sections: Goals and Objectives

Your project’s goals and objectives set the stage for defining success. We give a clear explanation of the difference between process objectives and outcome objectives, along with advice about how to set performance targets for your objectives.

Chapter Twelve: Proposal Sections: Organizational Capacity and Quality

Any time you get the chance to talk about how experienced, responsible, and successful your organization is, jump on it. Different agencies use different information to determine if they should trust their grant funds to your organization, such as your financial practices, your processes for making sure grants stay on track, and your capacity to handle the grant project.

Chapter Thirteen: Proposal Sections: Evaluation Plan

Evaluation plans can be intimidating—until you recognize you can break them down into predictable parts. We give you the information you need to keep your evaluation plan focused on outcomes and linked back to your project objectives. We talk about how to work with an external evaluator to make both your jobs easier.

Chapter Fourteen: Until Grant Do Us Part?

Partnerships and Collaborations. Collaborating with other community organizations is important and sometimes required. We give you practical tips and steps to develop community collaborations, including advice on how to create a good Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

Chapter Fifteen: Submitting Your Application

After you’ve written all of the parts of the narrative, you still aren’t finished. We give you advice about putting the finishing touches on your narrative so it’s ready to submit. Then we tackle the most common forms and attachments you will be asked to include in your applications. Finally, we invite you to click “submit.”

Chapter Sixteen: After the Award: Grants Management Tips

Congratulations on winning your grant! We give you some important follow-up steps to take when you get a funding decision. These will help you run your grant more smoothly and make receiving another grant more likely. We also show you how being proactive at the beginning of the project makes your life much easier when it’s time to send required reports to the funding agency.

Cheryl L. Kester, Author

Cheryl L. Kester, Author

Cheryl L. Kester is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). As owner of The Kester Group, she provides grant seeking and grant evaluation services for a range of clients nationwide.

With almost thirty years of experience in the nonprofit sector, Cheryl has extensive expertise serving academic, faith-based, public safety, health care, and social service organizations. She has helped secure more than $96 million in state, federal, and foundation grants and contracts.

An engaging speaker, Cheryl teaches grants classes, presents at conferences, and conducts board workshops. She also serves as a grant reviewer for private and federal funders.

She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and the Grant Professionals Association (GPA). In 2012, Cheryl received the GPA president’s award for service to the grants profession and the association.

Cheryl’s proposals have secured funds from several state and federal departments and agencies:

  • Arkansas Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (NIH sub-awards)
  • Arkansas Department of Health
  • Arkansas Workforce Investment Board
  • Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
  • Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  • Department of Education (National Professional Development, TRIO programs [Student Support Services, Upward Bound], Title III, Title V, Title VI [International Studies and Foreign Language])
  • Department of Health and Human Services (ACF, CDC, and HRSA)
  • Department of Homeland Security (FEMA)
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of State
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • National Science Foundation
  • West Virginia Department of Education

Karen L. Cassidy, Author

Karen L. Cassidy, GPC and Principal of Governmental Grants Professionals LLC, began her career in the US House of Representatives working for Congressmen Bob Wise and Dick Gephardt. Transitioning into the nonprofit field, Karen applied her knowledge to help educational institutions and nonprofit organizations obtain and manage more than $250 million in grant awards.

With nearly twenty-five years of experience, Karen helps organizations design programs and evaluation strategies, develop grant proposals, and report outcomes. She is presently serving as an evaluator on several foundation and federal grants.

A knowledgeable and energetic trainer, Karen leads workshops and teaches seminars on many topics, including federal grant proposal development at conferences, universities, and community nonprofits. Her experience developing successful proposals led her to become a reviewer for federal and private funders, providing her with unique insight.

Karen is one of the founding members of the St. Louis Regional Chapter, Grant Professionals Association (GPA). In October 2011, she was elected to serve on the national GPA board of directors. She earned her GPC (Grant Professional Certification) credential from the Grant Professionals Certification Institute in 2011.

Karen’s proposals have secured grants from several departments and agencies:

  • Corporation for National and Community Service
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Education (Office of Innovation and Improvement, FIPSE, Title V, Upward Bound, Veterans Upward Bound, and Title III)
  • Department of Health and Human Services (ACF, ACYF, CDC, HRSA, NIH, and SAMHSA)
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • Department of Labor
  • Department of State
  • Department of Treasury
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • National Science Foundation
  • Small Business Administration

About the In the Trenches Series

You’ll know an In the Trenches™ book not just by its cover, but by the author’s fun, upbeat writing style. But don’t be fooled by its down-to-earth approach and ample use of sidebars. In the Trenches books are authoritative and cover what a beginner should know to get started and progress rapidly, and what a more experienced nonprofit-sector practitioner needs to move forward in the subject.

























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