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?

4 Ways to Stay Motivated as a Nonprofit Professional

“Sacrificing one’s health in service of a cause is a common narrative in the nonprofit sector.” — Beth Kanter & Aliza Sherman

  1. Get out of your head, and your office. I’ve discussed some ways for nonprofit employees to engage with their communities. This client engagement is precisely what makes nonprofits, and especially community action agencies, great. Not only will interacting with those you serve remind you why you’re doing this, it will inform you of your audience’s needs.
  2. Practice self-care. Do yoga in the morning, drink hot tea, or read a book. Turn off your cell phone for a while.
  3. Unless your job requires it, don’t check your email on your days off.
  4. Organize a wellness team at your nonprofit. Convene a group of employees with the goal of organizing fitness classes, hosting healthy potlucks, and making recommendations for policies to improve employees’ wellbeing.