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?

One Word to Stop Using in Professional Writing

Whether you’re writing a cover letter, grant application, or professional report, “etc.” has no place in formal communication.

Picture some of history’s and popular culture’s most enduring quotes with the addition of “etc.”:

“That’s one small step for man, etc.”



“I’ll get you, my pretty, etc.”


If you’re still tempted to use “etc.” in your writing, imagine replacing it with, “I couldn’t be bothered to complete this.”

The one exception is the case in which you are writing to an audience that you are absolutely sure will understand what you mean, in which case you may choose to shorten a long list with “etc.”

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.

Verbosely: 3 Quick Tips for When Your Writing Is Too Long

  1. Start with the paragraph with the shortest final line. The shorter the final line of a paragraph, the less editing you need to do to remove an entire line of space from your text.
  2. While “38 percent” almost always looks more polished than “38%,” I’d suggest using the latter when five minutes is the difference between “Submitted” and “Late.”
  3. If I’m almost out of time to cut down a grant application, or any piece of writing, my last resort is axing the adverbs. Do a search with Ctrl+F for “ly,” delete the offending terms, and you’ve cut out a significant amount of fluff that did not need to be there.