Most of Grant Writing Is Not Writing: My Process

The term “grant writing” is a bit of a misnomer, as it makes the process of developing a grant application sound limited to typing up a draft. In reality, crafting a grant proposal is a complex process that involves many steps before real writing takes place.

Here’s my process:

1) Research (~30%)
Research includes finding a Request for Proposals (RFP), a document which announces a grant opportunity and the amount of money available; the RFP also lists the requirements for applications. Once you have a funding opportunity identified, the real research begins. I like to gather demographic information to show the need for grant funding in a particular geographic area. Some of the best sources to use to gather this information are the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Key Questions:

How much funding is available?
Are we eligible to apply for this money?

2) Planning the Project (~30%)
The planning stage is when you meet with all stakeholders, articulate the needs of the population you intend to serve with the grant money, and develop a plan of action.
Once you have a clear plan in mind, it’s best to collect time-sensitive documents, such as signed letters of support, so that you don’t end up waiting until the last minute to submit the grant.

Key Questions:

What outcomes do we want to achieve?
What goals do we need to set in order to achieve these outcomes?
What documents do we need to draft, distribute, and collect before we can submit the grant?

3) Budgeting (~25%)
This step somewhat overlaps with Step 2: Planning the Project, because it’s unrealistic to plan without keeping the cost of your objectives in mind. Depending on budget constraints, large portions of the plan may need to be revised.
Key Questions:
How much is this thing going to cost?
Do we need to match grant funds with external dollars?

4) Actually Writing (~10%)
Now that the foundation has been set up, it’s time to write the grant. During the initial draft, I like to jump from section to section, adding in bits of information as I go.

Key Questions:
Am I fully responding to every aspect of the questions?
Am I showing that we understand the requirements of the funding opportunity and have the capacity to meet key outcomes?

5) Revising and Editing (~5%)
This involves restructuring sections, reworking paragraphs, and trimming the fat from the application.

Key Questions: Have I fully answered the questions in the application?
Is the application formatted according to the specifications in the RFP?

(I should’ve allocated 1% for actually submitting the thing. A completed grant application is worthless if it’s never turned in!)

Of course, it is also important to note that some writing takes place at all stages of this process, but most of it is not writing that will end up in the final grant proposal–at least not without some serious modifications. Finally, I don’t mean to suggest that excellent writing is not required for grant development; I simply mean that grant writers are professionals with many talents.

Fellow Grant Writers, what is your process for preparing a grant? Is it similar to mine, radically different, or somewhere in between?

Via SEA: Catering with a Purpose

Via Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA):

CENTER TABLE, Catering with a Purpose is a social enterprise catering company using its profits and culinary training programs to provide a path of self-sufficiency to women overcoming homelessness or addiction.

CENTER TABLE catering company was developed to support women in recovery as they prepare to re-enter society post-addiction. They offer full-service catering of delicious and fresh food, while also teaching culinary skills necessary to help participants gain employment in the food industry. Totaling about 34 hours per week, the 6-10 week training includes educational classes, life skills and a full culinary curriculum including food preparation and service. The hope is that after graduating the recovery program, the women can use their skills to obtain an income and support themselves and their families.

These food training classes work as a segment of the Brighton Recovery Center for Women (BRC), in Florence, Kentucky, in cooperation with the state’s Recovery KY Initiative to end chronic homelessness and combat substance abuse. The holistic recovery center helps women make these necessary, long-term behavioral changes via four components:


  • Safe Off the Streets (SOS) – Provides safe, non-medical environment to begin deciding on a plan of recovery
  • Motivational Tracks – Provides a low-pressure environment for committing to the process of recovery so that participants can experience the hope of change
  • Phase I – Provides effective solutions to the problems of addiction. Programs are more focused and intense than the Motivational Tracks. Goals are increased social wellness, economic independence and ultimately recovery from addiction
  • Phase II – Provides a means of reintroduction back into society. Participants obtain employment or participate in educational/job training programs, pay rent, work on maintaining sobriety, attend self-help meetings and prepare a plan of action for living sober as productive members of society

Helping Low-Income Clients Keep Stable Phone Numbers

Being a low-income American means living with constant instability: not making rent could mean losing your home, and being unable to afford an expensive phone plan could leave you changing phones and numbers every few weeks. Nonprofits who serve low-income people often complain of difficulty reaching their clients because of disconnected phone numbers and missing mailing addresses.

Unstable phone numbers make it difficult for people to receive much-needed services, and they contribute to the cycle of poverty: how can someone break this cycle if they change numbers so often that the contact info on their resume is outdated when a prospective employer calls?


Google Voice is a free tool that nonprofit employees can recommend to low-income clients to help them remain reachable. GetVOIP explains:

“With Google Voice, users can obtain a single phone number to be used on all of their devices. No longer do you have to give out an office, cell and home number – with Google Voice, whenever your number is dialed it will ring each phone and device you sync to the service.”

Pretty cool, huh?


What is Social Entrepreneurship, Anyway? Two Industrious Examples

While the term “nonprofit” is synonymous with “charity,” not all nonprofit organizations are completely dependent on grants and cash donations.

Social entrepreneurship, or the generation of revenue in order to offset the costs of providing services, is an avenue towards self-sufficiency for 501(c)(3) organizations. Social entrepreneurship can be used by either nonprofit or for-profit organizations.

Revenue does not transform a nonprofit into a for-profit entity, because—unlike for-profits—nonprofits reinvest all earnings back into their programs to continue to provide services and fulfill a social or environmental mission. Duke University’s J. Gregory Dees sums up the goal of social entrepreneurs:

“For social entrepreneurs…mission-related impact becomes the central criterion, not wealth creation. Wealth is just a means to an end for social entrepreneurs.”

Essentially, social entrepreneurship is a form of fundraising that aims to allow a nonprofit to become self-sufficient. Unlike traditional fundraisers, social entrepreneurs are paid for goods or services. The golden ticket, then, is developing a product or service that people want.

Here are some examples of social entrepreneurship:

1. Thistle Farms

Thistle Farms, a nonprofit, provides housing for women with histories of drug addiction and prostitution. Thistle Farms also employs its clients, who make candles, soaps, and other scented products. For this organization, social entrepreneurship provides a steady stream of income for those it serves.

2. CitizenInsights

CitizenInsights is a nonprofit that uses text-message surveys to collect data about low-income Americans. CitizenInsights markets its services to other nonprofits and social-service organizations that want to find out more about their clients.

Humanities: 5 Reasons English Majors are Perfect for Nonprofits

As someone with not one, but two English degrees, I’ve come to dread the ever popular question: “So, do you want to teach?”

I dislike this question not because teaching is undesirable,  but because the question itself is so limiting. Scholars of the humanities have the capacity to succeed in a broad range of fields, not least of which is the nonprofit sector. As an English major who works for a nonprofit, here’s why I feel particularly suited to a career in the social services:

1. English majors are deeply interested in people.

English programs emphasize the study of human nature, culture, and relationships. They attract students fascinated by people’s struggles, and students who want deeply to make the world a better place.

2. English majors know how to communicate.

I know, I know, you’ve heard this before. However, the importance of communication cannot be overstated, especially in a field largely dependent on the quality of grant proposals. Asking for money demands a thorough understanding of both persuasive writing and one’s audience.

3. Project design, management, and evaluation call for creative thinking.

English majors are not afraid to ask, “Why?” We live to question our assumptions, and we are not satisfied with carrying on without change simply because “this is how it has always been done.”

4. Program management requires thoughtful research and analysis.

English majors understand the importance of thorough research, reliable sources, and exhaustive analysis. Just as surface readings of literature overlook a text’s meaning, a program can’t be evaluated without a thorough understanding of its goals, methods, and outcomes.

5. Social services need to produce qualitative, as well as quantitative, results.

Nonprofit work is about far more than serving x number of people in y months. The best projects involve follow-up services, evaluations based on clients’ feedback, and difficult-to-count benefits like improvements in quality of life. English majors understand the importance of looking beyond the numbers.

Quotes for Nonprofiteers

“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou

“We aim above the mark to hit the mark.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” – Ellen Glasgow

“Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man—who has no gills.” – Ambrose Bierce

“Problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” – Henry J. Kaiser

“Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.” – Joyce Brothers

“Tact: the ability to describe others as they see themselves.” – Abraham Lincoln

“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” – Maya Angelou

3 Ways for Nonprofits to Engage with the People They Represent

  1. Developing a grant proposal? Don’t start writing until you’ve held an open forum for members of the public to voice their ideas, needs, and concerns.
  2. Collect feedback. Use surveys to measure clients’ opinions of the services your organization provides. The Fund for Shared Insight has a request for applications (RFA) out now for Listen for Good (L4G), a grant program that helps nonprofits close the feedback loop with the people they serve.
  3. Make your data visually appealing! Tableau Public is free data-visualization software that allows nonprofits to literally illustrate their impact. Hold public information sessions to discuss your nonprofit’s numbers and services, and request feedback.