Jazzing Up Your Grant Proposals (well, cool jazz, anyway)

I came to grantwriting from a marketing communications background. And while it’s true that I had to adopt a more formal writing style, I also realized that my corporate experience could help my nonprofit clients state their cases more strongly. The almost academic style that has long been in favor for grantwriting can make it difficult for reviewers to really feel the potential benefits of your programs. I had honed my skills in conveying benefits for years, so now I’m applying those skills to fundraising.

With funders demanding more bottom-line results these days, you must include benefits in your narrative, not just on the outcomes spreadsheet. Similarly, you need to clearly state the consequences of not helping the clients your program serves. Of course you can’t get get too jazzy in your proposals, but you can strengthen your messaging with well-chosen accent notes.

Add a benefit

Let’s take a stab at improving this sentence:

Chilled meals are delivered on Fridays for weekend consumption.

The message will be stronger if we state the specific benefit of those meals and reiterate who will benefit from them:

Chilled meals are delivered on Fridays to ensure that our elderly clients have nutritious food throughout the weekend.

Give an explicit consequence

Here’s a sentence you might encounter in a proposal for a meal-delivery program for homebound seniors:

Without this service, many clients will experience hunger.

That’s an unfortunate situation, but it isn’t the full consequence of the problem. This is:

Without this service, many clients will likely experience declining health because of insufficient nutrition.

Of course, you need to make sure that the consequence you postulate is realistic; this one definitely is.

Personalize the situation

The last rewrite example demonstrates how adding a consequence and personalizing the program’s clients make a stronger case.

Residents on fixed incomes have been severely impacted by the rising costs of food and basic needs. This program addresses client financial needs by ensuring that participants have at least one healthy meal each day, no matter what their financial situation.

What is the consequence of that financial impact? It’s that every day, people in this country have to decide whether to pay for housing or food, for medicines or transportation. If you’re running a safety-net program, be explicit about those hard choices. Similarly for other types of programs. Also, the people served by this program aren’t just statistics, as words like “clients” and “participants” suggest; they’re our elderly neighbors. Pepper your proposal with more specific and humanized references to your clients.

Local seniors on fixed incomes are severely impacted by the constantly rising costs of food and other basic needs. They sometimes have to spend their limited financial resources on housing or medications instead of food. This program helps our elderly neighbors by ensuring that they have at least one healthy meal each day, no matter what their financial situation.

Now that I’ve got your thinking about benefits, consequences, and personalization, what can you do to “jazz up” your proposals in a cool but effective way?

© 2018 Patricia F. Winter