As a staff grant writer or a consultant that works with organizations in an ongoing capacity, it’s easy to get into a trance when developing grants for the same familiar programs. The words may start to blur together as sentences are recycled and you click those magical godsends: “copy” and “paste.”
In order to keep things interesting for both you and the funders that continue to support the programs, it’s important to refresh templates and make sure that spark of excitement comes back to the page. As a grant writer, it’s easy to get into a pattern of sitting behind the desk with a dollar goal in mind and to forget about the people and the stories behind the programs.
Here are some ideas I’ve found helpful to keep proposals fresh and to help me snap out of a trance!
Meet quarterly with program staff, the development director, and anyone else relevant to developing their program’s grant proposals.
Talk to them about what’s new in their program. Ask if priorities are the same. Find out if there are any spin-offs or new projects you should be aware of. Not only will their answers give you fresh angles, they will help keep the ideas churning for any new proposals you will need to write.
I find it most helpful to give staff a survey form (with about a two to four week deadline) with the following types of questions:
- What new or recent features (partnerships, equipment, or methods) have been added to help you operate this program more effectively?
- Do you anticipate adding any new features that will help you better operate this program in the near future?
- What program achievements are you most proud of? These may include awards, partnerships, or program accomplishments.
- Please describe a current success story involving a program participant who utilized your services or share any testimonials you have received from clients.
- What do you feel are the greatest immediate needs of program participants?
- Have you come across any recent data or statistics that helps validate this need?
- What are the greatest challenges you are experiencing in operating the program?
- Have any of your goals/objectives and outcome methods changed? (Note: I always include a list of their current goals, objectives and evaluation methods).
Read your agency’s newsletters, annual reports, blog entries and newspaper articles.
This may seem like an obvious suggestion but if you’re an outside consultant (and sometimes the agencies I work with forget to include me on their mailing list), it’s easy to overlook current publications. But they are often full of gold: quotes, stories, and needs that will help keep your proposals alive. Additionally, don’t forget to pull information from recent newspaper articles about your agency. All of these will add credibility and interest to your proposals as well.
Show don’t tell.
If it’s possible shadow a staff person so that you can observe their program in action. It’s easy to write about the “stimulating activities the preschoolers experience.” But if you actually go and watch the look on a child’s face while a staff member reads to them or see them help a family pick out their own food to take home from a pantry, it’s much easier to bring that excitement back to your writing as you describe the actions.
This can be somewhat dramatic. Sometimes dramatic steps are needed. So if you’re absolutely tired of the same templates and you notice your proposals are laden with jargon and sound too technical, go back to the beginning. Relying on the program’s history and updates, create a whole new proposal. Yes! I mean you should start with a clean slate by opening a new blank document.
Remember, the more excited a potential funder is about a program’s proposal, the more likely they are to award you a grant contract.
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